Most of us are familiar with the term “size-up," including what it is and how it aids in analyzing and bringing to termination a safe and effective emergency response. Coupled with any pre-plans and SOP’s, it enables one to readily plan strategies and carry out tactics in order to accomplish specific goals in a safe manner.
The goals may include rescue, confinement, extinguishments, extrications, hazmat mitigation, medical intervention and transport, and whatever type of emergency to which we have responded. Included in our size-up are Scene Safety and Risk Evaluation, primary concerns of the Incident Commander and Company Officers. What about you, do you leave size-up to the IC and officers?
You shouldn’t, you should be just as diligent in doing your own personal size-up as your officers are in doing their overall size-up. Just maybe you will spot and report on something that may have been missed or has changed. Remember, the scene of most emergencies is dynamic and complicated with change, especially in the early stages. Many heads work better than one! More importantly, your own size-up doesn’t have to be as broad based as the IC’s, but it is just as important to your safety and the safety of other firefighters, as well as EMS personnel on scene.
Your personal size-up should be carried out each time you respond to an emergency. The brief time it takes to engage one's personal computer and visual recording equipment, our brain and eyes; much information can be garnered that will improve one's personal safety and help keep you out of harms way. The brain, upon receipt of the alarm, begins to process all of the information that it has stored on the specific location and/or type of incident.
Included also will be “real time” information, such as time of day, day of week, weather conditions, response route, traffic conditions and any known response hazards. All should be taken into account and adjustments should be made in order to complete a safe response to the incident scene.
Once on scene, the eyes should scan the entire area, taking in the “Big Picture;" now is not the time for tunnel vision. (In the emergency service business, there is never time for “Tunnel Vision”.) If it is a fire situation, where does the fire appear to be located? What floor, or area is it in? Are there alternate escape routes for you, such as fire escapes, porches, adjoining buildings or roofs, should you need them for a hasty exit. What way is the wind blowing? No, you don’t have to wet a finger or throw grass in the air; just look at the travel direction of the smoke. Wind direction is important, as it will push smoke, flames and heat. If ordered to ventilate, you want the wind at your back and to be working back into the wind in order to safely complete your assignment.
If the fire is in a private residence, what type of house is it? Ranch, split or high ranch, salt box, modern contemporary, Cape Cod, or Queen Anne? Once you decide on the style of the house, the layout for that style house will almost always be the same, one that you will be familiar with. You know a lot about the layout of the various styles of houses if you take a second or two to recall the common layouts.
Most houses are divided into two sections, living quarters and sleeping quarters. If it's 3:00 A.M. in the morning and search and rescue has to be completed, the bedrooms should be the most likely area to begin the search. Therefore, knowing where the bedrooms are improves chances for a successful search and save, while increasing one's own personal safety.
If conditions deteriorate and you have to make a speedy retreat or bailout, it is comforting to know there is a deck, porch, garage roof, or other readily accessible safe escape routes just outside this window or that door; something you may not have known if you hadn’t done a personal size-up.
Your on scene size-up should include being alert for any changes in the immediate area where you are operating. Are fire conditions changing, such as color and intensity of smoke, flames, heat? Is there fire in an area where there was no fire upon arrival? Are the changes for the better, or for the worse? Have there been any changes structurally in the area where you are operating, such as sudden cracks in walls appearing, or partial ceiling, wall or other form of interior collapse?
Any of the aforementioned will require immediate notification to the IC and reevaluation by you or your immediate officer as to whether to withdraw or relocate to a safe position. Remember, the fire is dynamic; what was may not be any longer, therefore there is a constant need for size-up, caution and staying alert to the situation. When in doubt, get out!
To be continued...