Below is the audio from the recent DCFD Mayday that injured several firefighters in a collapse of an abandoned building, that was thought to have “squatters” still inside.
The goal is not to critique these incidents but to learn from them, in hopes that history will not repeat itself. These are some of the initial lessons I have gathered from just listening to the audio.
1. I have said this before, but it is worth saying again we can not treat “abandoned” or “derelict” buildings the same as occupied structures. Sure we have an obligation to search if we think someone might be inside, that goes without saying. However before we commit interior crews we have to ensure that we have ways out in case things go bad. This is not as simple as just busting a window or forcing a door, since most of these structures are boarded up, or have metal vacant property shutters. Additionally these structures can at times be in various states of dissary and already compromised BEFORE challenged by fire. Rushing into them without assessing the structural integrity is a recipe for disaster. The best practice is to get out and identify these structures prior to the incident, however with the growing number this can be difficult, so take a few extra seconds on scene to ensure that this building is safe for interior operations.
2. RIT is a must on just about any incident. We have our second engine as an IRIT (2 people) then our third engine picks up the RIT duties when they arrive (with all 3 people) and the IRIT becomes the second handline in the building. However you do it, or whoever is doing it for you, get the people there ASAP, make sure they have whatever they need, and make sure they are ready to work.
3. Command needs to be on scene. If you listen to the tape it sounds like the initial chief on the run is giving orders to the companies while still responding to the incident (I heard a siren in the back ground that did not sound like it was one approaching the scene). In my opinion this is why we have company officers, especially in a department running with several other members that can complete the critical tasks. Even in my department where we have 3 on every rig our company officers will establish a “combat command” until the arrival of the chief. We also have “tactical templates” and pre arrival instructions given enroute to minimize on scene radio traffic, allowing the company officer to participate at the task level (which our man power situation is needed).
4. You will here on the tape that one of the engines is on the wrong channel. Make sure your on the right channel so that critical messages are not missed.
5. Communications should be clear and concise. If no one can understand you, or your orders are so complex that it takes a dictionary and a panel discussion then efficiency, and effectiveness are decreased. Even during the worst possible time we have to take a breath, and speak clearly, and calmly while transmitting understandable messages. This is something that takes a lot of practice, and experience, but can be mastered. it is something I have struggled with, not because of nervousness, but excitement of going to a fire. I have been on hundreds of fires, and every time I still get the excited feeling of getting to do the job I love so much. This sometimes gets transferred into my voice during radio traffic, so I always try to put on my “radio voice” before I push the transmit button.
6. Lastly accountability is key. Wether you use tags, passports, riding assignments, or a combination to account for you and your crew the best form of accountability is knowing who your supposed to be working with, and were your supposed to be working. Then you verify that constantly either out loud or in your mind (Im supposed to be doing fire attack on the second floor with Mike, we are on the second floor side A, and I see Mike) That is true accountability, situational awareness, and fireground orientation. If you know all of those things if you do get in trouble you will be able to give a detailed MAYDAY report so that the RIT will be able to find you faster, or you will not have to call them in the first place.
Again this is not to critique but to try to learn something from someone elses fires, in order to get better. Lets make sure we keep the injured firefighters in our thoughts as they begin the road to recovery.
Take a listen yourself and see what lessons you take away from this fire. Do not forget to follow us on twitter www.twitter.com/averagejakeff
As usual thanks for reading, spread the word, and STAY SAFE!