As we pulled out of the station and started up the hill, black smoke poured over the horizon. We have got a fire I spoke out loud to the engine driver. He was the only one to hear it, as earlier we had sent our third person to the hospital with the medic unit to assist with a critical patient. I gave the appropriate pre arrival assignments (water supply, etc.) within seconds it seemed we had arrived, black smoke bellowed from the front door. I gave my initial size up and exited the engine…Now what?
The previous was an actual scenario that happened to me not long ago. While the department I work for routinely rides with 3, and often drops down to 2 for short periods of time in order to send a second EMS provider with the ambulance for critical patients, the amount of times this occurs and another critical call for service comes in are so few and far between I cannot remember the last time (although when you are comfortable is usually when the enemy strikes). While this is an unusual occurrence for me, I realize this is common place for many departments. In fact, I have worked (full and part time) for two departments that 2 was common place.
So as I approached this fire amazingly only 1 thing was going through my mind. No it was not Bruno’s timeless tactical truths, nor was it SLICERS, DICERS, or any UL/NIST Study. It was a phrase, three words written in a book by two Navy Seals…. PRIORITIZE AND EXECUTE!
Those words are actually an entire chapter in the book Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Lief Babin. Essentially the purpose is to prioritize from greatest to lease and then take action on those priorities. In battle it may be the enemy or different threats that must be prioritized from greatest threat to least, then action (execution) must be taken to eliminate these threats. In the fire service we do this often without even knowing it. We search from the fire out (greatest threat to the least threat) in order to find the victims in the most danger. Sometimes we may even hit the fire first as it may be the greatest threat present. We do this though gathering information in a compressed time frame, through a process called size up.
It is here where I almost made a critical error. I had already given my initial on scene size up, and exited the engine. I had only seen one side of the house, and I wanted to act! I started to go to the 1 ¾ pre-connect when I hesitated. I needed to get a look at all 4 sides. I knew this may delay water getting on the fire, but I also knew that assuming the fire would be extinguished with 1 line was possibly a greater risk. It looked like a room or two on fire from the front, but what if it wasn’t? What if it was an oil tank burning on the back side of the house, and had extended into the structure. I could pour water on the front for days and never put the fire out. I also did not have the people to make up for a tactical mistake. I elected to get a look at the fire and building first with a 360 and then choose my weapon of attack and operational mode, PRIORITIZE AND EXECUTE!
Doing the 360 first also revealed another factor. As a made my way to side C, I noticed a pick-up truck at the back of the house. No one was standing in the front, back, or side yards. We could possibly have a victim still inside. At this point I was still alone. Should I make a quick search? Or should I attempt to kill the overall problem by extinguishing the fire? The smoke told me the fire was very close to taking hold of the entire structure. PRIORITIZE AND EXECUTE! I made up my mind to attack the fire. Thankfully at this point the Squad company had arrived with a full complement (3). This allowed us to attack the fire and search at the same time. However, when faced with this predicament even with a full engine company, I still feel the greatest thing an engine company can do is extinguish the fire! Once a line is on the fire the entire problem begins to get better. This is not exclusive to any department or staffing level, interior or exterior when the fire goes out it makes everything better.
I do not share this story to brag, or to over-state anything. I simply share because this is the reality for the American Fire service. Someone in my position may have made completely different decisions but been as equally successful! I made these decisions based on my education, experience, training, staffing compliment of my current unit and department, and the problem I was faced with. Changing one or more of these factors influences the end decision but you still must PRIORITIZE AND EXECUTE in order to have a successful outcome.
Thanks to Jocko Willink and Lief Babin for sharing the wisdom they discovered as Navy Seals, and for writing the book Extreme Ownership. This is a must read for EVERY leader, so go and get your copy.
As usual thanks for reading, spread the word, and STAY SAFE!