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Engine Company Officer Fire Ground Management with Limited Staffing: Size up and Hand line selection

In the last installment of this series we discussed training Engine Companies with limited staffing, and how creating pre-determined response assignments, or giving pre-arrival instructions to incoming units while enroute to the emergency and how doing this can increase minimize or eliminate radio traffic allowing the company officer to focus on the emergency scene. In this installment we will discuss size up, and hand line selection.

Size Up: Size up is a critical information gathering step for every Engine Company officer and consists of two parts the initial on scene report, and the 360 scene survey.


The initial on scene report is typically done from the cab and details what the Engine Company officer initially sees. While this may seem like an everyday task for an Engine Company officer with limited staffing every second counts, and staying in the cab of the engine giving a long winded dissertation only delays getting fire ground tasks accomplished. The initial on scene report should be descriptive yet simple and communicated rapidly. In short keep it simple. Buildings are either small, medium, or large, and either residential or commercial. You can add number of floors if you like but stating a building is a large commercial occupancy should clue companies in on what they may be facing. After that simply state what you see and from what sides of the building. Lastly indicated who is in command.

Example: “Engine 1 on scene small residential occupancy with smoke showing from side A, Engine 1 establishing Main St. Command”

This indicates to responding units what type of building is on fire, a possible location of the fire, and who to report to once they arrive. This also could give them a clue as to length of hose lines they may need to deploy, or additional equipment such as search ropes, etc. This also allows for the company officer to exit the cab of the engine quickly and begin the second part of size up the 360 scene survey.

The 360 scene survey needs to take place in order to get the entire picture of the incident. Failure to do this may cause the Engine Company officer to miss information on victim location, fire location, best routes of travel for the initial attack line, and information on proper hand line selection, and mode of operation.

Like the initial on scene report, the 360 scene survey must be descriptive yet rapid as not to delay critical fire ground tasks such as hand line deployment or search and rescue. In order to stream line this process look for the 4 “B’s” of the 360

Burning: Any smoke or fire

Bodies: Any visible victims, or any signs of victims

Bombs: Any hazards such as down power lines, compressed gas cylinders, window bars, etc.

Basement: Basements or any below grade floors, must be identified as they can require different tactics, and additional resources for fire extinguishment, and victim rescue.

After the 360 scene survey enough information has been gathered for the Engine Company officer to declare a mode of operation (Interior Fire Attack, Exterior Fire Attack, Rescue, Defensive).

Example: “Command to Dispatch, 360 is complete smoke from side A, B, and D, Fire from side C, a car is in the driveway we will be in the rescue mode”

This indicates to responding units fire location, mode of operation, and possible equipment needed upon arrival. This also allows for short radio traffic to allow the Engine Company officer to assist in his dual role responsibilities (deploying initial attack line, back up on initial attack line, etc.)

Hand Line Selection:


Choosing the proper initial attack hand line is the difference in keeping a fire to its room of origin or extending and burning the building to the ground. Simply put limited staffed engine companies do not have the man power to make up for improper hand line selection. If an engine company of 4 or more selects an undersized attack line they have the manpower to deploy a second line and place it into service. A limited staff engine company does not have this luxury and must select the most appropriate hand line for the fire they are facing. This includes deploying a large caliber hand line (2 ½) or master stream device. This also means methods such as transitional, or blitz attack may need to be deployed for initial knock down, and then smaller caliber lines deployed to finish off the fire. In either case using limited staffing to dictate your hand line choice will only cause you to lose to an enemy that has you clearly outmatched. “Big fire big water” still applies even for limited staffed engine companies.

Rapid descriptive size up, and proper hand line selection are two other key elements in successfully managing fire ground operations with limited staffed engine companies. As with anything in life preparation is key. In the next installment we will discuss hand line management

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