History’s greatest achievements have been made by individuals who excelled only slightly over the masses of other individuals in their respective fields. I am reminded of this when you look at athletes. Most have significant levels of talent. The same is true for the fire service. Most of our personnel have strong predicated skills, abilities and knowledge. So what puts the people excelling in front of the others? Most times that small difference is attitude. Over the years I have had the opportunity to spend time with many different fire departments. The difference was captured by the late Ralph Jackman, Fire Chief in Vergennes, Vermont. In a conversation standing in the apparatus bay of the Vergennes Fire Department he commented that his department did not have the greatest equipment or the fanciest of fire apparatus. In fact he stated the sometimes struggle with the financial end of keeping up. He did quickly point out that that his personnel had passion, desire and the right attitude to serve, which was the critical factor in the success of the organization. He went on to further reiterate the importance of having a positive attitude and what that brings to the formula of success. He stated, “Give me someone who has a good attitude and I can work with them on the other things.”
Certainly aptitude is important to our success in life or the success of an organization. Yet anyone who has been around the fire service for more than a few days knows success or failure is precipitated more by mental attitude than by mere mental capacities. We have to recognize the true importance of the total equation I.Q. (Intelligence Quotient) + A.Q. (Attitude Quotient) = Success or Failure. We have all witnessed individuals whose I.Q. was extremely high and their performance was low and the opposite of low I.Q and high performance. The difference in each of these formulas is the attitude quotient. There is very little difference in people, but that little difference, attitude, makes a big difference.
So how do we become successful organizations excelling in all aspects? First we must have talented personnel in place. We must foster positive attitudes. This fostering is critical and it is not just the responsibility of the Fire Chief. Sure it may begin there but the critical dimension is within the officers, especially company officers. It is paramount that officers maintain a strong -positive attitude. The true leaders and trainers of today’s fire service are the company officers. In many organizations it is glaringly apparent that the company officers don’t possess the correct attitudes. This is a serious issue because they begin to affect the troops as their leadership is mostly what these individuals see. Just like cancer growing, attitudes spreads very quickly whether it is positive or negative.
Some Individuals would look at a pile of rubble and say “what a mess” while others will look at the same pile and say “what an opportunity”. Which one of these individuals would you want leading the fire department in your community? Most would say the one who has a vision of what that “mess” could be. This is an excellent example of a positive attitude.
With all this said…how is your attitude? Before you answer, what would others say if they had this opportunity to answer? I encourage you to take a true examination here. As a chief officer, I hope my personnel have excellent minds and outstanding attitudes. But if I have to choose an “either-or” situation, without hesitation I would want their A.Q. (attitude) to be high!
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Do you know what the inherent characteristics and risks are for each system and occupancy condition?
For incident deployments to a report of a structure fire, the single most important attribute that defines all phases of subsequent operations and incident management; is that of understanding the building.
An officer or commander’s skill set, comprehension and intellect in their ability to read a building is paramount towards identifying risks, conducting fluid assessment, probability, predictability and recognizing intrinsic characteristics of the building and its expected performance under fire conditions, which are essential toward development of an integrated and adaptive fire management model and flexible incident action plan.
If you don’t know and understand the building, how can you identify and select appropriate strategies and tactics and have an integrate IAP suitable for the building and occupancy risks and predictability of performance?
It’s much more than just arriving on location, identifying a single family wood frame residential, a three story brick or a five story fireproof or single URM commercial and stretching in and going to work.
NIOSH: Preventing Deaths and Injuries of Fire Fighters using Risk Management Principles at Structure Fires HERE
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Arriving companies and personnel at a structure fire must be able to rapidly and accurately identify key elements of a building, process that data based on a widening field of variables present on today’s evolving Fireground and implement timely actions that address prioritized actions requiring intervention.
The identification, assessment, probability, predictability and intrinsic characteristics of the building and its expected performance under fire conditions must be identified, assessed and integrated into an adaptive fire management model and flexible incident action plan.
In other words, arriving companies and personnel at a structure fire need to be able to rapidly and accurately identify key elements of a building, process that data based upon a widening field of variables present on today’s evolving fireground and implement timely actions that address prioritized actions requiring intervention. Deterministic fireground models for size-up and suppression have to give way to a more expandable stochastic model of assessment. Key to this is having a broad and well developed foundation of building knowledge.
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How effective are you as an officer?
Are you “looking” at key issues that affect the Building? Start reexamining the compartment and your company: risk and capabilities, it’s that important.
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The fact that at times, our surroundings do become a blur and fade into the background does occur and should be recognized as a gap and corrected.
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Company and Command Officers MUST be intensely aware of your area’s fabric, its state and condition, the subtle changes as well as those that a times result in what seems like major changes, renovations or construction that pops up literally overnight or in a matter of weeks. Individually, you should be running scenario through your head as to the “what ifs” for a particular building, structure or occupancy. Share these insights and option plays with your company, station, battalion or group…Invest in the opportunity to game plan and know your world; before the alarms go off and the bell hits and you’re in the street….
Understand how your buildings co-exist with each other, what defines their characteristics, features, profile, hazards and challenges…
This is Part One of a Two Part Post….”All units standby: transmitting the box for….”
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On March 18, 1996, two firefighters were killed in Chesapeake, Virginia when they became trapped by a rapidly spreading fire in an auto parts store and a pre-engineered wood truss roof assembly collapsed on them. The cause of the fire was an electrical short created when a power company truck working in the rear of the building drove away with its boom in an elevated position, accidentally pulling an electrical feed line from the main breaker panel at the rear of the store.
Post-incident investigations indicate that the electrical fault may have sparked multiple points of fire origin throughout the roof structure of the building, due to improperly grounded wiring. At the time of the report issuance, this was exemplified as another incident illustrating the rapid failure of lightweight construction systems when key support components are involved in a fire. The report pointed out the importance of prefire planning and accurate size up by fire companies to determine the risk factors associated with a fire in this type of construction.
Lessons regarding importance of initial company actions, constant re-evaluation of action plans, strong command and coordination of units on the fireground, and recognition of signs of impending structural failure were also reinforced.
Reading through any number of NIOSH, USFA or NFPA reports, similar issues, challenges and operational factors resonate and continue to shape and challenge today’s fire ground operations.
It is without exception that the knowledge and insights being gained by the continuing efforts from the UL and NIST Research Studies coupled with the recommendations, from the NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program (HERE) will provide increased awareness and understanding of buildings, fire dynamics and the effectives of fire within the compartment, building and the manner in which fire departments engage in fire suppression operations.
Today’s fire ground is changing at a very rapid pace as it relates to the continued evolution, transition of engineered structural components and systems (ESS).
Are you prepared, knowledgeable and understand that new strategic and tactical approaches are required?
One of the most significant actions initiated by the Chesapeake Fire Department was the implementation of a Truss Identification Program (TIP).
Take a look at a past posting on CommandSafety.com where we published on an overview a few years ago of truss and engineering component systems across the United States HERE.
City of Chesapeake (VA) Truss ID Program, HERE
The following are excerpts and narrative from the USFA Technical Report Series TR-087 and NIOSH Report 96-17
SUMMARY OF KEY ISSUES
Staffing : The first alarm response provided a small attack force with limited capabilities. The full response brought only 10 personnel.
Size-up : The first arriving company officer was not able to determine the location and extent of the hidden fire.
Pre-fire plan information: This complex required a pre-fire plan due to the complex arrangement, multiple occupancies, mixed construction, lack of fixed protection, limited access and difficult water supply problems. The first-due company did carry a pre-fire plan that showed the layout of the shopping center and the floor plan for the auto parts store, but the prefire plan was not referenced by the crew during the fire.
Delayed response: The first arriving company was on the scene alone for several minutes with only 3 personnel. The back-up companies had long response times. The lack of evidence of a working fire prompted the initial incident commander to return some of the responding units, resulting in even longer response times.
Water supply: The first-in company did not establish a water supply. This required the second engine company to be committed to this task.
Incident command: The battalion chief was faced with a complicated and rapidly changing situation. He was not able to effectively transfer command from the initial officer and direct the operations of widely separated units.
Operational risk management:The officers involved in the initial part of the operation had to make critical risk management decisions with limited information.
Accountability: Accountability for the personnel operating in the hazardous area was not established prior to the structural collapse. As the situation became critical, no one realized that a crew was still inside the building.
Rapid intervention crew: Additional crews did not arrive in time to assist the crew that was in trouble inside the building.
Radio communications: The lack of a clear radio channel for fire ground communications caused serious problems with command and control of the incident, including the failure to maintain communications with the crew inside and the failure to hear their request for assistance.
Lightweight construction: The roof collapsed quickly and with very little warning. This should be anticipated with a lightweight wood truss roof assembly. This hazard was not recognized by the crews on the scene.
BUILDING DESCRIPTION – Construction and History
The fire occurred in a modern, lightweight construction building that was added to an existing strip mall in 1984. The older mall on exposure side four was separated from the fire building by a masonry fire wall and was constructed with masonry walls and a steel bar-joist roof structure. The exposures on side two consisted of additional stores that were similar in construction to the auto parts store. There were no exposures on sides one and three.
The auto parts store was constructed with two masonry exterior walls and two wood frame exterior walls, with a lightweight wood truss roof assembly. It was approximately 120 feet deep and 50 feet wide, providing about 6,000 square feet of open display and storage space. The roof assembly was a pre-engineered lightweight wood truss assembled from 2 x 6 top and bottom chords, with 2 x 4 web members held together with metal gusset plates.
At approximately 11:00 a.m. on March 18, 1996, a power company employee set up a service truck at the rear of the Indian River Shopping Center in Chesapeake, Virginia. The worker was going to disconnect the electrical power to a customer who had not paid an electrical bill. The customer, a cocktail lounge and bar, was located adjacent to Advance Auto Parts. In preparing to disconnect service, the power company worker elevated the articulating boom on his truck to roof level. Faced with the immediate loss of power, an employee of the lounge paid the electrical bill while the power company employee was beginning work, and went to the back of the store to show the receipt.
A stamped receipt indicates the bill was paid at 11:16 a.m. at a supermarket also located in the shopping center. The power company employee, working from the bucket of the articulating boom, lowered the boom and verified the receipt. Although the bucket had been lowered, the hinged elbow of the articulating boom remained elevated. The employee then radioed his supervisor from the cab of his truck, and received instructions not to disconnect power.
The power company employee then attempted to drive the service truck away, forgetting to secure the boom, which snagged on a power line feeding the meter at the rear of the Advance Auto Parts Store. This caused a phase-to-phase and phase-to-ground arcing fault at the store’s electrical meter, starting the fire. The power company employee immediately stopped, exited his truck, and cut the remaining power connections to the meter at the rear of Advance Auto Parts.
Initial Actions Prior to Calling 911
After cutting the power line to the building, the power company employee removed the meter, noticed smoke coming from the meter base, notified his office and requested that another power company crew and a supervisor come and assist him.
Initial Size-Up and Company Actions
At approximately 11:35 a.m., about five and a half minutes after dispatch, Engine 3 arrived on the scene at the front of the strip mall.
Engine 3 Reports They Are Trapped, Roof Collapses
At approximately 11:49 a.m., almost 20 minutes after the initial dispatch time, Hudgins radioed that he and Young could not get out of the building. Battalion 2 radioed back that he could not understand their transmission. Hudgins then radioed that they needed someone to come to the front of the building and get them out. Again unable to understand their transmission, Battalion 2 radioed for any unit on the fireground to advise him if they heard the message that was transmitted.
At this time, Ladder 2’s crew was setting the outriggers and preparing to elevate their aerial ladder for defensive operations.
Driven by the northerly wind and the draft created by the burning contents of the structure, the fire at the rear had grown in such intensity that personnel were forced to move Engine 3. Assisted by employees of the power company, Engine 3 was moved back away from the rear of the building. At 11:55 a.m., about 26 minutes after dispatch, the Captain of Engine 1, with his crew at the rear of the building, confirmed to Battalion 2 that “I got men on the inside from Engine 3, and the lines have been burned. I do not know their status, and we still have no water to go in after them.”
Battalion 3 met with Battalion 2 and discussed that they may have lost a crew inside. Battalion 3 assumed command and Battalion 2 went to the rear of the building to coordinate rescue efforts. There, Battalion 2 met with the Captain from Engine 1.
By this time, the building was fully involved and no rescue efforts could be mounted until the fire was knocked down. Officers at the front and the rear attempted to conduct a personnel accountability report (PAR) to determine who was missing and where they might be located.
Extinguishment and Body Recovery
The fire spread to the attic of the exposures on side two and was held in check by the fire wall on side four of the building. The fire was brought under control as the contents of the auto parts store burned off and several aerial streams were put into operation. After the fire was extinguished, a search for the missing firefighters was initiated. After the bodies of the firefighters were located, they were removed from the fire building by members of the Virginia Beach Fire Department, and transferred by members of the Chesapeake Fire Department to medic units.
The body recovery was supervised by the Chesapeake Fire Department Fire Marshal’s Office and documented. An investigation was immediately started by the Chesapeake Fire Department Fire Marshal.
Fire Cause and Flame Spread
Initial Response - The first alarm assignment was overwhelmed by the situation, the circumstances, and the unusual sequence of events that occurred at this incident. It is evident that a larger force would have been needed to initiate an effective offensive or defensive operation for a working fire in a 6,000 square foot commercial occupancy, with attached exposures on two sides, with or without the unusual complications.
LESSONS LEARNED AND REINFORCED
1. RISK ASSESSMENT is the primary responsibility of the incident commander.
This incident presented a very high risk to the firefighters who were attempting to make an interior attack. However, the risk factors were not recognized and the interior crew was not directed to abandon the building. Risk assessment should be a continual process, particularly when a situation is changing very quickly.
2. ACCOUNTABILITY is an essential function of the Incident Command System.
The location and operation of the initial attack crew was not tracked according to the incident command system that was in effect at the time of the fire. The system must keep track of the location, function, status, and assignment of every individual unit or company operating at the scene of an emergency incident. In order to be effective, the accountability process must be routinely initiated at the beginning of every incident and updated as the incident progresses and units are reassigned to different tasks.
3. TACTICAL RADIO CHANNELS are essential for firefighter safety.
The fireground operations were conducted on the same radio channel as the routine dispatch and transfer of additional units, hampering the fireground communications during the important early stages of the incident. Designated radio channels should be set aside specifically for communications between the incident commander and the units operating at the scene of an incident. The exchange of information, orders, instructions, warnings, and progress reports is essential to support safe and effective operations. Tactical channels should be assigned early and routinely to avoid the confusion that occurs when units that are already working are directed to switch to a different radio channel.
4. FIRE OPERATIONS must be limited to those functions that can be performed safely with the number of personnel that are available at the scene of an incident.
The initial response to this incident did not provide enough resources to safely initiate an effective interior attack for the situation that was encountered. The first arriving company initiated interior operations that could not be adequately performed or supported with the limited number of personnel at the scene or responding. The delayed arrival of back-up companies increased the risk exposure of the first due company. The situation called for a more conservative initial attack plan and/or an early retreat when the magnitude of the fire became evident.
5. WATER SUPPLY is a critical component of a safe and successful operation.
The failed attempt to establish an adequate and reliable water supply for the interior attack was a critical problem at this incident. This task occupied the second due engine company which was needed to provide either a back-up hose line to support the interior attack or a rapid intervention crew.
6. LIGHTWEIGHT WOOD TRUSS CONSTRUCTION is prone to rapid failure under fire conditions.
If the construction of the building had been known or recognized, the early failure of the roof structure should have been anticipated and the interior crew should have been withdrawn. This requires pre-fire planning to identify high risk properties and a reliable system to label the building or to inform the responding units of the risk factors of the building. It is usually difficult or impossible to make this determination when the building is burning.
USFA Technical Report Series Incident Report: Tr-087 NFPA 1996 Report Summary Sheet: NFPAChesapeake
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At first glance it looks like one BIG building. However, closer scrutiny reveals there are three (3) building occupancies sharing common party walls.
What gives you the first appearance that this may be one building versus three structures? There are a couple of immediate features that can take you down the wrong path if you’re not familiar with the building type, the inherent features as well as the apparent alterations that are now influencing it.
Reading the Building requires skill sets to keeping looking further beyond what is immediately obvious; that successive layers of observations upon arrival and fluid assessment expose other pertinent, Building, Structure, System, Occupancy and Operational Risks, hazards and Considerations in the development of the incident action plan and determination of strategic, tactical and task objectives and assignments.
Here are our Buildingsonfire Street Questions:
That’s plenty to keep you going…
Checkout the comments and interactions on Buildingsonfire on Facebook HERE and don’t forget to to LIKE and pass the link along
Here’s a PDF that you can download and share with the company, at the station or use of a quick in-service drill; HERE StreetsSidebySide
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