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Let's Talk Fire: Turning Routine Fires Into Safe Fire Routines

Updated on April 23, 2019
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Sam has been a firefighter for nine years. He currently serves as lieutenant and public information officer of his city's fire department.

Does this look routine?

Every fire is different, we have to treat them as such.
Every fire is different, we have to treat them as such.

Are you guilty?

We have all heard it, heck I would even care to say most of us if not all of us are at the very least guilty of saying it a time or two. "It's just a routine fire on main." "We got a routine structure fire on 5th grab E1." That term irks me almost as much as a probie engineer upping my pressure instead of unkinking my hose. (That sounded naughty.) Routine fire! That term should be banished from every station and punishable by bunking with the station smelly! We are firefighters and embedded in our DNA is the desire to hope and pray for the best but always anticipate and prepare for the worse. Why is it then we still make that rookie mistake of ever referring to a fire as routine. That classification and blind complacency can get us killed.

The failure to evaluate and the reliance on complacency and what we have always done has sent many of us to an early retirement and tragically many more to an early grave. We put on our blinders, grab our axe and away we go to smash doors and save babies. But, what if hiding behind door number 1 is not a baby in need of a firefighter but a nice big hole cut in the entrance to drop your complacent ass down into the basement where you get to meet Mr. Fire up close and Personal. Remember put the wet stuff on the red stuff, not the Ed stuff on the red stuff!

In this installment of Let's Talk Fire we are going to review some common routine fire mentality mistakes and focus on turning the negative routine fire into a positive program that enforces fire routines. Remember no two fires are alike. Even in lab situations fire may burn differently, be more or less intense and even just put them selves out. If we know that no two fires are the same than why do we insist on treating them as such? Remember that next time you show up on that routine on main that a 500 gallon LP tank out back may give you a really unroutine bad day.

Exploring Common Routine Fire Mistakes

I have often been quoted as calling these by a different name, that being complacent ignorance but please feel free to call it what you will.

So you are eating dinner and talking about that fire over on Elm that almost got the truck and the tones drop. Station one has a dumpster fire just off main street. Dumpster fires are easy right? Surround and drown and go back to pizza and war stories. We have gotten so complacent in our understanding of dumpster fires that we really do treat them routine. Most of us don't even pack up for them. I know not you, right?

What should be realized is inside that dumpster could be anything, and I mean anything. Drug waste, human waste, Jimmy Hoffa the options are endless. In today's society the remnants of meth are easily discarded into dumpsters and who is to say the one you are getting ready to dump 1000 gallons of water into is not swarming with them? We just don't know do we?

Maybe that dumpster is filled with gasoline and your usual surround and drown just put 300 gallons of fuel on the blacktop to have it's way with what ever it can get it's fiery claws into. We have to keep that routine bug from biting us and focus on the task at hand and remember kiddies each tasks is different.

Pack up and size that dumpster up just like you would a house fire. Do you note strange things like gas jugs around the perimeter or even a person who looks overly suspicious? Be proactive about how you handle these types of fires. Firefighters have been killed fighting dumpsters, it can and does happen.

What about rekindles? We really lump those badboys deep in that routine category don't we? A rekindle has the potential to be just as dangerous as the initial fire itself was. You may see a routine rekindle but fail to see a disgruntled home owner pissed off that you saved his future insurance claim from going straight to the ground the first time around, so this time he made some goodies for you to find inside the fire. There may now be enough diesel fuel in that building to get you, your crew, and your truck to the moon or at the very least turn Optimus Prime into Amy Winehouse. Guys this stuff does happen, I have seen it myself. Return to a rekindle and find holes in the floor or trailers of paper and gas that make entry damned near impossible.

Why not take the idea of routine and make it work for us? Take size-up. How often do we pull on scene and everything is in flame so we grab a house and away we go to aggressive fire attack land where the lines are short and the rides could kill you? To often would be the best answer! Always size-up that scene. Get to know your enemy before you run in and give him a little kiss on the cheek for good measure because when he kisses back you end up looking like a Freddy victim. I always use Bricelyn D=Street as a great example of how routine can become a big hurt to your family, department and community.

Is this routine?

This dumpster fire started out routine.

A firefighter died fighting this fire.
A firefighter died fighting this fire.

Developing Positive Fire Routines

Ask yourself a simple question. How many routine fires have hurt or killed firefighters in the past? It's alarming to say the least but sadly it is a number that I fear will stay fairly constant. How can we remedy this behavior? Instead of treating fires as routine why not instead build routines that make you a more efficient fire department? There are several things we are trained to do at every fire regardless but so often we neglect to do them. Sometimes even I find myself inside a house without a tool. Let's look at a few routines that will assist in making your department the best it can be.

  1. Size-Up!- This is by far the most important aspect of our fire ground operations. A plan of attack is useless if you do not know where to attack, what to attack and how to attack. Size-up should always be the first priority when you arrive on scene and should not end there. periodically get in the habit of doing size-up at different intervals of the fire. remember that beast is always changing so we have to adapt and change with it. Whether you are running E1 to a three alarm fire or getting a cat out of a tree size-up the scene and know potential hazards that might exist. Take 30 to 60 seconds and get to know the scene and how to approach it that will give you the best results.
  2. Establish RIT- Rapid Intervention Teams are a must for any fire demanding you go interior. Remember 2 in 2 out. If we have a crew inside we need a crew outside who is primed and ready to make entry and rescue that crew should things inside go south or take a sudden turn for the worse,
  3. Properly Suit Up- Turn out is only has good as it's weakest link. I know firefighters who don't fully enclose themselves and that is asking to get burned. Use that hood and collar. I suggest having buddies assigned to each other. When Jacobs gears up Rivera will check to see if he is properly in his turn out and vice versa. It is important that we know our gear and how to make it work for us.

4. SCBA- I can not express this enough. Cancer is the real enemy hiding in the smoke and flame. We have to realize our actions today have ongoing effects in the future. Wear that SCBA even when doing mop up and overhaul. Those gasses are still present and still very much capable of causing you harm. Get in the routine of wearing the SCBA at car incidents, dumpster fires and any situation where you will be put in a position where you may harm your lungs through inhaling harmful elements.

5. Tool Time- Take a tool always. I stress you get comfortable with a tool and understand it's advantages and disadvantages on the fire ground. Where ever you go your tool goes. It does not have to be a set of irons or even a bar. I know a guy that takes a 3 foot pike pole in every fire he goes into and can do wonders with that thing. I often carry a stanley fubar tool with me. It is the preference of the individual firefighter in the end but never enter a structure with out having a tool to assist you should you need to get our in a hurry.

6. Radio- Get in the routine of always having your radio handy. That can be the difference in calling mayday and calling the wife to let her know you are not coming home. Communication issues are always at the top of line of duty death reports and we should do what we can to limit that.

7. Sounding Floors and Roofs- As we move through a structure or even on top of it we need to be aware that fire may have damaged the support structures of that particular building. Use your tool and really strike that surface. You are looking for a solid base to walk or crawl across. If it sounds hollow or gives than you know you must find another access point. I am a huge advocate for sounding floors and it is something every firefighter should get in the routine of doing.

8. Await Assignment- No freelancing!!! Ever!!!! Freelancing kills firefighters. When you arrive on scene report to the commanding officer and get assigned to a task. Never assume that since you pride yourself on interior attack that you should grab and go without being ordered to do so. The incident commander at the fire scene may have a different approach in mind. Always wait to be placed somewhere before taking action.

9. If The Truck Don't Start The Fire Wins!- Truck and vehicle maintenance are a vital part of the fire ground despite not being done there. Always take time, usually once a week, to go over your vehicles. Check tires and lugs, go though compartments and get familiar with them, and check the fluids. Your truck is the lifeline to your water supply and the items you need to be safe on the fire ground. Take care of it.

10. Step Back and Breath- We get blinders. We see fire and instantly we know what to do and how to do it but really we should step back and assess the situation. Take time to get your head clear and focused before you make that attack or pop that vent hole. Get your situations awareness working and then proceed to the task at hand. In the end you will be much more efficient for doing so.

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