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Let's Talk Fire- Tactical Mistakes We Can't Afford To Make

Updated on September 22, 2014

LODDs Are A Firefighter's Nightmare

Firefighters must be aware of mistakes that can be avoided to protect their lives and the lives of others.
Firefighters must be aware of mistakes that can be avoided to protect their lives and the lives of others.


Greetings nozzleheads and hose junkies. This time around we are going to look at and address some tough topics in the fire service. As most of you know the term LODD is one that we as firefighters just can't stand to hear and as a department can't afford to have. LODD stands for line of duty death. That means one of our brothers or sisters is no longer fighting the fire here but has moved on to the big station in the sky.

Sadly most LODDs can easily be avoided and prevented with the greatest of ease. Today we will look at some key factors that result in LODDs and how we can eliminate them from our fire scenes. We will break down and explore each element from it's most trivial nature to it's most severe. In knowing what mistakes we can avoid we can eliminate the chance of those mistakes claiming one of our own. One aspect is in many cases most of this mistakes go with no tragedy and the outcome of the scene is still the one anticipated but it only takes once! Each precautionary step we take will be one more step toward a safer, more efficient fire service. That is the kind of service in which everyone goes home.

Size Up

Always conduct a good size up
Always conduct a good size up

Conducting A Size Up

When does it begin?

I have a few years under me in the fire service and I can't even tell you how many hours of training I have logged. Yet I still see people miss the question above. When does our scene begin? Is it the moment we pull up to the scene? Could it be the first instance a hose is pulled from our trucks? Is it with the first due in engine? All of these are good answers.... if you like being wrong. Our scene begins the moment the tone drops and we hear the dispatchers voice.

One huge tactical mistake that happens all to often is the failure to render a 360 degree size up. Rushing the scene without key information regarding the hazards present could be the very mistake that send you to the burn center or even worse the red car to your wife to tell her and your children daddy isn't coming home. Having the frontal view of a structure is not enough to make a definitive and educated decision on how to approach the scene. gather what information dispatch can give you and when you roll up ask on lookers questions that might make this scene less of a danger to you and your crew.

I like to answer a series of questions in my own head when I am conducting my size ups.

  1. Construction Related questions.
  • What type of structure is this?
  • if I need on that roof will it be possible?
  • Where are the utility shut offs?
  • Do I have the means to force entry if the need arises?
  • Where are my key egress points.

2. Occupancy Related Questions

  • Who lives here?
  • Are they home or did they get out?
  • Are their guns or explosives inside?
  • is rescue required?

3. Layout and Exposure concerns-

  • How easy is it to reach this location?
  • Are there power lines that might impede action?
  • Do I have adequate water supply?
  • Are nearby structure a concern?
  • Do I have foliage that may increase my dangers?

4.Where is the fire?

  • Where is my smoke?
  • Can I see flames?
  • Are there indicators of a backdraft?
  • Has this bad boy flashed yet?

5. Where is the flame going next?

  • Is it overtaking the attic?
  • Will it take the walls?
  • Can I contain this fire to one area?

Try and visualize every aspect of what could happen and if a danger is there eliminate it. Size ups are quick but still can be accurate and precise. Failing to render your size up could result in injury or death. Get your head in the game and do what we know is right!

Do you have what it takes?

Incident Command is vital to a good fire scene.
Incident Command is vital to a good fire scene.

Incident Command

Let me go on record here. Wearing a white hat does not a leader make. Just because someone has an officer title and a badge of duty that does not mean they are fit to assume the role of incident commander on a fire scene. My girlfriend Tiffany is a one year 150 certified firefighter and she grasp the ideas and approaches of the ICS better than most 10 year vets I meet.

The role of incident commander is one with heightened levels of responsibility. The individual assuming that role needs to be a firefighter who really has their act together and knows the way a fire ground scene should operate. The key to successful fire operations is coordinated efforts and a bad incident commander can really jeopardise that outcome. I have seen and heard of some very poor incident commanders in my day.

Here are a few simple mistakes an IC can eliminate.

1. Running both offensive and defensive fire attacks at the same time.

How anyone could ever assume this is a good tactic is way beyond me. Basically this presses the interior crew to work against the exterior crew as both push heat and fire onto each other. It is a dangerous practice and proves the person who initiated orders to do this had no grasp on which attack would have worked so they went with both in hopes of saving face. This is not a good idea and can kill firefighters.

2. Failing To Call Mutual Aid.

Yet another dumb choice I can't comprehend. This may be a direct result of pride. pride kills more firefighters than you could ever imagine so keep that part of you on the truck. When you arrive if you even remotely think you will need more water, manpower or resources not available on your department call mutual aid. Stage them until they are needed. if they are never needed it is better to have the resources there and not need them then to need them and not have them. Most departments don't mind being paged out to help. I admit some make it a competition and that is silly and a topic for another Let's Talk Fire later on.

3. Poor Leadership

A push over should never be given a role in a command position! I have seen guys allow firefighters to freelance simply because they did not want anyone mad at them or in some cases they did not know what the next plan of action should have been. I have seen guys vent windows showing definitive signs of backdraft, kick doors before trying the handles and even bust the window out of a parked car when the door was not locked all because the incident commander on scene had no clue what to do next.

I won't harp much more on this role but as an incident commander a person needs to be stern and confident in their ability to bring that scene to a desired close.


Good training is the key to a good fire department
Good training is the key to a good fire department

Training is vital.

Teach a firefighter the right way and they will stay safe!
Teach a firefighter the right way and they will stay safe!

Lack of Training

Nothing crimps my hose quite like the gung ho firefighter who never shows up to drills or class but insist on leading the line into a burning structure or yells use a fog pattern on that interior fire, thus resulting in a disturbance of the thermal layer and a risk of burn. It is best to let the strongest links hold up your fence. In the fire service we need to focus responsible positions on our members who dedicate their selves to learning the service. Firefighting is not just about wet stuff on red stuff and we need to realize that simple training mistakes and lack of using our training kill many firefighters each year.

Some of these mistakes are simple and easily avoidable while others may be the direct result of adrenaline taking over and obscuring the thought process. let's look at a few simple training mistakes that have killed firefighters in the past and see if we can avoid them.

1. Marking doors during search operations. If you fail to do this the next due in firefighter may search a room that has already been searched or even worse shut the door on you. Mark the room the right way.

2. Wrong hose line selection. Yeah that 2 alarm high rise fire with a heavy fuel load is going to be just a little bit to much for that booster house probie. Know what size hose will give you the best water flow and knock the fire down the best.

3. To many in!- I know we all were there. We want to experience the fire from the inside. Never let to many people inside. If you have a 9 man crew never let 5 venture into the structure unless needed.

4. Where is RIC? Rapid Intervention Crews are a must on all fire scenes in which you have firefighters inside a structure. Have a safety method in work and be ready to go get your buddies.

5. No egress. Never go into a situation without having at the very least 2 ways out of it.

6. No fire behavior training. Fire behavior is the meat and potatoes of what we do. If we anticipate what the fire may do we can better head it off. Train on this subject in detail!

7. Over use of the radio. I hate when a probie is using the radio to get fire scene info they can just look at. Free that radio up in case an emergency happens.

8. No mayday. Firefighters are prideful. Don't let pride prevent you from calling mayday.

9. Sounding the floor. This is a biggie. Never enter a room or roof without checking the stability of the standing area.

In Closing

I know I tackled a good deal of information in this article but it only scratches the surface. LODDs are happening every day and we need to start to explore how we can prevent them. We have to commit to safety on all front and know our limitations. If each of us strives to be the best we can then our departments will benefit from that.

Remember check that door for heat, use the buddy system, and tell that probie by the truck to stop pretending he is conan and put the rescue axe back in the truck! Learn from the past for survival in the future!


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