Nothing Good Happens At 3 A.M.

“Combat Ready” is not a slick ad slogan or an “aggressive” cliche. That call for bells at 0300 may be the only jump you get. How prepared will you be?


This week members of the District of Columbia Fire Department responded to a fire on the fifth floor of the eight-story Sarbin Towers in Northwest. First due companies arrived to find that two occupants had jumped from the fifth floor and others were in the windows. Some occupants had reportedly begun to use their own improvised bailout kits comprised of either phone cord or cable T.V. cord.

Local news covered the blaze and followed up with reports of probable arson and the efforts by the department to rescue the occupants. Especially noteworthy is the comments from Captain Captain Tim Jeffery (RS.2) about his continual on scene size-up,

“Nothing good happens at 3:30 in the morning,” said Captain Tim Jeffery, “as soon we walked in and saw bloody footprints across the lobby area I knew the upstairs was going to be pretty bad.”

At the end, despite the one fatality, members of the department were successful in knocking down the fire and removing occupants. A total of 10 people were reportedly injured.

The comments by Captain Jeffery should remind us that at no time does our mental evaluation of the fireground ever stop. Everything we hear and subsequently see is being cataloged in our mind and compared with our past experiences to guide us in the best way. Being “combat ready“, or as we like to say, “expect fire” is not a off the cuff remark. We enter this field expecting to respond with little notice and expecting to mitigate whatever emergency we find. Use the job in Northwest to ask yourself and your crew – honestly – the following “combat ready” questions:

1. If this alarm were dispatched as a odor of smoke how prepared would I be?

2. Would my attitude change if this alarm for fire were upgraded to report people jumping?

3. If my company were one of the first arriving companies, would jumpers and occupants in the windows distract us from our assignments?

4. When I come to ride/work do I make my gear ready to go to work?

5. When was the last time my shift drilled like it was the ‘real thing’?

6. Look around your day room – Could the ones you see fight a similar fire? Successfully?

Complacency doesn’t happen overnight. It is stealthy; permeating your department in small measures. It starts out first in individuals like yourself. You don’t need to check the wagon, the hose looks fine. You’ll check the saws later, you need to plan dinner. You’ll study the mapbook later, the game is on now.

Then it creeps in more and more. We need to get dinner, we’ll drill afterward. We don’t need to check the rigs, they did it after last night’s fire. Practice stretching lines? Why, it should be second nature.

Before you know it, complacency is riding in the bucket next to you. You don’t dress completely, or you don’t bring all your tools. You blow the address or you charge the rack before it’s flaked out. Maybe you have a PPE “issue”. A fluke or a bad day is one thing, but when these little occurrences happen repeatedly in your company or on your shift, it’s a sign that you have complacency. The best cure, like any other problem, is admitting it and starting to fix the behavior. This is done by drilling, being ready for ‘work’, and maintaining that readiness.

The guy hanging out the fifth floor by his phone cord is counting on you.

One Dead in D.C. High-Rise Fire, WTTG
Columbia Heights Fire Was Set, WUSA9
Investigators: Arson likely cause of deadly 16th Street apartment fire, WJLA
DCFD.com: Slideshow, DCFD.com
Play Like You Practice: Part 1 “Introduction to the concept”, Traditions Training

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