Clear, concise, level-headed communication is one of the best characteristics a first-due officer can have. Especially when the local alarm turns out to be two floors of heavy fire and the exposures starting to go.
By now many of you have heard about the tragic fire that occurred yesterday morning in Baltimore, MD. The original call was for fire on the porch, and it was upgraded to a full box alarm shortly after that. Dave Statter has some excellent coverage of the fire HERE.
“…2309 Homewood…porch fire..”
“Communications to Engine 33, Truck 5, switch over to Charlie 1, remainder of the box being transmitted…”
Engine 33 Officer:
“Engine 33 to Communications…we have a hydrant at Homewood and Bartlett…we’re on the scene…we have fire showing…first floor, second floor…make Engine 33 “Command.”
Engine 33 officer:
“Engine 33 to Communications…strike out a second alarm.”
Battalion Chief 2:
“Battalion 2, I’m on the scene..make this a working fire..I got heavy fire showing, first and second floor.”
Battalion Chief 2:
“Battalion 2 to 33, evacuate the dwelling on bravo side. Battalion 2 to Engine 33, evacuate the dwelling on the bravo side.”
Take a listen to the audio from the fire. Granted on arrival they were not aware that the fire would end in such a high life loss, but showing up with two floors of fire at 5am is a plate full on most days.
The Boss on Engine 33, the first to arrive, calmly notes their hydrant location, what he has showing and then takes command. No screaming and yelling, just a professional going about his business. What is the importance of this?
For starters, it allows him to communicate the conditions CLEARLY. Everyone knows there are going to work, they know who is in charge, and they have a pretty good idea of what they have. The other plus is it gives his company some confidence and allows them to remain focused. We have all worked for the Boss whose eyes fuse together into one big eye ball and runs around screaming and yelling. Not only is it hard to figure out what needs to be done, but it is hard to keep you own cool when someone else is losing it.
Even when Engine Boss orders a second alarm and the Chief decides to evacuate the exposure building, there is no yelling. Just clear communication so that everyone knows what is going on, and what needs to be done.
In his book, “About Face: The Odyssey of an American Warrior”, Colonel David Hackworth describes his company commander’s ability to remain calm, “Michaely (Captain Jack Michaely – George Company/The Wolfhounds) was as cool as ice. He exhibited little emotion; the worse things were on the battlefield, the calmer his voice sounded on the radio. Later he said that as cool as he was on the outside, inwardly he’d churn: “I learned in WW II,” he said, “that the slightest bit of excitement in a leader is transmitted to the men. You might be afraid, but the fear gets magnified in the troops. Somebody has to keep his cool. If you are a decent leader, you don’t dare lose it – for your own good. You’ve got to keep you unit up there doing its job.”
A couple of other thoughts that apply come from the late Andrew Fredericks:
“Don’t run to the truck when the alarm comes in. If you run to the truck, you will run at the fire. Running leads to yelling and then nothing with get done.”
Andrew Fredericks didn’t say this one, but he used it in an article once and credited to a Senior Fireman on Engine 48.
“The garbage man doesn’t get excited when he comes around the corner and sees a big pile of trash.”
In a recent discussion with another firefighter this quote came up. The other firefighter was explaining that trash and fire are two different things, and that we are going to be excited and to some extent that is a good thing. Excited might not be the best word. Maybe it should be the garbage man isn’t “surprised”, because each day he puts on his vest, gets on his truck, and collects garbage. That is his job. So maybe we should put on our gear (all of it), get on our truck and EXPECT FIRE, because that is our job.
It sounds like that is what the Brother in Baltimore did.