Plan B

Having various plans is like having various resources. You'll never be stuck trying to solve any fireground problem with the same solitary solution.


Many of you have taken Firefighter Survival Training.  While it varies from place to place, depending on the instructors, the core information and intent is the same, to prepare firefighters to save themselves when things go wrong.  From bailouts to low profile maneuvers to breathing control, all these things are taught to teach firefighters what to do when things gone wrong and they get stuck. 

But what about not getting stuck in the first place?  What if we went about things in such a way that we didn’t allow ourselves to get jammed up in the first place?  Chief John Norman talks about never putting yourself in a position where you have to rely on someone else to get you out, in his book “Fire Officer’s Handbook of Tactics”. 

It is critical that every firefighter perform a size up of the building based on their assignment.  As part of this size up, we should determine what tools we need to accomplish out tasks, how we are going to get to where we need to go and how we are going to get out if we have to. 

It is critical that we don’t blindly rush into the building before we get a good look at it.  How many stories is it? Where are the windows?  Are there other entrances?  Are there fire escapes?  Do we need ground ladders?  Have ladders already been thrown? 

We also need to be concerned with the conditions.  Where is the fire?  Where is it going? What are the smoke conditions?  It may seem like a lot of information, but it is information that you cannot afford to miss.  Many of us answer these questions without consciously thinking about it.  We have considered these things at every fire we have gone to, and they are part of our muscle memory.  But often, especially in departments that are going to less fires, these thoughts and observations do not come automatically. 

These Maryland firefighters practicing the popular Denver Drill in their RIT training are expanding their knowledge base by having one more way to remove a downed firefighter. (FITHP/Bruce Secrist photo)
More at RIT Drill – Station 400 – Ridgely, Md.

Every fire is different, regardless of how similar it seems to the one before.  We must expect that the unexpected is going to happen and prepare ourselves for when everything goes wrong.  Think about it before your next fire, because the time to start planning isn’t when you get off the truck.  Knowing your district, your buildings, the hazards and your function gives you plenty of information to think about before the call ever comes in.  Once the alarm sounds that information should be easily recalled and added to the information received with the dispatch, so that by the time you get to the box, you already have a good idea of what you may be up against.  The final piece of building Plan B is looking at the building.  This quick look, plus the rest of your size up should give you all the information you need to accomplish your task and to get out if things go wrong.

Recently there was an article that is an excellent example of what is being discussed.  A firefighter arrived at a fire in a single family residence.  The fire was in the basement and companies were operating there.  The firefighter walked up to the building and quickly looked down the Bravo and Delta sides, before he went inside to assist with fire attack.  He noticed that the house was set into a hill, and that on both side there were full windows at the basement level.  He then entered the building and was caught in a collapse of the first floor.  After he landed in the basement, he got his bearing and remembered the window he had seen on the Bravo Side.  He quickly crawled to the window and was able to self extricate with no assistance.

Had this firefighter not taken the couple of seconds it took to size up the building, the outcome could have been very different.  Instead of going to the hospital or worse, he went home.  Why?  Because he practiced good size up techniques and did not put himself in a position where he needed others to help him get out.  He had a Plan B.

Dave LeBlanc is a Lieutenant with the Harwich, Massachusetts Fire Department.In addition to his regular duties, Dave also manages the Department’s Radio system, is responsible for conducting Fire Investigations, and assists in maintaining the computers systems.

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Backstep Firefighter

“To provide a point of critical thought about certain acts and events in the fire service while incorporating behavioral education and commentary in a referenced format.”

FE Talk: Humpday Hangout

Ron Ayotte
“FEAR” by Ric Jorge
Ric, excellent article. Your FD is not the only one that suffers from TAS (Training Anxiety Syndrome). Same circus, different community. As far as seeking help from an EAP, I did take advantage of my community's EAP 8 years into my career. I was heading down the road to a separation/divorce after I got promoted…
2014-12-04 16:04:47
Mike McAdams
Who Looks After The Victims?
Captain LeBlanc, Great point in the blog debating the new and old techniques and how to blend them into that first minutes on the fire ground. One of the first points stated was “Unless they know your manpower, resources and abilities, and are standing in that front lawn at 2:00 a.m., all they can do…
2014-12-02 14:45:23
Ruel Douvillier
Who Looks After The Victims?
I suspect these new tactics are all related to the NFPA standard that came out a few years ago recommending higher manpower on apparatus than the authorities having jurisdiction were prepared to implement. For the 30+ years that I've been fighting fires, UL and NIST have been using the data that they gained by setting…
2014-12-02 11:48:44
Joseph carroll
Who Looks After The Victims?
I work in a dept with 2 man Engine cos, man powers is an issue with our first due assignment. (3 engs,2 Trks , Batt Chief). Usually 13 Firefighters on the assignment. At times the exterior attack has no option, heavy fire too include exposures etc. some new leaders feel that this exterior attack is…
2014-12-01 19:05:51
Who Looks After The Victims?
Am I missing the old SSLEEVES-OCD pneumonic??? seems that one. It addressed alot of the things we have to think of, and the new Slicers is something that I think in right circumstances and construction would make sense, but at other times might be completely useless. I have watched and read alot of the NIST…
2014-12-01 02:10:06
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