Friday, January 2

You Make the Call...Building Alarm

Compared to EMS where we have strict protocols, the fire service has been moving away from SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) and leaning towards SOGs (Standard Operating Guidelines) and in some cases assuming Officers can make it up as they go along.

This can make even the most mundane situations confusing, especially when tactics used by one officer one day are despised by the officer on the next. So what do you do when caught in the middle?

I am assigned to an Engine company, rung out first due on a building alarm. It is 2:30 AM on a cool morning. We arrive with the Ladder Truck and Battalion Chief to the large, partially under construction building to nothing showing and no alarm bell ringing. This building is mixed use, mostly shops and restaurants but is being retrofitted to build residential above. It comprises an entire city block and has a maze of walkways around different retail spaces. I was lucky enough to do a walk through before the construction and know where the alarm panel is. I show the officer and spray painted on the wall where is used to be is a big arrow pointing into the basement that says "fire alarm." Great, they moved it. The Officer advises me and the other firefighter to await instructions back at the engine, he and he Chief will investigate the alarm panel as a team for safety reasons.

Back at the engine a man is frantically trying to get someone to follow him into the maze of hallways shouting "The water is everywhere, come quickly!" He's even pulling on my coat trying to get me to come with him. The officer and Chief do not respond to repeated radio calls and judging by where they are in the basement, I'm not surprised. The man screaming for help has now run back into the hallways and you hear his voice trail off.

What should I do? You Make the Call.


Anonymous said...

Hmmm, This is a good one HM. I have been out most of the night on calls and at meetings. Just got done with 2 hours of emails. Let me sleep on this and take my shot in the morning. I did find the last one interesting. Your call was very similar to the one I mentioned we had. You do what you can with what you have.
I'll take off my Blue hat and put on my Black hat and think on this a bit. (Actually, I won't comment until the beer wears off, it was a long day and I had all this paperwork to do when I got home, it's almost 3am, and yeah dammit, I had a few beers while handling all this email sh-t.)
You made US wait until 1/1 for the follow-up on the DRT call, I can make you wait for my pitiful shot at your next one.
Capt. (formerly 'LT.') Tom

Anonymous said...

Well congrats on the new bugle Tom, let's see what 2 can do!

Anonymous said...

OK HM, there are a lot of 'variables' in this one that can make it tough to do this digitaly. Your relationship with the Officer and/or Chief (do they trust you to make decisions like this, etc.), your additional knowledge of the building, the demeanor of the resident, and the experience of the other firefighter can all play into this. Having said that:
First, I would try to get the resident to calm down and tell us precisely what he knows. 'Where is the water?, Is/was there any fire?, where is the water coming from?, when did it start?', Are there any other people in there?' are all good starting questions. I would make another attempt to make radio contact with the Officers from INSIDE the building, this way help the radio work better or try the mobile radio in the rig.
Based on the answers you get from the resident, you either have a new threat, or not. If it's just water flow, you should hold the resident outside until you make contact with the Officers. If you have a new threat, your actions should be based on that threat (Person trapped). If it is just water flow, there is nothing you are going to change in 2 minutes to undo the damage already done, but you don't want the resident getting hurt or making the situation worse.

Bottom line here is that there COULD be a new threat and you have to act on that. If there is no new threat, you need to get in touch with the Officers as soon as you can and advise them of the new information.

(I'm wondering why there is somebody running around at 2am and thinking this is a clue to what is really going on.)

So do I turn in the other bugle?
Capt. Tom