Let’s take a minute and pretend that it’s 0100 hours and you’ve just gotten comfortable in your bunk after your second false alarm of the night at two different frat houses. You close your eyes, even though you just know this moment will be short lived. Wait for it…….wait for it…..wait for……zzzzzzzz.
BAM! The tones sound….it’s a working fire at 1234 Wright Street within your response area. Your engine is going to be first in. Enroute you keep pressing dispatch for info and updates. Try to form a picture in your mind of the street, the house, exposures and water supply. Is there fire or smoke showing? Is anyone inside the house or are all occupants accounted for? You ask dispatch for any
additional info as your engine turns onto Wright Street. You’ve been trying to form a picture of the scene in your mind since initial dispatch and hoping the picture will become clearer with each update.
Ideally, when you step off the rig and look at the scene it will match the picture you’ve been forming in your head. It would be great if the two pictures match…sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. Either way, you’ve got a job to do. Actually a lot of jobs to do. But one in particular you’ve been doing since the initial dispatch…size-up. Initiating command, getting water, deploying lines, search, rescue, vent…the whole shabang lies ahead of you and size-up goes right along with them.
It is at this point that I suggest fire officers should have one more trick up their sleeve…they should “B.A.G. the Situation”. I learned very early on in my career from some great fire officers that emergency scene operations go much smoother when they proceeded to “B.A.G. the Situation” on arrival.
To “B.A.G. a Situation” consists of the officer asking himself or herself three questions:
1. Where’s the situation Been?
2. Where’s the situation At now?
3. Where’s the situation Going?
The answers to the first two questions should be apparent. The information received from dispatch during the initial call up through arrival on scene, and a proper 360º recon should give an officer an idea where the situation has Been. In other words, where and how did this situation originate? In the case of the house on Wright Street, let’s say that on arrival flames could be seen coming from the
living room level of what appears to be a single-level ranch style house. Upon performing a 360º recon, it is revealed that the house actually has a walkout basement. Hot coals from a barbecue grill placed too close to the house’s vinyl siding started a fire that made its way up the siding and into the living area via an open sliding patio door.
Understanding where the fire started (where it has Been) is imperative to the success of the operation. The At question is usually what is discovered upon arrival (in this case the flames seen through the living room window). It is at this point that a solid understanding of fire behavior and building construction will come into play to answer the third question. Where is the situation Going?
Most of us have, at some point in our careers, had to play catch up with a fire as we chased it through a structure. Fortunately, we’ve become smarter and better at reading the picture in front of us. Hopefully, we’ve learned to take that step back and take a look at the overall picture of what we are about to work on or in.
In the case of the Wright Street fire, it may be as simple as a coordinated attack on both levels of the fire along with ventilation, primary, and secondary search. The most important piece of information before applying tactics is to determine where the situation (fire) is Going. Figure that one out, and the situation can be stopped before we have to start playing catch up.
To “B.A.G. a Situation” isn’t really anything new, and it’s not rocket science! In fact, many fire officers “B.A.G. Situations” without even thinking about it. Fire officers have been trained to avoid the “moth to the flame” approach at emergency scenes, leading to more successful operations.
Lastly, I would point out that the “B.A.G. the Situation” approach to scene size-up can be applied to more than just fires. Other types of emergency operations this approach can work on include: vehicle accidents, HAZMAT operations, swift water or ice rescue. Each type of response can benefit from this simple scene size- up approach. While it is not the magic answer for every scene, it is another tool to fire officers to carry in their bag of tricks…pardon the pun. Stay safe!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dave Withrow 1983-1992 USAF firefighter and DOD Academy instructor 1992-2014 Firefighter/engineer/company officer at Champaign Fire Dept, IL 1999-2015 Academy and Field instructor at University of Illinois Fire Service Institute2014-present Fire Science instructor for Three Rivers College and Missouri State Fire evaluator and instructor