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Soften the Structure: A Rapid Intervention Company Safety Solution

Blog by Ed Hadfield

Firefighters are injured and killed in structure fires at an alarming rate. According to the NFPA, residential structure fires account for 79 percent of all occupancy fires in America. With that said, as Incident Commanders, we often fail to recognize the importance of providing a Softening Solution on our residential structure fires. In this article I will explain the importance of:

>> Structure Identification
>> RIC Assessment
>> Access and Egress Portal Softening Techniques
>> Portal Identification
>> Softening Techniques on Residential Structures

For the last few years, fire service agencies across America have done an adequate job addressing the issue of Rapid Intervention and the use of Rapid Intervention Company (RIC). However, we still find fire service organizations fail to utilize the RIC in a proactive fashion.

As Incident Commanders and Rapid Intervention Group Supervisors, it is important to recognize the primary goal of identifying and removing all potential hazards on the fire ground in an effort to reduce the chances of deployment.

In the event of an RIC deployment, the keys to success are: firefighter identification, location of the down firefighter, and the reason for entrapment. Once those factors have been established, the quickest access route and egress portal must be identified and used if the down firefighter is to be found in a sufficient amount of time. This should be done prior to the MAYDAY being called, and well planned by the RIC.

Structure Identification:
Structures typically fall into the following categories:

>> Residential
>> Commercial
>> Industrial
>> High-Rise

Each structure type also has a number of different groups. Therefore, we must break our occupancies into both structure type and group. For example, the residential structure has multiple groups including: residential single story, residential multi-story, multi-family habitations and the ever increasing residential care facility. Each group presents various hazards associated with the firefighting operations that must be addressed by the RIC team during their softening phase.

Additionally, any structure that is heavily secured or has multiple protected openings should be declared a high-density structure. This declaration gives clear direction to RIC personnel and a warning to all other personnel that are operating in or on the structure itself.

RIC Assessment:
Once the RIC has conducted primary structure identification, their initial actions to soften the structure should begin.

The RIC needs to assess the primary access portal, determine the number of personnel interior the occupancy, and address the primary portal for known hazards. Typical known hazards in this situation include the rather small orifice of the access portal given the number of personnel that have entered it, the potential of access portal closure, and lastly the lack of lighting at the access portal itself. All access and egress portals on any structure need to be addressed in this fashion.

Access and Egress Portal Softening Techniques:
For the purpose of the article, we will assume that personnel have responded to a large two-story residential structure that is considered a high-density structure, meaning it has multiple protected openings. Given this scenario, your company is assigned RIC responsibilities. Again, the goal of RIC is not only the protection of those personnel assigned to the incident, but you are also tasked with providing them support in the event of a civilian rescue. One of the best methods of support in this instance is to soften the structure for all personnel and RIC operations.

Portal Identification:
Once we have arrived on scene and identified this as a high-density structure, the next actions are to identify the primary access portal, determine which companies have entered this area, as well as determine approximately how many personnel are operating inside the occupancy.

For example, let’s say the first-due company went in the structure with a 1hose line after forcing the security screen door and the inward swinging front door.

As a softening technique, your goal would be the elimination of the security screen door from the structure and removal of the front door completely from the occupancy. First, utilizing a rotary saw cut the security screen door off its hinges and remove it completely from the occupancy. This will leave only the metal frame, which is lag-bolted into the occupancy itself. Then with your Halligan bar; pry the inward swinging front door out of the door frame at the hinge points. Once you have completed this task, drop a box light approximately 18 inches on the inside wall with the light shining across the floor area.

Next, you must identify the area of most danger to interior personnel. By conducting a structure assessment, you are looking for the area of greatest pressurization and generation of smoke. This is a general indicator of where the main body of fire may be located.

Given this is a two-story occupancy, it is safe to assume personnel will be working on the second floor conducting search operations, checking for extensions, and potentially engaging in firefighting operations.

At this point, personnel must be assigned to remove any protected opening from the upstairs windows or balcony doors. As part of an RIC assignment, it is imperative that you pay particular attention to the first-arriving officer’s size-up. When he/she has indicated they are on scene of a two-story residential occupancy that is a high-density structure, it should give you clear direction to bring a ladder as part of your RIC tool complement. Once the bars or other security devices have been removed, attempt to force the opening without breaking the glass. Unless horizontal ventilation is being requested, the glass will remain intact, but the opening should be forced to provide interior personnel with an egress portal that will allow for a rapid egress should it be required. Again, the key is to work from the area of greatest risk to interior personnel back to the area of least danger. Typically, this is the area where the initial attack has been made.

Lastly, once you have cleared a protected opening, it is important to immediately sweep and search inside that particularly opening. Much like the technique of Vent-Enter- Search, this technique includes Force-Sweep/Search-light-identify. As we all know, civilians will usually attempt to leave a burning structure. Given that fact, as you soften the structure, you will be accessing areas that interior crews may not be capable of searching immediately. Therefore, as part of your softening task, you could likely come across a civilian rescue just inside the door you are forcing for your brother firefighter.

The technique of Force-Sweep/Search-Light-Identify includes creating the access/egress point, placing a foot on the door jam or frame fanning out with your body and Halligan bar, and sweeping/searching the area of the portal for anyone that may be in the immediate vicinity. Multiple civilians have been located through utilization of this technique. Following your forcible entry or softening operations, a rapid search/sweep should be conducted. After an all-clear is accomplished, provide some lighting to the access/egress portal.

Finally, clearly identify to all companies operating inside which division or area has been softened, searched, and cleared.

The key element of any RIC operation is to remember, Any RIC deployment is a defining moment. The contents of this article clearly identify a change in the methodology and operations of most RIC operations. These operations are taking RIC operational set- up procedures, forcing you to think outside-the-box of conventional RIC wisdom.

Remember that 79 percent of all fires occur in residential structures. Of those, a majority of all firefighter fatalities occur in these seemingly benign fires. Dont let the routine fire become the one that takes the life of your brother or sister.

About the Author
Ed Hadfield has more than 26 years of fire service experience after rising through the ranks from firefighter to division chief. He is a frequent speaker on leadership, sharing his experiences within the fire service and also with corporate and civic leaders throughout the United States. For more on Hadfield, please check online at

The Essentials of Honorable Leadership

Blog by Mark Emery, EFO
President of Fire Command, LLC

If all learned skills must begin with the fundamentals, what are the fundamentals of leadership?

Many experts define leadership as the action of leading a group of people or an organization. What that definition describes is supervision and management, not leadership. The evidence is that a person can be promoted to a position of supervision or management without being a leader. Thus it is imperative to prepare leaders at all organizational levels.

Again, it is important to not confuse leadership with supervision or management. The distinction is crucial; not making this distinction is why groups and organizations experience ongoing conflict.

While it is possible to draft a job description for a Supervisor or a Manager, it is impossible to draft a job description for a Leader. Imagine saying to someone, starting Monday morning you will be a leader.

Consider this: The actions of a prison guard ensure that the inmate group gets things done; goals like cooking meals, mopping floors, doing laundry, meeting license plate production quotas, etc. Does that mean that the prison guard is a leader? Of course not, prison goals will be met whether or not the guard is a leader. The supervisory success of the prison guard is entirely based on position and authority.

Although the role, responsibility, and authority of people may vary, the intrinsic template of truly honorable leadership does not vary. Often missed by traditional leadership programs is the fact people should be a leader before they become a supervisor or manager. Each member must be able to lead themselves before they attempt to supervise others.

It is not uncommon for so-called leadership programs to morph into supervision and management programs. Thus, a leadership gap is perpetuated. Fundamentals of leadership essentials must permeate the organization, top to bottom. Not all people will supervise, but all people should possess the template for honorable leadership.

Once the honorable leadership template has been internalized individually, and institutionalized organizationally, honorable leaders will proliferate and the ultimate manifestation of organizational development will emerge: Trust.

About the Author

Mark Emery is president of Fire Command, LLC in King County, Wash. He is a graduate of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer (EFO) Program and has a degree from California State University Long Beach. In 2010, he retired as an operations battalion chief with the Woodinville, Wash., Fire & Life Safety District.

Scenario-Based Simulation Training Helps Firefighters See ‘the Big Picture’


Blog by Joe Pronesti
Captain with the Elyria Ohio Fire Department

In almost 25 years in the fire service, not a single day has gone by in which I didn’t thank the Lord for my blessings. But I’ve come across a few who weren’t as grateful. The types who come in at 8 a.m., or whatever time their shift begins, and are simply there just to collect a paycheck.

If you are a company officer or a command level officer in a small- to mid-size department and you haven’t seen a ton of fire, I have one word of advice: Beware. The easily contracted disease of complacency can reach out and infect you. Its important you don’t let this happen.

My recommendation is to keep your head in the books. Study video, audio and constantly challenge yourself to be ready to face a fire or emergency, no matter how long it’s been since your last one.

Be prepared so you will always have the capability to see the big picture. Never stop studying and analyzing fire, smoke behavior tactics and strategy. People who have been married a long time say the key to a successful marriage is being able to put forth an effort every day to your spouse. The same holds true in firefighting. Put forth an effort — even when you’re off-duty or not in the station — and you will have a successful and happy career.

Keep in mind, almost everything we do at a fire impacts the safety of other firefighters, as well as the success of the operation. Fortunately, technology is here to help us prepare, including software for simulations. Consider picking one up in an effort to help with bell hits.

One of the greatest things about these simulators is their ability to localize simulations. All you need is a camera to get out of the station and take some pictures of your buildings.

To help you get started, below is a template of a scenario you can incorporate into your own simulation training.

Simulation Training

Here’s the scenario: A call comes in around 7 p.m. on a hot summer night. Dispatch states police officers are on the scene. There is a working fire in a truck parked between an occupied multiple-family dwelling and a long time vacant. Upon arrival, this is the only information you have.

You can incorporate any questions you want, but below are some standard ones to help you get started:

1. Do you need more help?
2. Where would you spot first engine and truck?
3. How does the construction involved effect fire spread?
4. First line position/size?
5. Second line position/size?
6. Search to start where?
7. Would you start search ahead of line(s)?
8. Ventilation issues/profile?
9. Additional thoughts concerns, etc.

Now in this particular simulation, I used nine questions, but you may want to follow a known fire service acronym, like COAL WAS WEALTH, for example. Use your imagination and remember, keeping your skills sharp is critical to success.

So next time your crew is sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee, instead of talking about city politics or the state of your department, put a picture of one of your buildings on fire on the table for everyone to analyze. I guarantee you will generate excellent banter, leading to knowledge. The end result will be a more educated, safer department, more prepared to see the big picture.

About the Author
Joe Pronesti is a 24-year veteran of the Elyria Ohio Fire Department where he currently serves as a shift captain. He is a certified fire instructor and teaches at the Cuyahoga Community College Fire Academy near Cleveland. He is also a graduate of the Ohio Fire Chiefs’ Executive Fire Officer Program Class VI.


In the Presence of Overwhelming Evidence: Self Awareness for Fire Commanders

Blog by Dr. Richard B. Gasaway, PhD, EFO, CFO
Retired Fire Chief and Web Master for Situational Awareness Matters

You might think that if a commander were faced with overwhelming evidence that the incident they are operating at was not going well they’d see it and do something different to prevent a tragic outcome. Yet, evidence to the contrary is well documented in the investigation reports. Why, in the face of overwhelming evidence, would a commander not change the plan?

One explanation is, they can’t see it. Not because they are physically removed from the incident and therefore cannot see the bad things coming (though that can be a contributor). Rather, they’re looking right at it and cannot see it. They’re blind to what is right in front of them.

It seems implausible. I know there are skeptics and critics. That is why I devised an exercise that I use in the Mental Management of Emergencies program where I have participants solve a simple problem. They write their answers down on a piece of paper and then raise their hand. I come around to see what they’ve written. Then I ask them if they are certain their answer is right. They look at the paper and affirm it is (often with a great degree of confidence).

The only problem is, their answer isn’t right and the instant I tell them it’s not and the reason its not, they immediately realize it. But right up to that point, they were blind to it. The overwhelming evidence that proved they were wrong was written in their very own handwriting and they were staring right at it. And yet they couldn’t see it.

This exercise serves as a powerful example of the stubborn nature of the human brain. You see what you want to see. You can lock on to a solution to a problem and refuse to see alternative solutions. And, sadly, in the presence of overwhelming evidence that you’re wrong, you may take a stand (even argue) that you are right. These human factor challenges can have catastrophic consequences for first responders. And sadly, you may never know you’re displaying these undesirable traits until it’s too late.

The key to working through these challenges is awareness. Not situational awareness. Rather, self-awareness. Understanding your own limitations and shortcomings as a human being and acknowledging these challenges exist. So when someone comes up to you and points out the overwhelming evidence that you’re on a path to catastrophe, you don’t reflexively argue and defend your position. Rather the alarm bells go off in your head and you seek to reconcile your error in time to change the outcome.

About the Author
Dr. Gasaway is widely considered to be one of the nation’s leading authorities on situational awareness and decision making processes used by first responders. In addition to his 30-plus year career in the fire service, including 22 years as a fire chief, Dr. Gasaway has a second passion: Uncovering and applying research in brain science for the benefit of first responders. His website, Situational Awareness Matters ( has enjoyed over a million visits since its launch in October 2011. He can be reached via e-mail at

Considerations for Smaller-Sized Departments Dealing with High-Rise Fires

Blog by Will Anderson
Platoon Chief with the Euclid Fire Department in Ohio

Serving as a Platoon Chief with the Euclid Fire Department in Ohio, there’s no shortage of work to do. Like most of you, our call volume is up, while our budget is down. In 2012, we answered nearly 8,500 calls for service with a staff of around 80 cross-trained firefighter/paramedics.

Euclid offers a little bit of everything. We have a major interstate (I-90) that allows more than 1 million vehicles to pass through each week. We have heavy and light industry, commercial buildings, two major rail lines, rapid transit buses, and a large Metro-Park, which all bring the chance for technical rescue and hazardous material incidents.

We also have an aging housing stock. More than 85 percent of homes were built before 1970, and thousands of these houses are nearing the century mark. Also, since the 1960s, the city has seen more than 30 high-rises built, all of fire-resistive construction (Type 1). Most are residential, a handful are commercial. Our tallest building is 21 stories and I’m told were home to the largest apartment complex for senior citizens between Chicago and New York City.

Daily, we’re faced with EMS calls, elevator emergencies, alarm activations, odor investigations, or some type of fire in these buildings. The personnel of the Euclid Fire Department have become very well accustomed to operating in our high-rise buildings.

This blog will cover a serious fire in a seven-story commercial building that I functioned as Incident Commander (IC). There were several lessons learned and reinforced from this fire that I wish to pass on. This isn’t to say I’m an expert, I haven’t seen it all, but there was a lot to learn from this experience that I’d like to share:


When I entered the fire service in 1995, it was taboo to talk about mistakes made at a fire. It was perceived as a sign of weakness. If you learned anything from anyone else, it was usually how to not do something. A little over a decade ago, however, I realized there was a better way to look at things. Professional development took on a new meaning for me. Suddenly, I couldn’t get enough training. This belief still holds true today.

The fire I’m focusing on in this article occurred at 3 a.m. We received multiple calls for fire showing from a high-rise office building. It was only six months prior I was with a crew of firefighters performing a company inspection of this building. I remember thinking then that a fire in this 60,000 square foot building could be very bad. Now we were faced with fire showing from multiple windows on the second floor.

Prior to my arrival, I requested our Mutual Aid Box Alarm System (MABAS) to be activated. We were responding with two engines, one truck and three ambulances. I was in a command vehicle. We knew all hands would be going to work based on what we were being told. The mutual aid request would bring an additional three engines, one truck, and one ambulance from neighboring cities. I should mention that our medics assigned to an ambulance typically function in a firefighting capacity at working fires unless they’re specifically designated to serve as an EMS crew.

On arrival, crews began receiving their assignments. Attack was the first assignment given. It’s been my experience that the sooner we get water on any fire, the better things seem to be. The fire was auto-exposing up to the third floor. Due to the size of the fire, I assigned a back-up line to protect the attack crew. The third assignment given was vertical ventilation of the stairwell. This process consisted of opening up roof doors and roof hatches.

What working incident could go without a problem or two, right? During the offensive firefight, interior crews communicated they were making progress, but they had low pressure. A few moments later the pump operator informed me we had lost our supply line. Suddenly, a large amount of water was seen bubbling up from underground. We had a water main break and lost our hydrant.

At that point, interior crews had made some progress, but I ordered all interior crews down to the first floor until a new supply could be established. Within a couple of minutes, we had secured a second water supply from a neighboring department (Willoughby Hills Fire Department), which also responded on the box. In the meantime, the assisting Wickliffe Fire Department, which was handling RIT duties, was redeployed to the exterior to set up a ground monitor on the Delta side of the building to prepare for a defensive attack. The team secured its own water supply to support efforts. Fortunately, we never had to go defensive on this fire.

Interior crews quickly went back to work on Division 2 of the building. Searches were being conducted on the upper floors, utilities were being controlled, and significant progress was being made. About this time I received a radio report that a large section of drop ceiling had collapsed on a crew of firefighters, but entanglement was being addressed. One firefighter was able to free himself and his crew with large wire cutters he carries for such an event. A “MAYDAY” was never called because this well-trained crew kept its calm and performed extremely well under pressure. A back-up crew was in place and RIT was standing by if either were needed. Fortunately, neither was.

This fire reinforced many different topics relating to our job and our safety. Here’s an overview of the key takeaways:

>> Small departments are initially at a disadvantage for serious fires in high-rises: We know high-rises are not relegated to metropolitan areas only. Smaller cities have these building, and despite limited staffing, need to be ready. We have a minimum staffing of three on each apparatus (one officer and two firefighters). Ambulances have a minimum of two. We typically arrive with 10-12 firefighters at a high-rise incident. We’re forced to rely on mutual aid from surrounding communities. Getting that first line in operation is extremely important. The saying is so true: So goes the first line, so goes the fire.

>> Training is paramount: Training issues in high rises can provide a department with opportunities to hone their skills. Pay attention during company inspections. Know the locations of the FDCs, standpipes, and boiler and elevator rooms. Are there compactor shafts in your high-rises? What’s your plan for a compactor fire? Do you know which type of elevator key is needed? Are the elevators hydraulic or electric? Do you know the numbering system of the apartments? Where is the Knox box location? If you open a standpipe but have no water, can you troubleshoot the problem? Are you hooking up on the fire floor or the floor below? Do your standpipes have pressure-reducing valves (PRV)? The opportunities to learn are nearly endless in a high-rise. Do your part to teach your younger, less-experienced members how to stay alive in these buildings.

>> Complacency: If we bring a 2.5-story wood-frame mindset to a high-rise building, were setting ourselves up for failure. Failure in our business means injury and maybe death. Our department has a good amount of experience with fires in residential high-rises. We lack experience with fires in commercial high-rises. As I was giving assignments to crews at this fire, I told each crew to slow down and think about what we were going into. I told them this fire was different than what were used to. After the fire, several members came up to me and thanked me for telling them that. It made them realize the seriousness of the fire and how a commercial high-rise differs from a residential high-rise. Residential high-rises of Type 1 construction are compartmentalized very well. It’s unlikely the fire will extend beyond the apartment of origin unless it auto-exposes to the floor above or the occupant leaves the apartment door open as they escape. By code, the doors are supposed to be self-closing. Also, the apartments are typically no larger than 700-800 square feet. Conversely, commercial high-rises cover large open areas. Each floor of the fire building we faced was nearly 8,000 square feet in size. Most are much larger than this. Also, commercial high-rises likely have increased fire loads, maze-like interiors, HVAC systems that can spread smoke and fire, and drop ceilings that may have illegally-stored wiring and conduit above the ceiling panels. When these drop due to fire exposure, they can trap and kill unsuspecting firefighters below. The point is to know your buildings!

>> Role of the Incident Commander: It’s easy for a new command-level officer to feel the need to help by pulling hose, propping doors, making a connection to a hydrant, etc. when staffing is limited in a small department. Don’t do it! Another featured contributor at TargetSolutions is Dr. Richard Gasaway. He is considered the subject matter expert on situational awareness and writes extensively on the topic and how it pertains to the role of the Incident Commander (IC). Please take the time to read his material. It will make your fireground safer! To provide crews with the best possible chance for success, an IC needs to be totally focused on his/her job. If an IC is pulling hose, how can he/she be focusing on the big picture? We face risk at each fire we respond to. As an IC, some risk can be controlled and some can’t. You owe it to your personnel to provide them with the best chance for success. You can do this by totally focusing on the needs of the incident, staying one step ahead, knowing your personnel, and delegating tasks to support officers or senior advisors.

This first article covered a lot of information. I hope it stimulates some discussion amongst your members around the kitchen table. Regardless, firefighters have a duty to pass on their experience to new members. Dennis Smith of FDNY (retired) once said, “a true mark of a leader lies in how he treats and teaches the lowest member of a department: the probie.” Officers have a duty and obligation not only to their firefighters, but also to their families. Company officers, you have to do your part to make sure your crew goes home safe and healthy at the end of their shifts.

Chief Officers have the same job, but also the additional responsibility of doing their part to make sure these same firefighters go home safe and healthy at the end of their careers. By working together, we can make that happen.

Thanks for reading and stay safe!


About the Author

Will Anderson is a Platoon Chief with the Euclid Fire Department in Ohio. He’s in his 18th year in the fire service and is certified as a State of Ohio Firefighter 2, Fire Instructor, and Paramedic. He recently completed his Fire Officer 1, 2, and 3 training in addition to his Blue Card certification. He has an Associate’s degree in Fire Science, another in Emergency Medical Services, and is nearing completion of his Bachelor’s Degree in Fire Science Administration.

Fire Service Needs Leaders Who Are Willing to Do the Right Thing

Blog by Richard Blackmon

Captain, Fulton County Fire Rescue Department (Ga.)

Have you ever noticed that doing the right thing takes more work than not doing the right thing? Sometimes, it would just be much easier to just turn a blind eye, right? But in our profession, it’s essential we never turn that blind eye. Reason being, someone might get hurt or killed.

Doing the right thing starts with rookie firefighters and goes all the way to the top. When the new firefighter is doing their regular daily routine, such as house work, do they always do the right thing?

Sometimes it might be easier to look past the item that needs cleaning, but why not just take that extra step and clean it? When the driver is checking off the equipment and sees that something needs attention, it’s on them to do the right thing and get it done. If someone’s life ever depends on that equipment, it will be too late to go back and do the right thing.

As a fire officer, doing the right thing is critical to the department. Holding personnel accountable and to a high standard is essential. If you make a practice of turning a blind eye, you might as well wear blinders to work.

Once you let something just go by failing to take action you have set a low benchmark for yourself. Trust me when I say it takes work to always do the right thing. You have to set your standards early in your career and stay focused and dedicated.

Sometimes it will take courage. But be strong. Don’t ever be afraid to do the right thing. You have to be able to look yourself in the mirror and be proud of the person you’re looking at. Not your boss or subordinates or peers, but you!

You can never get in trouble for following your departments SOPs. Set your bar high, stand tall and do the right thing. You’ll be better for it and so will your department and the community you serve.

About the Author

Richard Blackmon is a captain with the Fulton County Fire Rescue Department in Georgia. He has worked in the fire service for more than 15 years and is a training officer for his department. Before joining the fire service, he served as a master sergeant in the US Air Force and saw combat in Grenada, Panama and the first Gulf War.

Riveting Documentary ‘Burn’ Serves as Reminder About the Heroes We Serve Every Day

Blog by Rich Miron
Marketing Manager with TargetSolutions


BURN – Official Theatrical Trailer (2013) from BURN on Vimeo.


I wish my head could forget what my eyes have seen in 32 years of firefighting.
Dave Parnell, Detroit Fire Department

These chilling words open the gripping new documentary Burn, which puts audiences up close and personal with the unbelievable challenges the Detroit Fire Department faces on a daily basis.

Before this review goes any further, it should be noted Detroit Fire Department is a client of TargetSolutions and has been since 2006. It’s not pandering to say, it’s impossible to watch this film and not be completely inspired by the courage of these incredibly brave souls who serve this city during its darkest hours.

Here at TargetSolutions, we have a slogan used to motivate employees: We Serve Heroes Every Day. Those five words posted throughout our office walls will never be truer than after watching Burn, subtitled One Year on the Front Lines of the Battle to Save Detroit.

Soon after Parnell’s grizzled voice opens the film, which played last week at Horton Plaza in San Diego during Firehouse World, filmmakers Tom Putnam and Brenna Sanchez put the city’s dire situation into context. Consider these facts reported in the movie:

>> Detroit’s total population has been slashed by more than 60 percent since the 1950s

>> Poverty has reached 33 percent

>> Unemployment is 29 percent

>> Approximately 80,000 homes are considered vacant

In 1954, Detroit staffed more than 1,800 firefighters. In 2010, that number had been slashed in half while facing 300 percent more fire calls. In fact, the department is tasked with 30 structure fires per day, and as one firefighter in the film estimates, about 95 percent are caused by arson.

To put those alarming numbers into perspective, Los Angeles, a city of 4 million, sees 11 structure fires per day. Never mind the fact its population is more than five times larger than Detroit’s.

It’s all preposterous, but true, making it a story audiences need to see, not really for the entertainment value, however, it’s incredibly well shot, featuring intense action scenes orchestrated with gritty rock blaring as a backdrop and skillful storytelling about several of the departments most relatable characters, but to gain a true appreciation for what this department is up against.

The film is focused on Engine Company 50, which is located on Detroit’s blighted east side where emergency responders risk their lives every single shift. One of the films characters, Brendan Doogie Milewski, demonstrates this unfortunate reality. Milewski, 30, was trampled as a building crashed down and is now paralyzed, confined to a wheel chair. He was one of the lucky ones, however, as several firefighters died in the collapse.

Burn documents Milewski’s story, showing some of his most personal moments, including when he meets with a doctor who offers his long-term prognosis. It’s just a miracle more guys aren’t killed or hurt on the job, he says at one point — a statement that couldn’t be more precise.

Milewski is not the only sympathetic character. Parnell is followed during his final days on the job after 33 years of loyal service. Some might wonder why Parnell and the others are willing to risk their lives in these conditions. But for Parnell, Detroit is home and always will be. He’ll fight until the end for it.

The film doesn’t really have an antagonist, but new fire commissioner Donald Austin is tasked with the unpopular mission of making the departments shrinking budget manageable. In an increasingly difficult environment, with malfunctioning equipment, a need for more manpower and compressed resources, it’s a tall order. Austin could have stopped production of this truth-telling documentary with a social conscience at any point. He didn’t and should be commended.

Burn is unique in that it mixes the kind of powerful imagery that would make a summer blockbuster proud with the larger, political issues the city of Detroit faces. The film was shot mostly during 2011 and was funded entirely by tax-deductible donations by corporations and individual supporters, most notably General Motors. These contributions allowed the film crew to tell this important, independently-made story that is only playing on select dates, in select theatres.

To them, thank you. Here at TargetSolutions, we serve heroes every day. Realizing just who some of these heroes are, and what they’re really facing, can only help us take our jobs a little more seriously.

About the Author
Rich Miron started working with TargetSolutions in April of 2010. He serves as the company’s marketing manager. Before joining the team, Rich worked as a journalist and editor for several publications, including The Camp Pendleton Scout and the North County Times. Rich has a degree in journalism from San Diego State University.

Discovering the New Norm for EMS Providers

Blog by Tim Holman, BA, EMTP, CFO, EMSI
Chief of German Township, Fire & EMS (Clark County, Ohio)

EMS services across the country are discovering the New Norm for EMS providers. Business as usual is out the door and the challenges facing managers and providers have never been tougher. Here are a few issues to consider.

As budgets shrink, staffing issues will increase. Shifts will be running with fewer people. Complicating operations, even more back-to-back calls will place greater demand on the service. Mutual aid is an option but many services will be unable to assist due to their own call volumes and short staffing issues.

Call volumes in general will continue to rise. Some citizens will use EMS as their only source for entering the healthcare system. New healthcare laws will make this worse, not better.

Ambulance manufactures will see a trend of downsizing units. The large medium duty ambulances will be bypassed for smaller, less costly units that are more economical to purchase and operate.

Threats to EMS providers will continue to escalate. Emergency scenes will become more violent as citizens become more and more frustrated in the economy and social issues. Assaults and attacks on responders will increase at an alarming rate.

EMS systems will search for new and better ways of doing business. This will require significant change and many providers will dig their heals in to resist the change.

This may appear to be a bleak picture for EMS. But organizations can position themselves to thrive. EMS is made up of problem solvers. There will be no room for those who are negative and constantly complain. You will either be part of the solution or part of the problem. If you are part of the problem you will probably be asked to leave the organization.

There should be no room for those who just get by. Organizations should staff themselves with the very best. EMTs will be forced to decide if they truly want to contribute. When hiring, managers will need to select the best of the best. They can’t afford to settle for a warm body with an EMT certificate. They will need to select those that will help prepare the organization for the demands of the future.

It’s imperative that leaders train their staff, not only in EMS tactics but, in leadership, communication, change management and customer service. They will need these skills to help improve the organization. In addition EMTs will need advanced training in situational awareness, de-escalating skills, personal defense and yes, even firearms training.

New approaches for dealing with non-emergency calls will need to become more innovative. Providers must take a stake in finding solutions to these problems and help promote the change process. No longer can it just be placed in managements lap. Everyone in the organization must work-together, stay positive and work for the common good of the organization. The new norm is here. How will you respond?

About the Author
Tim Holman speaks and trains on a variety of business, fire and EMS management and leadership issues. Holman specializes in providing fire and EMS officer development programs. He was the Fire Chief magazine Fire Chief of the Year for 2002. He has also been appointed to the commission on Chief Fire Officer Designation. For more information on Holman, please check online at

The Predictability of Occupancy Performance and Tactical Patience

Blog by Christopher J. Naum
Executive Producer of

Today’s incident demands on the fireground are unlike those of the recent past. They require incident commanders and commanding officers to have increased technical knowledge of building construction with a heightened sensitivity to fire behavior, a focus on operational structural stability and considerations related to occupancy risk versus the occupancy type.

There is an immediate need for today’s emerging and operating command and company officers to increase their foundation of knowledge and insights related to the modern building occupancy, building construction and fire protection engineering. There is also a need to adjust and modify traditional and conventional strategic operating profiles in order to safeguard companies, personnel and team compositions.

Strategies and tactics must be based on occupancy risk, not occupancy type, and must have the combined adequacy of sufficient staffing, fire flow and tactical patience orchestrated in a manner that identifies with the fire profiling, predictability of the occupancy profile and accounts for presumptive fire behavior.

The dramatic changes in buildings over the past 10 years have resulted inadequate fire suppression methodologies based upon conventional practices that don’t align with the manner in which we used to discern — with a measured degree of predictability — how buildings perform, react and fail under most fire conditions.

We predicate certain expectations that fire will travel in a defined manner and it will hold within a room for a predictable given duration of time. We also assume the fire load and related fire flows required will be appropriate for an expected severity of fire encountered within a given building, occupancy and structural system. We expect that with an appropriately trained staff will be able to perform the requisite evolutions and safely and effectively mitigate a structural fire in any given building type and occupancy.

Past operational experiences, both favorable and negative, gave us experiences that define and determine how we expect similar structures and occupancies to perform at a given alarm in the future. This formed the basis for the naturalistic decision-making process.

Implementing fundamentals of firefighting operations built upon nine decades of time-tested and experience-proven strategies and tactics continue to be the model of suppression operations. These same fundamental strategies continue to drive methodologies in our training programs and academies of instructions.

But are you aware of the defining changes in structural systems and support, the characteristics of materials and the magnitude of the fire-loading package in today’s buildings and occupancies? When was the last time you were out in the street with the companies, or spent some time doing a walk-through of construction or renovations site? Have you asked your commanding officers for insights into what operational demands and risks are being imposed upon them while operating in the street and within the buildings, occupancies and structures that comprise your jurisdiction?

The structural anatomy, predictability of building performance under fire conditions, structural integrity and the extreme fire behavior; accelerated growth rate and intensively levels typically encountered in buildings of modern construction during initial and sustained fire suppression have given new meaning to the term combat fire engagement.

The rules for combat structural fire suppression have changed. It’s no longer just brute force and sheer physical determination that define structural fire suppression operations, although any seasoned command and company officer knows that at times, that’s exactly what gets the job done.

However, from a methodical and disciplined perspective, aggressive firefighting must be redefined and aligned to the built environment and associated with goal-oriented tactical operations that have been defined by strategic processes and executed under battle plans that promote the best in safety practices.

The demands and requirements of modern firefighting will continue to require the placement of personnel within situations and buildings that carry risk, uncertainty and inherent danger. As a result, risk management must become fluid and integrated with intelligent tactical deployments and operations. Today’s incident commanders need to think about the predicative strategic process.

Here are some action steps to consider:

>> Read, comprehend and implement the IAFCs Rules of Engagement for Firefighter Survival and The Incident Commanders Rules of Engagement for Firefighter Safety.

>> Take a tour of your response area, district, community, or city. Take a good look around and begin to recognize the apparent or subtle changes that are affecting your incident operations.

>> Read up on the latest research and technical literature on wind-driven fires, extreme fire behavior, structural ability of engineered lumber systems, fire loading and suppression theory.

>> Take time to personally read a series of the latest NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program LODD reports and relate them to your organizations.

>> Start thinking in terms of Occupancy Risks vs. Occupancy Type and align your operations and deployments to match those risks.

>> Increase your situational awareness of today’s fireground and refine your strategic and tactical modeling.

>> Implement both strategic and tactical patience. Slow down and allow the building to stabilize. Increase survivability ratios while meeting the demands of conducting fire service operations.

>> Reprogram your assumptions and presumptions on building construction and firefighting operations. The buildings have changed, our firefighting has not. What are you going to do about that gap?

If you don’t fully understand how a building truly performs or reacts under fire conditions and the variables that can influence its stability and degradation, then you will be functioning and operating in a reactionary manner that is no longer acceptable within many of our modern building types. This places higher risk to your personnel and lessens the likelihood for effective, efficient and safe operations.

You’re not doing your job effectively and you’re at risk. These risks can equate into insurmountable operational challenges and could lead to adverse incident outcomes. Someone could get hurt, someone could die. It’s that simple. It’s that obvious.

It’s all about understanding the building-occupancy relationships and the art and science of firefighting. At the end of the day, building knowledge equals firefighter safety.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally posted on and

About the Author
Christopher J. Naum, SFPE, has more than 37 years of field and operations experience and previously worked in command, operations and training capacities. Currently serves as the executive producer for several fire service websites, including

Why SOPs Are Harmful to the Formation of Situational Awareness

Blog by Dr. Richard B. Gasaway, PhD, EFO, CFO
Retired Fire Chief and Web Master for Situational Awareness Matters

During my “Fifty Ways to Kill a First Responder” program, I discuss how standard operating procedures (SOPs) and standard operating guidelines (SOGs) can be helpful in the formation of situational awareness and in making critical incident decisions. Much to the chagrin of the policy makers in the audience, I also discuss how SOPs and SOGs can be harmful to the formation of situational awareness and cripple good decision making.

The former seems easier to comprehend. When employees have SOPs or SOGs to follow their performance is consistent and predictable. When a crew arrives at an emergency and performs according to a standard, then everyone arriving after them knows what to expect. There are few surprises when all the crews using the same playbook. To this end, SOPs and SOGs are a great tool to build consistency and predictability into operations. In fact, developing and using SOPs and SOGs are one of my top 10 situational awareness best practices.

So how can SOPs and SOGs be harmful? In training, responders should use the standards. It’s a simple premise. Train to the standard. Perform to the standard. However, there are times when the standard way of doing things won’t work. The circumstances of the incident are not covered by the standard. When this happens, what is a member to do?

Essentially, they have two choices. First, follow the standard, regardless of the circumstances. Or, improvise a unique solution to the novel problem. Which will they do? The answer, surprisingly, will be based on how rigid the organization views their standards and how much resiliency the organization has built into their decision making processes.

Let’s run through a couple of made-up fire scenarios to see how this plays out.

Scenario 1: The fire is in the back of the structure. The standard says attack from the unburned side, meaning the crew is going to advance the hose line through the front door. It’s a drill they’ve practiced over and over again at the burn building. Fire in the back. Attack from the front. But the front door is barricaded and fortified. Attempts to force entry are not working. Because the policy says attack from the unburned side, additional efforts are given to making entry. The process takes five minutes. All the while, the fire is growing in the back of the structure. Crews are not willing to veer from the standard because they fear the consequences.

Scenario 2: The fire is in the back of the structure. The standard says attack from the unburned side. During training, the crews practiced in accordance to the standard until they were good at the skill. However, the instructor then created scenarios that did not fit the written standard. The scenario of the barricaded and fortified door was built into the drill. During the exercise the students were encouraged to improvise a solution. Then they were encouraged to improvise a second solution, then a third. This creative problem solving, performing on purpose in ways that does not conform to standards, builds resiliency into decision making. And this is a critical skill to develop in responders. Standards can’t cover everything and responders need to be taught how to resolve issues where the standards don’t work. They also need to practice the deviations. And they need to be encouraged and rewarded for their creative problem solving efforts.

Unless you can develop and implement standards that cover every possible scenario responders will face, you may want to work in building resiliency into your members’ decision making. It will improve their situational awareness and their safety.

About the Author
Dr. Gasaway is widely considered to be one of the nation’s leading authorities on situational awareness and decision making processes used by first responders. In addition to his 30-plus year career in the fire service, including 22 years as a fire chief, Dr. Gasaway has a second passion: Uncovering and applying research in brain science for the benefit of first responders. His website, Situational Awareness Matters ( has enjoyed over a million visits since its launch in October 2011. He can be reached via e-mail at