Communicating clearly and effectively during emergency operations is paramount to the overall safety and success of the incident for both firefighters and civilians. To reinforce this statement, NIOSH has identified communication as one of the top five (5) casual factors of firefighter deaths and injuries on the fireground. The last few years have taught us that opposing fields of view tend to sway decision-making.
Varying fields of view drive incident operations from the onset of a 911 call. The dispatcher may adjust the number of apparatus responding based on the initial report or the number of calls received. In some systems, a dispatcher may independently “load the box” and subsequently notify the first due units that their field of view tells them there is likely a working fire. Anticipation builds, and the responding companies begin to review their potential actions.
Based on the information from the dispatcher, the responding units wait with bated breath for the first arriving unit to perform an incident size up and transmit that point of view or perspective to the remaining companies on the assignment. When the first unit arrives and reports a working incident, the other companies accept this perspective at face value and act accordingly, arriving on the scene ready to work and ready to follow the orders from command to bring the situation under control.
Once units are operating on the fire scene at the task level and engaged in battle with the enemy, the word to retreat or change their assignment creates both a factual and emotional response. From an emotional perspective, it can be seen as defeat or the inability to finish a previously assigned task. Factually units may transmit their myopic view in an attempt to delay following through on the order, or suggest an alternative, and therein lies the problem.
Most firefighters accept the communication trail from 911 through the scene size-up as pure facts from which the incident commander will make decisions and orders followed based on perspectives. But why do firefighters suddenly feel disbelief of the communicated orders when the incident commander changes the operational mode from offensive to defensive or reassigns units to new tasks?
Everyone has a perspective and a way they see or interpret the facts and feelings of a situation. But when the incident commander issues an order, we need to comply in good faith. The chief in the street has their perspective on the tempo and success of the operation. That chief is also ultimately responsible for ensuring a safe return home for all members under their command at the end of their shift.
Below are two videos capturing the narrative above and displaying opposing views from the incident commander to the task level boots on the ground. Further, a great article from Captain Bill Gustin of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue further exploring this topic is framed below.
Fire Ground Communication Opposing Views # 1
Fire Ground Communication Opposing Views # 2
The following is “framed content” from FireEngineering.com.