Friday, July 2, 2010

Head Games in the Fire Service (LONG Post)

On occasion I find myself as the IC on some calls for VERY brief periods due to my proximity to the job location at time of dispatch, the hour of the day, or lack of available personnel. This usually ends when the Chief or an Assistant shows up and I go into a more useful or familiar role (for me). Having had the opportunity a few times now I can clearly see that I need to do some development in this area of making the initial calls for additional resources and thinking about EVERYTHING involved in the first 2 minutes, because that sets the course for the next 2 hours in many cases. I've taken (too) many classes on Fire and EMS leadership, but these rarely give you a good handle on how to program your head and make the critical decisions required in that first 2 minutes. That just takes practice in the field and finding out where you are weak and finding what works best for your particular brain.
So I have created a little game to play to help me develop my thinking:
I find an article on one of the better Fire or EMS pages that gives me enough information about an incident to get a good picture and then I come up with how I would handle the incident and think about my reasoning. I give myself about 30 seconds to do this, then I finish the article and read any follow up reports to find out how I did. Sometimes it takes months to get the rest of the story (such as the case of the dumpster explosion in Milwaukee which killed one firefighter and injured several others), sometimes it's later in the same day. Sometimes I get information from responders who were involved in the actual call.
Statter911, and FireGeezer are two good sources for my little game.
So now I found this one the other day which is an incident that occurred in Ulster County, NY on 6/29 and I decided it would be a good scenario for my little game. Take a look and read the article (with video) in the local paper.

I searched around for some other info and found a bunch and put together a picture. Let me be clear here: I don not know the people or Departments involved in this incident and I only vaguely know where this county is because I think I drove through it once. I am not second guessing anything they did. I am using this unfortunate incident to improve my own skills. I have also filled in some "facts" based on a best guess. Now follow my head as I play Incident commander for this. My imaginary thoughts, actions, and words are given in italics. The facts of the inhcdent, as they must have unfolded, are in bold. I am hoping this makes the reading and flow easier for both of us.

Begin the game:
We are dispatched to a 2 truck MVA rollover involving a building. While enroute we are updated that there is fire at the incident with the Sheriff's Department on scene.

OK, a slightly worse than the usual MVA. I'm thinking about entrapment and the extrication required with fire involved. I have a Rescue and Engine on the road along with EMS. On arrival, I will assess the need for extrication, additional fire response (tankers and manpower), and heavy rescue.
I am also wondering what these trucks were hauling and how the building is involved. Possibly we will need a foam truck and hazmat team.

On arrival, we learn that both drivers have self extricated and have minor burns (huge relief), most likely from radiated heat. The one truck was hauling a construction trailer with a small skid-steer and the other truck was a fuel oil tanker which has rolled on its side and split the tank spilling fuel against a steel warehouse type building of steel construction. The entire thing has lit up and the fire is intense. There are no occupants in the building and I find no life threats (or need for rescue). In addition, three power poles and their wires are down around the incident scene.

Holy crap, this is a mess. I make sure the drivers get moved to the safe zone and connected with EMS while PD does their initial interview.
I ask both drivers about their loads before they go. I then ask again for confirmation that there are no occupants in the building and ask dispatch to contact the owner and find out what is in there. I also ask dispatch for a second alarm which should trigger two more engines and three tankers as well as manpower. I ask for additional Fire Police to close the road. I ask for the hazmat team and I need them to get a spill response team moving. I request PD to start getting people evacuated from the nearby homes. I ask dispatch to get the utilities down here to cut power and assess what they will need to re-establish service when the time comes. Right now the priority is to secure this scene against what might happen next and get people out of harm's way. I want to shut the area down tight and set up good controls for getting apparatus in and out. Let's get all these un-involved vehicles out of here now. I want a big and clear playing field. I need to establish a physical command post so that we can form a unified command with Fire, EMS, PD, Utilities, and County Officials.

This fire is REALLY HOT (I know: all fire is hot, but if you're a firefighter you understand what I am saying here). A good portion of the tanker load has spilled and the rest is burning inside the split open tank. The building is rocking and rolling on the "A" and "D" corner.
Dispatch calls back and advises they can get an aviation foam truck on scene in 40 minutes and 2 CAFS units from the next county over. Some 'popping' can be heard from within the building which is inconsistent with a normal fire.

I accept all the foam units they can send me, this fire is getting big.
I set the first due engine to try to control spread on the building and minimize any additional exposures. I am really concerned about the unusual popping noises, especially when we start seeing flashes associated with them.

Dispatch calls again to say they've contacted the building owner who states there are 'some' fireworks stored in the building.

"Can you be a little more specific?"

Dispatch says the owner doesn't know, he let a friend store them there.

OK, sounds like not much else could go wrong here, lets back everybody out and get some deck guns on the building. Call dispatch for 2 ladder trucks, one to approach from the north, and one from the south to get some decent water on this thing and cool things down. 'Use all caution when setting up due to the downed power poles'. Let's get a tanker shuttle set up to support the water needs. I'd like to get 2 draft sites going because this scene may be broken in half as it grows. This means 2 more engines and at least 4 more tankers to support those operations.
It's also time to start moving Companies up to back fill the stations we've emptied so far. I also request an Aid Agency to supply food and refreshments for those working the job. I ask EMS to establish a Rehab Sector. It's gonna be a long day.

40 minutes have elapsed so far and everything is pretty well set. The word has gotten out to the media advising folks to find alternate routes and stay away. The following 3 hours goes by with the building fire being controlled and mostly out. The main body of fire is contained to the area around the trucks with only enough water and foam used to keep the fire from spreading. The strategy here is to let the fire burn itself, and all the hazmat, out into the air and keep it out of the groundwater. Environmental response is setting up containment dikes. After 4 hours, somebody smells gas and a meter confirms we have a natural gas leak. The underground plastic pipe has melted through.

I call dispatch and request an immediate evacuation order be given on all channels for ALL personnel. I want everybody back. On site I consult with the utility foreman and he explains how they can mitigate the problem. We call for 2 excavation crews to dig up the line on either end and pinch it off. This takes nearly 2 hours. Surely by now, nothing much could get worse.

The rehab sector informs me they are sending 2 firefighters to the hospital for heat related issues.

OK, no more predictions. The fire is reducing itself in size and we have no more spillage from the ruptured tanker. Consultation with the spill response folks confirms that it is time to put the fire out and let them get to work on the cleanup.

The fire is extinguished and everything is cooled down. Spill cleanup moves in to assess the next step and how best to remove the remaining fuel.

I request DPW  to assess the condition of the roadbed and determine a repair plan. I also get the building inspector to check out the building. PD is doing their own thing on the legal/illegal fireworks storage. Time to start shrinking the size of our forces and returning the mutual aid companies. I'll ask DPW to set up more fixed traffic controls to suit their needs and keep a  fresh crew on scene for fire watch until everything is cold and safe.
End of game

 If you read the article, you will note that I chose to let the fire burn itself mostly out. In the real incident the fire was extinguished as soon as possible. I am not second guessing those on scene, just saying that letting it burn in a controlled manner is something I would have strongly considered with the information I had. Those on scene probably had issues that caused them to extinguish the fire such as exposures, other potential hazards, etc.
  So that's my little game. Leave a comment and let me know what I missed. I can think of a few things, but I was honest here and only included things that came into my mind in the first 30 seconds. Would you have let it burn or put it out? (HM, are you out there? I'd like to hear your thoughts.)

1 comment:

  1. Ah ha! By (no pun intended) accident I highlighted all text. Reads like a dream!!!

    Hey, this is neat: "reality" web, that's what it is.

    You sure are enterprising.

    I'm emailing it to the Freeman's reporter.