Home Fire Fighting Articles Firefighter decisions made in the first 60 seconds can save lives

Firefighter decisions made in the first 60 seconds can save lives

by Marcus
Firefighter decisions made in the first 60 seconds can save lives

Firefighter decisions made in the first 60 seconds can save lives

Firefighter decisions made in the first 60 seconds, 5 minutes and 12 minutes can make a big difference saving lives and property.


As a first-arriving fire commander steps off the fire engine at a building fire there are so many key indicators that will determine ‘where’, ‘how’ and ‘if ’ to deploy internally is the correct decision at this early stage.

The immediate and critical tactical considerations in that primary 60-second period are:

  • Occupancy type?
  • Firefighting resources and staffing available?
  • Persons reported trapped or missing?
  • Occupants located at windows requiring immediate rescue
  • Fire location (undertake as near a 360 deg. exterior survey as possible)?
  • Is building sprinklered?
  • Wind direction and speed (and likely impact on fire)?
  • Isolate the flow-path at the open front or rear door (if relevant).


  • The first ‘sixty second’ primary survey should dictate the tactical options for the next five minutes and beyond. At this point the ‘SLICERS’ options (chapter one) come into play.
  • Exterior holding position?
  • Consider water-fog injection into a confined fire compartment?
  • Hi-flow exterior attack?
  • Transitional attack?
  • Protect surrounding exposures first?
  • Deploy an interior attack?
  • Undertake interior search and rescue?
  • Implement additional hose-line management, a safety hose-line or interior doorcontrol assignments?

During this initial phase of firefighting operations, it is important to determine and communicate with great clarity the tactical objectives to all firefighters on-scene.

Here are some key points for discussion with firefighters … Another 60-minute classroom debate! It might, at first, appear simple and straightforward to request an exterior stream be applied into a window discharging fire and smoke. However, what is the strategy? This will determine how the water is to be used! Is it a ‘holding’ strategy whereby the water may be from an appliance tank supply of around 1800 litres with the intention to slow or control fire spread whilst awaiting additional resources to arrive?

Or, has a constant flow supply been sourced? Are we preparing to actually extinguish the fire and if so, is a high flow-rate required because of the potential/involved energy in the fire load? If we empty our water tank in a rapid hi-flow attack (not a holding attempt), do we have secondary water available within 60-120 seconds? Or, are we preparing for a transitional attack where following a 30-60 second exterior stream in through the window to reduce the fire’s heat release (fire reset), we immediately follow-up with an interior deployment to extinguish the fire? If this is the case are we on tank water or constant
augmented supply?

Firefighter decisions made in the first 60 seconds can save lives
Firefighter decisions made in the first 60 seconds can save lives

Are we able to deploy the first (or a secondary laid) hose-line with breathing apparatus already started? The key to all this is that the secondary interior line must apply water within thirty seconds (or near) of the primary exterior line shutting down. If they are the same hose-line then this may be a real challenge, relevant to on- scene staffing. Clarification in the brief is critical here and everyone needs to understand the tactical objective.


The author undertook a review some years ago, of several major incidents where multiple firefighter life losses occurred. It was noted that the 12-minute period after arrival on- scene was commonly the most hazardous on a time-line where a chain of events had set in, leading to firefighter’s lives being lost. A fire commander arriving on-scene within the first 12 minutes of a developing fire may have the advantage of coming in as a fresh pair of eyes.

However, it takes courage and experience to be able to make that call to either continue with the current strategic deployment or change direction, particularly if that means withdrawing crews to the exterior and starting again. It has been the case that crews responded to alternative sides of a large structure and self-deployed believing they were solely in charge, or an element of freelancing has seen an uncontrolled number of firefighters enter with accountability. In other cases, the deployment may potentially be in towards a headwind, or with a strong wind into the entry door and towards the fire, but without an outlet to relieve internal pressures. In any such situation, it may be hard to determine how many firefighters are working in the risk zone and exactly what their roles are.

A quick determination of the building fire indicators coupled with what is a necessary deployment at the time of this secondary arrival should dictate if any evacuation of firefighters, either in part or as a whole, is required. If it’s an unoccupied retail unit as opposed to a fully occupied hotel, this will clearly also impact any such decision in respect of firefighter safety and exposure to risk.

Firefighter decisions made in the first 60 seconds can save lives

Take a look at some NIOSH219 and other220 fire reports and debate with colleagues where tactical decisions made at this early stage (12 minutes) to withdraw, regroup and re-deploy may have worsened firefighter safety or improved it. In some cases, the building may have been lost but all firefighters went home safe. In other circumstances, the exposure to risk may have been increased.

With hindsight, decision-making is always much easier! Bill Gough is a senior fire commander who has served over four decades with the West Midlands Fire Service in the UK. A major part of his academic work (to PhD) in firefighter safety and incident command is directed at identifying cultural differences and psychological influences that directly impact how some firefighters expose themselves, and their crews, to unnecessary levels of risk without any reasonable justification according to a logical risk profile.

Firefighter decisions made in the first 60 seconds can save lives written by Paul Grimwood, eurofirefighter.com

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