Home Emergency Management News Critical Task Analysis: Successful Firefighting Relies on the Right Resources

Critical Task Analysis: Successful Firefighting Relies on the Right Resources


By Randall Hanifen
Contributor, EDM Digest

Success in the fire and emergency services fields depends on sending the correct number of resources to an emergency or disaster. Sending too many resources – which is a rare occurrence – hampers essential work and results in a lack of overall control. This limits a commander’s ability to effectively assign and accomplish mandatory tasks.

However, if you send too few resources, critical tasks may not be accomplished or may be delayed until other work is completed. On-site leaders must prioritize tasks that could be the difference between life and death.

Several Firefighting Crews Needed to Properly Fight Fires

Let’s look at a fire scene and examine a critical task analysis. At a structural fire, we need firefighters and water to extinguish the blaze and firefighters to search the building for victims. Also, other firefighters must ventilate the structure to create an accessible environment for both firefighters and possible victims.

Still other firefighters need to stand by to rescue people who might be in a life-endangering situation. Emergency medical service (EMS) personnel should be present to treat fire victims and firefighters in case of injury.

Lastly, we need command personnel to coordinate the overall efforts and oversee safety at the scene. To accomplish these critical tasks, we assign crews, not individuals, to carry them out.

Command personnel do not send a single firefighter into a dangerous environment, because no one would know if that firefighter was hurt or in danger. Also, there are federal laws banning the practice.

In terms of personnel, we usually need about 20 firefighters and a variety of fire apparatus to attend to a typical 2,000-square foot, single-family home fire.

According to a study by the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the size of firefighting crews and their arrival time on the scene have a substantial effect on the fire service's ability to protect lives and property in residential fires.

NIST recommends two crews of three to four persons each to stretch hose lines. In addition to command personnel, there should be at least one crew each to search for fire victims, ventilate the structure and intervene rapidly. Two EMS crews are needed for victims and firefighter care.

In times when tight state and municipal budgets tend to drive staffing and spending decisions, would you want a less-than-adequate firefighting crew extinguishing the fire? Wouldn’t you want enough firefighters to rescue you and your family if your home caught on fire?

Randall Hanifen Dr. Hanifen serves as a shift commander at a medium-sized suburban fire department in the northern part of the Cincinnati area. Randall is the CEO/principal consultant of an emergency services consulting firm, providing analysis and solutions related to organizational structuring of fire and EMS organizations. He is the chairperson and operations manager for a county technical rescue team. from a state and national perspective, he serves as a taskforce leader for one of FEMA's urban search and rescue teams, which responds to presidential declared disasters. From an academic standpoint, Randall has a bachelor’s degree in fire administration, a master’s degree in executive fire service leadership, and a doctoral degree in business administration with a specialization in homeland security. He is the associate author of “Disaster Planning and Control” (Penwell, 2009), which provides first responders with guidance through all types of disasters.