Fırefıghters apply critical sıze-up techniques when they arrive at the site of a fire. Chief Rick Ennis of the Cape Girardeau, Mo., department has added a new dimension to this protocol by developing what he calls the “4×4 Size-Up Method” with others in the field.
According to Ennis, size-up has been described as the mental evaluation made by the command officer that enables him to determine a course of action. An evaluation of a complicated incident is necessary before intelligent assignments of resources may be made, and that mental process involved includes all factors of the incident, weighed against available resources. In other words, what is the problem and what needs to be done to address it?
Several aspects of that process are crucial, including:
1. Conducting an accurate initial size-up upon arrival at a fire. This step is critical to safe and successful fireground outcomes.
2. Size-up must not only be based on the current conditions as they appear at the moment, but must also take into account what the potential situation is predicted to be five, 10, or even more minutes out.
3. Since the fireground is a dynamic place that is constantly changing, the officer must constantly be sizing up what is going on and be willing and able to adjust his plan of action accordingly. Many methods have been developed to help fire officers learn and recall the most common factors affecting size-up, including water supply, weather conditions, construction type and smoke conditions.
“Most discussions on size-up center on a 13-point list of size-up factors, which are summarized by the commonly referred acronyms
Coal was wealth or Wallace was hot,” said Ennis. “These acronyms are useful for the purpose they serve but have limited application in actually conducting a size-up on the fireground.
“Years ago, when studying William Clark’s text, ‘Firefighting Principles and Practices,’ I noticed four of his 14 points of size-up dealt with resources available, including water supply, apparatus, manpower and internal protection. The remaining 10 points dealt with the problem at hand. I later I saw that these remaining 10 points could be broken down into three other categories: the building, the fire and circumstances relating to the incident.”
He began tinkering with the factors until he had four listed under each of the four categories. This not only created an easy method for remembering them, but placed them into useable groupings.
Many of the factors are interrelated: time of day may affect the occupancy load of the building, wind direction may affect the exposure problem and the response time may affect the size and location of the fire.
“The procedure of conducting a size-up at a fire truly is a process that command officers develop over time, and the 4×4 method is simply a way to teach, develop and improve that process.” Ennis added that with the 4×4 method, in critical, time-sensitive decision-making moments, the decision-maker recognizes visual and sensory cues that drive his actions. These actions then rely on habit, muscle and memory to instinctively move through their size-up process.
Experienced fire officers will instinctively consider each factor as cues draw their attention to them, as opposed to going through a standard checklist of options.
The 4×4 method offers a practical format for those instincts.
“Also, new or inexperienced chiefs can be trained… to consistently use the 4×4 size-up method until their size-up techniques develop into more natural, cue-based instinctive reactions.”
Ennis developed the method by studying the groundwork laid by previous fire chief officers, saying that the 4×4 process is “simply my way of advancing these thoughts and techniques.”
“I believe the 4×4 grouping is an improved way to remember the factors and, more importantly, arranges the factors in a more useable manner.”