It was during my college years that I first learned of something called a time-and-motion study—a business efficiency technique used to reduce the number of motions involved in a task in order to increase productivity. I didn’t know then how important such studies would be to my future profession. For example, whether we know it or not, whenever we designate riding and tool assignments, or use a well-planned hose layout, someone has performed a time-and-motion study, whether formal or informal, to develop a plan for the task’s execution.
In the past couple issues, I reviewed different types of wood-framed roofs and the materials we can expect to find on them. With that knowledge, we could just make a mad dash for the roof and hope it all works out OK. But because opening a roof involves a group of people using an assortment of tools and equipment, this sort of task is ripe for a time-and-motion treatment.
Let’s assume you have four people and a ladder truck. You arrive at a residential house fire, and your incident commander (IC) directs you to open the roof. In a situation like this, it’s imperative that you perform the job without duplication of efforts, and you certainly don’t want to waste any time guessing what needs to be done and by whom. First things first: Don’t worry about everything happening around you. You don’t need to think about water supply, the incident command system, your vacation schedule or gas prices. Without succumbing to tunnel vision, you just need to focus on the task at hand.
Your crew will need a way to get onto the roof; thus, you will probably need to position ground ladders and gather an assortment of tools to work with while opening the roof. Note: You can and should make your tool and ladder assignments long before a fire is reported so you know what you need before you even arrive at the scene. With even the most capable group, the operation will be far less efficient if there’s no organization or system in place ahead of time. With this in mind, I developed the following training method to help us become more resourceful on the fireground. It’s the system I try to use, but I don’t expect others to follow it. In fact, I only present it here as one example of how to help your crewmembers focus on their individual tasks. After your crew works its way through the evolution, you should be able to see how some simple adjustments can improve your efficiency.
Take four 3 x 5 cards and label them Officer, Driver, Behind Officer and Behind Driver. On each card write a brief description of the job to be performed and the tools and equipment required. Hand out the cards to four willing participants.
You can work your way through the evolution while training at an abandoned structure or even just at the firehouse. The idea is that the participants simply go through the motions, each member “performing” the tasks on their card. Note: To get a baseline for how long this evolution takes, venting the roof should be the only instruction given at this time. You can add a couple duties as the participants master the process.
Following are narratives of what each person should be doing during the evolution, as well as examples of what would be written on their corresponding 3 x 5 card. Officer: The officer gets off the rig with SCBA in place. He slides a Halligan (needed for prying and smashing) in under his SCBA waist strap for hands-free transport. He must perform a quick size-up of the fire building and roof in order to plan out the best place to approach the roof. It would be a waste to travel from the rig to the building empty-handed, so he should take a roof ladder with him.
After approaching the scene, the officer can take a look around the building and pick a spot suitable for accessing the roof. Ideally, he’ll want to select the highest point over the fire. As the officer makes his size-up, the roof ladder can be used to open second-floor windows if necessary.
Behind Driver & Behind Officer: While this is going on, the person behind the officer and the person behind the driver meet in the back of the rig, SCBA-equipped and with a chopping and/or smashing tool. These tools should also be attached to their apparel in the same fashion as the officer’s tool.
They grab a ground ladder—usually an extension ladder of the appropriate length. These two firefighters move into position at the area designated by the officer. As they approach the area where their ladder will be thrown, the butt man gradually starts to lower the butt, and the tip man anticipates the raising of the ladder. Simultaneously, the driver dons his SCBA, grabs a chainsaw and a long pike pole or other type of hook, and heads to the location of the crew (more on the driver later).
Here are the sample 3 x 5 cards for these roles:
About the same time that the two firefighters with the ground ladder start to raise it, the officer swings the roof ladder into position next to the ground ladder as the firefighters who raised the ground ladder start to ascend it. One climbs to the eave line; one is slightly below. They both latch onto the roof ladder and start to push it upward. Once the roof ladder is in place and the ground ladder is tied off, the members head to the roof. The officer is the third person up and stages around the eave line to supervise, report conditions and assist as needed.
The driver places the pike pole onto the ground ladder, using its hook to hold it in place on an upper rung of the ground ladder. The driver then starts the saw and passes it up to the officer, who passes it along the line until it gets to the firefighter at the peak. After making the required cuts, the saw can be passed down to the other firefighter on the roof ladder who can enlarge the opening as needed.
Opening the roof is not supposed to be a long affair. You and your crew are perched on top of a structure that’s burning and, as such, you should want to operate in the most timely and efficient manner possible. So get out and observe your roof operation, conduct your own time-and-motion study, and practice it until it appears as organized and efficient as raw materials traveling down a production line.
This evolution, of course, is just one example of how you can use 3 x 5 cards to help your crew stay focused on their duties. Going through the motions of any evolution will likely help your crew see where they can speed up, what efforts are duplicated and how they can become a well-oiled machine.
- Roof ladder
- Size-up roof and select area to be opened.
- Start horizontal venting using the roof ladder as needed.
- When the ground ladder is in place, hand the roof ladder to members on the ground ladder.
- Climb to the gutter level, and supervise and assist the venting process.
- Use a Halligan for prying as needed.
- Be prepared to relieve or join members on the roof.
- Pick axe
- Ground ladder
- Select the appropriate ground ladder and act as the butt person.
- Pair up with the person behind the officer to bring the selected ground ladder to the designated location.
- Foot the butt of the ground ladder as it’s being raised.
- Climb the ground ladder and receive the roof ladder.
- Get the roof ladder in position and tie off the roof ladder.
- Sound the roof, proceed to the peak and start to open the roof.
- When a chainsaw is handed up, continue ventilation using the saw.
- When the upper portion of the roof has been opened, hand the saw to the firefighter on the ladder below, and use the hook to push any ceiling inside.
- Splitting maul
- Ground ladder
- Bring a splitting maul and, with the “Behind Driver,” bring the appropriate ground ladder to the area designated by the officer.
- Move the tip of the ladder into position at the fire building.
- Follow the “Behind Driver” up the ladder. Assist in pushing the roof ladder into position and follow the first firefighter onto the roof.
- Hand equipment and tools to the firefighter at the peak as needed.
- Assist in ventilation as needed.
- Chopping or smashing tool
- Pike pole or other long pushing and pulling tool
- Exit the rig, and place a chopping or smashing tool in your SCBA strap.
- Grab a chainsaw and a pike pole (or other long pushing/pulling tool).
- Position yourself at the base of the ground ladder.
- Foot or secure the ladder as needed.
- Place your pike pole on the ground ladder’s rungs with the hook hung over a rung as high up as possible.
- Start the chainsaw and then pass it up.
- Be prepared to run for tools and equipment and to relieve those on the roof (as long as the ladder is properly secured per NFPA guidelines).