The Art of ARFF (part 1) - Laying Plans

In his landmark work on battlefield strategies, The Art of War, Sun Tzu aptly outlines his strategy for victory in battle.  These strategies, when properly applied, will guarantee certain victory.  Sun Tzu discusses the process of war from laying plans, to tactics and strategies, to exploiting the enemies weaknesses.

The principles of, The Art of War, although written for battlefield purposes, can just as powerfully be applied to the fire service. Through a series of posts, I want to demonstrate how these tactics can be applied to achieve success in the fire service.

Sun Tzu opens by stating that the art of war is governed by five constant factors.  These five factors should be taken into consideration when "seeking to determine the conditions obtaining in the field".

  1. The Moral Law
  2. Heaven
  3. Earth
  4. The Commander
  5. Method and Discipline

Sun Tzu says, "the MORAL LAW causes the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by danger".

This is the first essential that must be in place to ensure victory. If the firefighter is being led into "battle" by a chief that they do not trust, they will go there own way and experience loss.  Or, a new leader will rise up, one without the title, but others will follow him, then you have internal division, which will ultimately lead to destruction.  A firefighter who experiences a chief not acting in the best interest of his people will not be in accord with him.

Likewise, if our communities and the people we protect are not in accord with our department they will not support the work we do. We must get out, leave the stations, and walk among the community of people that we serve.  We must constantly be looking for additional opportunities to add value to our constituents. The most powerful to combat negative perceptions, is to create positive perceptions.

HEAVEN "signifies night and day, cold and heat, times and seasons."  When Sun Tzu wrote of the heavens he was  considering  the five elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, water), the four seasons, the winds, and temperatures.  As a firefighter the "heavens" play a large role in containing and extinguishing a fire.  Knowing what is burning (wood, metal, plastics, etc.),  the wind direction, humidity, temperature, and time of day is essential in forming a plan of attack for fire extinguishment and rescue operations.

The EARTH is comprised of distance, danger, security, open ground, and the chances of life and death.  These are the things which are palpable.  That which is real and solid.  This is the firefighters equivalent to risk versus reward.  What are the risks involved? Does the potential reward outweigh the risks? Do we ensure that our policies and procedures are properly prioritized - life safety, incident stabilization, property preservation?  

Closely related to the moral law is the COMMANDER.  This has all to do with the character of the leader. The commander stands for the virtues of wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, courage, and self-control.  These are characterstics that any fire service leader, should stand for, and strive to instill in his subordinates.  Check yourself.  Which of these are you weakest in?  Which of these are you strongest in?  Cultivate these characteristics in order to be the leader of a victorious crew. See also: What makes a leader crumble? and How to Be a Weak Leader

The physical logistics of a department are summed up in METHOD AND DISCIPLINE.  This is understanding the proper rank structure, and chain of command, maintaining supplies and equipment, and controlling finances.  Without proper tools (and their maintenance) any army or fire crew will fail in its fight.  Without finances equipment falls into disarray, newest technology cannot be purchased, proper training is not affected,  and personnel are not appropriately compensated.  Beyond simply managing the available finances, a victorious leader must create new, and evolving streams of income. Typically, this can most effectively be accomplished by taking advantage of every opportunity to serve and provide a service.

"These five heads should be familiar to every general: he who knows them will be victorious; he who knows them not will fail." - Sun Tzu

Other articles in this series:

WNYF - With New York Firefighters

WNYF - With New York Firefighters is the official training publication of the FDNY.  I recently became a subscriber to the quarterly magazine.  I am thoroughly impressed.  The quality, relevance, and applicability of the articles is first-rate.  The magazine is zero advertising, no frills, all training content.  It is the only fire service periodical that I read cover-to-cover.

The magazine features real, fire calls.  Each call is clearly described, and all actions taken on-scene are explained.  The incident articles end with a comprehensive list of lessons learned, and additional resources to consult.

The magazine features a profile of a specific section of the FDNY.  These provide administrative and operational insight that can be applied to your operation.

Recurring columns are Safety First, Learn from History, and Fire Prevention Matters. These address, respectively, functions of the incident safety officer, a historical New York City fire, and a hot topic in Fire Prevention.

At only $25 a year (4 quarterly issues), this is the most efficient cost to benefit expenditure that an individual or department can spend.  

5 Takeaways from WNYF 3rd/2015:

  1. The FDNY and the US Army have a training agreement which allows members of both organizations to receive cross training in fire fighting (from FDNY) and leadership (US Army).  What training partnerships can we develop? How can these partnerships be mutually beneficial?
  2. 'Taxpayer' definition (from the FDNY Probationary Firefighters Manual) - The term "Taxpayer" is not defined or recognized in the building code. The term originally referred to the practice of real estate investors who, while holding land for speculation, resorted to minimal investment in construction to produce income to offset the cost of taxes. These structures were usually of cheap and flimsy construction with little or no fire retarding features. Supermarkets and one story shopping centers of more recent construction do not fit the above description but contain many of the inherent hazards associated with taxpayers. A taxpayer building is commonly taken to mean a business structure one or two stories in height. Their areas vary from 20' x 50' to areas of whole city blocks, the most common size being approximately 100' x 100'. They can be built on one or more lots with adjoining structures of greater heights on three sides. These buildings are usually single structures commonly sheltering from one to as many as 15 different businesses with weak non-fire resistive partitions and no fire stops in the cocklofts.
  3. - resource for urban search and rescue and shoring operations
  4. KO Fire Curtain - tool developed by FDNY firefighters that allows personnel to control the effects of wind on and within a structure.
  5. Recommended resources for storage battery technology - Pv Magazine, Leveling Solar and Energy Storage: A Nontechnical Guide (book)

Get this resource.  You can subscribe at,

Fire Risk FAQ

Q: What is risk?

A: Risk can be defined as the combination of the likelihood of an accident occurrence and severity of the potential consequences.

Q: What is a risk assessment?

A: What is the likelihood of a fire event occurring within this space? What degree of loss (life and property) would be expected?  What scale would this be measured on? How can we reduce the possibility of a fire occurrence, and eliminate the chance of any life or property loss?  This is the information that a fire risk assessment will present.

A fire risk assessment is a tool used to assess the fire risks pertaining to a building or other structure. The assessment identifies the risks and present and provides actions and recommendations to mitigate those risks.

Q: How can risk be mitigated?

A: The first step toward mitigation is awareness. Know what the risks are, specific to your facility.  Following that, there are 5 categories that can be examined or applied to reduce that risk.  These categories are:
  1. Building construction type
  2. Fire alarm systems
  3. Fire suppression systems
  4. Building upgrades
  5. Water supply and reliability

Q: What areas of a facility pose the greatest risk?

A: When determining the areas of greatest risk we want to look at three factors:
  1. Ignition sources - What systems or processes create situations in which they may cause a fire or fuel to be ignited? Some of these might include: hot work operation (welding, cutting, etc.), cooking, or open flame processes.
  2. Fuel load - How much flammable and combustible materials are within the space? This can refer to the structure itself, stored items, or the buildings contents.
  3. Occupant load - How many people can potentially fill this space?  How many people actually operate in the space?  Are exiting and egress components adequate?

Q: What are the impacts of fire?

A: The United States Fire Administration has identified five impacts of fire:
  1. Economic impact - loss of production, loss of jobs, loss of organizational assets, increased insurance premiums
  2. Organizational impact - low employee morale and high turn-over, life loss of organizational leaders
  3. Legal impact - civil litigation and lawsuits, fines and fees
  4. Psychological impact - traumatic experience to those involved and witness to the incident
  5. Political impact - decreased property values, loss of respect within the community, increased regulation and regulatory oversight

Q: What are the critical components of a risk assessment?

A: The critical components of an assessment are the potential hazard factors and the risk reduction factors. The potential hazard factors are those items that pose the greatest risk of fire/life loss within a structure. The risk reduction factors are the items that can reduce the risk of fire/life loss.

Q: How is a risk assessment conducted?

A: We utilize a 3 step process to conduct risk assessments:
  1. Site visit and completion of the risk assessment field checklist.
  2. Input information into the digital pre-plan template.
  3. Completion of the fire risk assessment score-sheet matrix.

My book, Risk Assessment Guide for Aviation Facilities, is a complete reference manual for understanding risk, conducting a risk assessment, and applying assessment results to mitigate fire loss.

For free risk assessment guides, resources, and information visit the website -

Buy the Kindle edition.
Buy the Print edition.

Risk Assessment Guide - AVAILABLE NOW!

How do you know if your facility is at risk for fire loss? This guide will enable you to conduct a thorough fire risk assessment, and create a plan to mitigate those risks. This is your complete reference manual for understanding risk, conducting a risk assessment, and applying assessment findings to mitigate fire loss.

You will discover:
  • The meaning of ‘risk’.
  • The purpose, importance, and components of a risk assessment.
  • How to conduct your own risk assessment.
  • All the tools, resources, and references needed for the complete assessment process.

Mitigate fire risk at your facility.  This guide will show you how!

Available now from:

Buy now - Kindle $9.99
Buy now - Print $14.99

Conducting the 3 Step Risk Assessment

Seeing the need for simple risk assessment process that could be conducted by individuals of any knowledge, skill, or ability level, we created our 3 step fire risk assessment process.  This system was developed after a thorough review of the types of assessments in place and recommended best practices.

Though the fire risk assessment is composed of many parts, the process can be broken down into 3 basic steps.

Step 1. Site visit and completion of the risk assessment field checklist. A site visit and walk-through will be conducted. You can utilize the risk assessment field checklist  tool that we have created. This checklist will guide you through the information needed to adequately assess your level of fire risk.

Step 2.  Input information into the digital pre-plan template.  The information gathered from the site visit, and risk assessment field checklist, can be input into our digital pre-plan template.  This template is designed so that the field checklist information can be organized into a neat, easy-to-read, format.  This allows the information to be quickly accessed and easily viewed when needed.

Step 3.  Completion of the fire risk assessment score-sheet matrix.  Utilizing the information gathered in Step 1 and its organization in Step 2, the structure can be given a numeric value that represents the level of fire risk present.

In conducting these 3 steps you can be provided with a clear picture of the structure, its fire protection and life safety systems and features, and any hazards present.

All the tools and resources can be freely accessed from,

Buy the Book:

Are you at risk?

How can you know if your facility is at risk of loss from fire? What features and processes are in place that decrease or enhance that risk?  What mitigations can be put into place to minimize the fire risk?

Tweet: Risk: the combination of the likelihood of an accident occurrence and the severity of the potential consequencesRisk can be defined as “the combination of the likelihood of an accident occurrence and the severity of the potential consequences”. A fire risk assessment is a direct assessment of the fire risks pertaining to a building or other structure.  By conducting a fire risk assessment the level of risk can be identified, specific hazards can be realized, and action can be taken to mitigate these risks.

When conducting a fire risk assessment you want to thoroughly examine your structure or facility.  Your examination should focus on identifying potential fire hazards (those items that contribute to increased fire/loss risk), and fire risk reduction factors (Items currently in place that reduce fire/loss risk).  

Potential fire hazards to be identified are:
  1. Ignition sources present - Is there open flame in the area? Do hot work operations take place in the area? Is smoking allowed?  Do industrial process create their own ignition source?  Are their cooking facilities in the structure?
  2. Fuel load present - Does the area contain a large amount of flammables or combustibles? Would the materials within the space contribute to excessive fire load? Are the interior finishes flammable? How are items stored and configured?
  3. Occupant load - How many people can potentially occupy the space? How many people actually, regularly occupy the space? If a fire occurred, how many people would potentially be impacted?

There are five risk reduction factors that can reduce the risk of fire loss to a structure:
  1. Building construction type - Construction types I, II, IV provide the greatest degree of fire and heat resistance. Construction types III, and V are the least resistive to fire. Related Post: Understanding Building Construction and Loads
  2. Fire alarm systems - Fire alarm systems provide advanced notice of fire incident occurrence and can quickly contact emergency services.  To ensure the reliability of these systems, they must undergo regular inspection, testing, and maintenance. Related Post: Beginners Guide to Fire Alarm Systems
  3. Fire suppression systems - Fire suppression systems are designed to control fires and keep them from growing to an unmanageable level.  These systems, to be effective when needed, must be regularly inspected, tested, and maintained. Additionally, these systems must be installed and appropriately engineered to appropriately protect the hazard that they are installed for.  Relate Post: Understanding Pre-Action Sprinkler Systems
  4. Building upgrades - As structures age they can become more susceptible to fire risk.  As more is learned about building structure and systems, codes and standards are created and revised to make full use of the latest developments. Related Post: Aircraft Facility Fire Codes Index
  5. Water supply and reliability - The successful extinguishment of a fire relies heavily on the water supply availability, and how quickly and easily that water can be accessed.  Related Post: How to Conduct Hydrant Flow Testing

Tweet: Are your tenants, employees, and customers really safe, or are they truly at risk, with just a perception of safety?Are your tenants, employees, and customers really safe, or are they truly at risk, with just a perception of safety?

My book, Risk Assessment Guide for Aviation Facilities, is a complete reference manual for understanding risk, conducting a risk assessment, and applying assessment results to mitigate fire loss.

For free risk assessment guides, resources, and information visit the website -

Buy the Kindle edition.
Buy the Print edition.

Related posts: