Fireground Russian Roulette: How Many Bullets are in Your Gun?

Anyone who knows me or has seen me or read my stuff knows I am a huge building construction zealot.  My feeling is that if you do not know how the building was put together, you will not know many other crucial things such as:

–the paths of least resistance for fire

— the best paths for rescue

— the best paths for  fire attack

— the best places to vent

— the places where fire spread can be headed off and cut off

— the best places to go to look for hidden fire

— the paths for water flow for salvage operations

— how the building is likely to fall apart

That’s just a short list.  Your knowledge in this area is critical.  If you are in any type of Command position whether a first line supervisor, a chief officer, or a chief of department and you do not know this stuff cold, shame on you.  You are playing Russian Roulette with your troops every time you are on the fireground.

The amount of bullets in your gun is very dependent on your rank.  The higher in rank you are, the more personnel you have to protect and the longer you are likely to be in charge of an incident, thus the more bullets.

I look at it like this.  If you are a Lieutenant, you might only have one or two bullets in the chamber.  Not great odds but you might survive and you are not likely to allow your negligence to influence too many others (none are acceptable and any amount of bullets in the chamber can kill!!)

If you are a Battalion Chief , you have three bullets in the chamber.  If a Deputy or District Chief, you have four.  An Assistant Chief has five and a Chief of Department has six — no odds there — you are going too kill someone, it is just a matter of time.  Hopefully your department is slow and there are no fires.  By the way, if you don’t know this stuff, it is likely your subordinates don’t either.  This is more like playing Russian Roulette with a cannon or sub-machine gun instead of a six-shooter.  As a Chief of Department, you have the ability to influence the bullets in the guns of all yoru subordinates.  You better take that deadly serious.

So what are we talking about here to reduce the lethality (is that a word?) of the gun you hold?  Here are some suggestions:

  1.  Know your area
  2. Be a student of building construction
  3. Make sure your subordinates are students of building construction
  4. Take or ensure building construction instruction (oooh a rhyme!) is provided regularly
  5. Provide opportunities for your subordinates to show what they know.  Run a building  construction competition (like a construction bee) using slides
  6. Stay current — this stuff is changing ALL THE TIME
  7. Bring experts in the field in for training
  8. Create a firehouse library which includes building construction books
  9. Set an example by fostering a career of learning
  10. Run building and construction familiarization training in all buildings in your jurisdiction that are being constructed, renovated, or demolished
  11. Run cold weather drills with slides of various buildings……assign by schedule for companies to go out and take pictures to be included in a PPT….then have them teach the other companies
  12. Set up a  data base of the buildings in your jurisdiction using the info found in point #11
  13. Invite mutual /automatic aid companies / departments to share vital information about their buildings
  14. Put all vital building information in an easily retrievable file / place so it is available on the fireground
  15. Don’t treat all building construction the same!!  Doing the same thing all the time can get you killed some of the time

End of rant

Stay safe out there



  • Pat Marshall says:

    We have a new Fire Chief and thankfully he is pushing all kinds of training especially building construction. I just had the class a couple weeks ago. All members of a fire company should have this training not just the officers.

    • anthonya says:

      Where are u from? building construction training is the most important gift any officer can give his/her personnel. Thanks for your comment.

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