As firefighters we often become so focused on our goals of life safety, incident stabilization, and property conservation that we sometimes forget to provide comfort and direction for individuals whose lives have just been turned around after the fire strikes their home or business. All firefighters, especially incident commanders and company officers, should be aware of what guidance they can provide to these unprepared victims.
In the victims’ eyes, you are the one who they will initially believe has all the answers. It’s hard for a firefighter to put out a structure fire and then switch gears and become a crisis counselor. That’s not what we are there for, nor is it what we are trained to do. However, to lose sight of the fact that we are in a customer service industry would be a terrible mistake. Although we should leave it up to the fire investigators to inform the occupants of the cause of the fire, there are questions we should answer such as “Why did you break my windows?” “Why are there holes in my walls or roof?” “How can I get a copy of the fire report?” and “What do I do now?” The first three questions are easy to answer; however, the last one is where most firefighters find themselves getting tongue-tied. So, what information is available to provide to those whose lives have just been turned around by fire?
In the book Fireground Operational Guides, you will find 70 guides that can be used in 70 different scenarios, including tips you can provide property owners after the fire http://www.pennwellbooks.com/opguforfisep.html. You can also find a list at http://www.usfa.fema.gov/citizens/atf/
As a quick tip, remember to conduct yourself with class and remind the other firefighters on the scene that, although they may be coming off an adrenaline high, there may be distraught people standing nearby who may have lost their most prized possessions.