Friday, March 13, 2009

Second Due Syndrome

From my blog on

There is a classic attitude that I've seen in quite a few places throughout my career. It is a side effect from the fact that all of us want to be members of the first company to a fire, but another unit gets to the fire first.The result is what I call "Second Due Syndrome". If you're not there first, there's a subconscious pressure to drive a little faster, mask up a little quicker, and rush to get into the building before someone else gets all of "our" action.

Second Due Syndrome is dangerous, because it turns on knee-jerk reactions and turns off our brains. When the driver pushes the rig a little harder, bad things tend to happen. Apparatus accidents kill and injure all too many firefighters, to say nothing of taking expensive, critical community resources out of service, sometimes permenantly. If you have a company T-shirt that says "We beat you in your First Due", then you're advertising that you're afflicted with Second Due Syndrome. Responding to a fire isn't a race, it's a competition with all of the sloppy, stupid, and dangerous drivers on the road. The apparatus operator shouldn't be one of them.

Second Due Syndrome can make he officer miss important information. The second due officer should be looking for things that the first due officer may have missed. If you're running past your best sources of information outside the building in your hurry to get inside, you're likely to miss critical visual cues that can mean the difference between a relatively safe fireground operation and a completely suidical one.

Rushing to don the SCBA mask, hood, helmet, and gloves shortcuts the real reason we're wearing it in the first place - to make sure that we're not breathing smoke or superheated air, char-grilling our ears, or using a body part as a meat thermometer. Shortcuts tend to elimate safety procedures when we need them the most.

Rushing to get into action is a great way to leave essential tools on the rig. When you're inside and you need that tool, it wastes time and air to have the entire company exit to go get it. Worse, there's the temptation to have only one firefighter leave to get the tool. Seperating from your company in the IDLH atmosphere has contributed to many firefighter deaths. We don't need to intentionally do this when the need would have been eliminated by taking the right tools in the first place.

Second Due Syndrome can also rear its ugly head during after-action reviews. The first-due officer is probably going to be second-guessed enough without hearing members of the second-due engine tell him "We would have done it differently."

When you weren't first due, you had several advantages over the company that was. You had the advantage of their size-up report, so you havd better information. You had the advantage of knowing exactly where the fire was if the location was initially unclear. You had the advantage of knowing that there was at least one other company present to help you if you get into trouble. You had more time to get ready. You didn't have to rush quite as much, because someone else was already tackling the problem when you got there.

When you're at the critique, remember that the first due company alwayshas the least time, the least information, the least manpower, and generally the biggest problem. Keep that in mind - you'll eventually be first due and you'll then get to experience Second Due Syndrome from the first-due perspective. I hope it's painless for you and yours.
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