By Thomas N. Warren
There has been somewhat of a “tempest in a teapot” surrounding the use of the term “nothing showing” as a report by a first-arriving fire company. Some very notable individuals and organizations have voiced opinions relating to the effectiveness and consequences of using this term. Groups such as the International Association of Fire Chiefs and the International Society of Fire Service Instructors1 feel that a modern and progressive approach to fireground operations would exclude the use of this term. These organizations cite theories that they feel lead to a fireground complacency that will endanger both firefighters and civilians alike.
Some of today’s notable leaders in the fire service have also weighed in on this issue. The response from these organizations and industry leaders has not been completely uniform, which is a source of comfort to me. Like many concepts introduced to the fire service, some have merit and others fall far short of their promised results. The debate is healthy and keeps us thinking about our mission as fire service professionals. To improve, we must question and measure our policies and practices, always looking for better and safer ways to practice our craft.
To analyze the effectiveness of the term “nothing showing,” we need to take a look at a response to a report of a fire in a building or an automatic alarm. This is, after all, where the term will be applied. The response should be the same, but experience tells us that firefighters often prepare themselves differently for each of these types of alarms. The dispatch center sends a number of fire companies to an address for a report of a fire, either verbally communicated to the dispatch center or received through an automatic fire alarm system. The fire companies will respond because they were summoned by a report of a fire (verbally or electronically). There will always be a first-arriving company, and it is that first-arriving company’s responsibility to provide a brief size-up report of what they find at the address to which they were sent.