The Safe Staging Area – Through Innovation, Encouragement and Testing, A New Idea Is Born.

John Konrad
Total Views: 107
February 20, 2010

Fire Scene Safety - FunnyWhat is your area of expertise? The five year old son of a mechanic aboard my ship is a true prodigy of the arts. The stick figures I have spent over 30 years perfecting are effective at getting a basic message across but those drawn by young Evan, who is still in preschool, have depth and character. Is his ability genetic? His father certainly can’t draw. Is he just naturally gifted? Probably not.

Evan’s ability comes not from a gift of birth but from the gift of his father, encouragement and repetition. Because each time Evan draws a picture his father smiles broadly and suggests an improvement. He then runs back to his room to test a new method and try again. In doing so, Evan learns new methods to improve his skill.

Each of us have certain skills aboard ship and one or two areas in which we excel. And many of these traits, whether it be knot-work or ship handling, stem from the encouragement or envy of a former mentor who took the time to show us the ropes and pushed us to find incremental improvements.

As Master’s it is our responsibility to push the crew to develop skills they will carry for the remainder of their careers. In doing so we not only develop their abilities but, by joining our knowledge with their discovery, we also develop ours.

For me one passion has always been emergency response and, in particular, marine firefighting. Over the years I have challenged my crews to innovate and improve their performance at every drill then, during the debriefing, look for new ideas which we can test at the next drill. The results have been impressive.

One example of this practice is the invention of a new concept called “Safe Staging Areas”. A Safe Staging Area is simply a location close to the scene of the fire for the safe and organized staging of people and equipment. The idea was first developed when the question was asked “What really kills firefighters”? Collectively we had agreed that smoke inhalation was the number one killer, and for victims of fire this is true, but one member of our fire team was not satisfied with this answer and took my challenge to look up the actual statistics of firefighter deaths.

The number one killer of firefighters, we soon discovered, is not smoke but overexertion and stress. And the primary cause of nonfatal injuries is slips/trips/falls/etc. Since the invention of the SCBA the risk of smoke has been mitigated by the use of supplied air but no system has been developed that lowers the risk of heart attacks or basic safety related injuries. Until now.

The Safe Staging Area serves as barrier between the fire zone and the fire gear locker. It is the primary meeting place for all persons and equipment transiting to and from the incident scene. In practice, persons dispatched to the scene of the fire first checking in with the SSA supervisor. This individual accounts for their presence, looks for signs of stress and exertion, then assures that his needs are taken care of both before and after entry into a dangerous area. The SSA supervisor also makes sure the area is safe from an advancing fire, is clean/orderly and that support personnel share in the burden of physical tasks like leading out fire-hoses. The SSA also assures that critical personnel, like injured persons and the medical PIC, remain in a location of safety for, if they get injured, every crew-member assumes additional risk.

By motivating the fire team aboard my ship, thru the encouragement of innovation and the testing of new ideas during drills, we have identified a hidden risk and mitigated the potential outcome. And, like Evan, we continue to look for the next idea to give depth and character to the marine firefighter’s version of stick figures.

Safe Staging Area, Sample Procedures:

1. Purpose

The purpose of this procedure is to allow for the routine for the designation and use of a Safe Staging Area during emergency response.

2. Applicability

Safe staging areas are applicable to incidents requiring emergency response. The following items apply to their use;

• Use of a Safe Staging Area is at the master’s discretion.
• Scene leader to advise master on location of SSA and is primary Person In Charge (PIC) of the location.
• Suggested Safe Staging Areas to be included in the vessel’s Fire Space Survey documents

3. Definition

Safe Staging Area (SSA) is defined as; A safe location close to the scene of the fire for the organized staging of people and equipment.

4. Description

Once the initial response has been initiated, and as soon as possible, the master will designate an SSA. In considering SSA locations he shall consult with the scene leader, fire space survey documentation and, if necessary, the supervisor of the space (eg. Deck Forman for pipe deck).

The master will also refer to Figure 1, considerations in choosing a safe staging area.

Once designated the scene leader will survey the potential SSA locations to assure that it is, in fact, safe for use. He will then notify the bridge and a PA announcement will be made stating the location of the SSA.

The scene leader will appoint an individual to supervise the SSA. This individual will normally be the Boundary Cooling leader but the position may be reassigned in the event the SSA is located far from the scene of the incident.

The SSA will serve as the primary meeting place for all persons and equipment required at the scene. No persons will go directly to the scene of the fire without first checking in with the SSA supervisor.

The SSA will be the primary location for:
• Fire teams & all persons waiting for clearance to engage the emergency
• Fire teams & all persons resting after involvement in the emergency
• Organizing, inspecting and testing equipment prior to use in the emergency.
• Primary treatment area for patients when, due to the number of patients or location of the incident, transport to the hospital is not feasible.

Safety Of The SSA

It is critical that the safety of the SSA is given primary importance. It serves as a place for critical persons (e.g. the medic) to perform their duties without risk of injury. Therefore, the area should be continuously monitored for evolving hazards and, if the nature of the incident has potential to engulf the SSA in hazard of any type, a secondary SSA should be considered.

Staging Of People

The SSA will serve as the meeting point for all persons transiting to and from the fire scene. The SSA supervisor will assure these people are accounted for and tracked. All persons moving to and from the SSA will use the buddy system and will be responsible for checking in with the SSA Supervisor.

Staging Of Equipment

If the SSA is located far from an emergency gear locker the scene leader should consider moving all equipment from the secondary locker to the SSA. Once the equipment has been relocated it must be organized, inspected and tested. No equipment should be used in the actual emergency until it has been tested for use.

The SSA should be maintained in a clean and orderly condition. Effort should be made to keep it as quite and stress free as possible. Benches, water jugs, fans and other equipment to promote the rest of fire teams between call-outs should be considered.

Temporary SSA

In the event a hazard exists in a SSA and no alternative is available the hazards should be identified and communicated to the scene leader and bridge. The hazard should then be mitigated and a new location prepared for use.

Time Distance Shielding

The following factors are to be considered in choosing an SSA:

Time: The amount of time an SSA is exposed to hazards should be reduced as far as practical. Existing hazards should be removed, if possible, or their dangers should be identified and mitigated. Otherwise an alternative SSA should be readied and put into use as soon as possible.

Distance: The SSA should be distant enough from the scene of the incident so that an advancing fire or hazard will not engulf the SSA. It should also, however, be close enough to the scene to make logistics and communication simple. Therefore it is the responsibility of the master to appoint an SSA that is as close to the incident as is practical, considering the nature of the emergency.

Shielding: Whenever possible shielding, in the form of steel bulkheads, deluge or other protective elements, should be present between the incident scene and the SSA.


In the event of a mass casualty event the SSA will serve as the triage area. The ship’s medic should assure the stretcher team is familiar with the use of triage and properly trained for such an event.

Diagram Of Use

Safe Staging Area - Marine Firefighting

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