For almost a year we have been reviewing tactical impacts that build a strong foundation for managing fireground processes and how they are best approached to be safe and effective. We have driven those tactical conversations based on REC-REVOS: rescue, exposures, confinement, rapid intervention, extinguishment, ventilation, overhaul and salvage.
When considering fireground tactics, size-up and decisions, it is necessary to revisit the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's "two in and two out" rule . It is important to understand this rule and when it is acceptable to use the rescue loophole to enter a hazardous environment prior to establishing the OSHA-required exterior back up team.
The fireground commander will be held accountable for this regulation in one fashion or another. Most departments have operating procedures that spell out this requirement. But even if your department lacks this process, you will still be held to its requirements should one of your firefighters be injured or killed in a structure fire.
While this should not be the only size-up consideration, it must be high on your list prior to initiating an interior attack. That said, there are a couple of points to remember when performing a risk vs. benefit process before initiating an interior attack without a back-up team in place prior to entering the IDLH.
Lack of sufficient personnel is not meant to prevent firefighters from performing emergency rescue activities before enough resources have arrived to implement a back-up team. Also, failure to consider this critical safety regulation could be considered negligence by department leaders.
Sizing it up
The size-up process must begin when personnel are en route to a possible structure fire; and it must be consistently repeated throughout the remainder of the event. Size-up is that sequence of considerations used to develop the risk vs. benefit process.
I say the personnel en route because all individuals at the fire are responsible for performing a size-up for their own personal safety and that of their teams.
Officers must perform their size-up to consider which tactics must be part of the tactical management process and in what order. This process begins at the initiation of the alarm and will continue until command is terminated.
Formal size-up processes are required by the first arriving units and should be passed to the communications center to ensure all incoming units have the best picture of the current impacts. As other officers arrive, including the command officer, another size-up (to include a 360-degree view) should be completed.
The first arriving officer must perform a good size-up to assist with a safe, efficient creation of an incident action plan. For some incidents, this may never be placed on paper, but any logical plan of action being implemented by the incident commander is, by definition, an incident action plan.
This action plan is created from all the evidence collected during the response, known factors and factors collected by the 360-degree assessment. These factors include: weather, area of the structure, life hazard, resources responding, time of day, suppression and alarm systems on site, and any other size-up points one would find in acronyms such as WALLACE WAS HOT.
These items along with factors collected during the walk around — victims at windows, number of floors, placement of fire, color of smoke, etc. — will all be used to create an initial action plan. This initial action plan must first consider the current rescue profile and the need to assign initial crews to move inside for a primary search without a back-up team.
Should the incident commander be presented with a situation where he or she strongly believes there are victims in immediate need of rescue and the environment is survivable, that commander should assign preliminary resources to making those rescues. This means mounting an initial fire attack may not be the primary focus, although removing fire would reduce the detrimental effects caused by the actual fire.
As the rescue tactic is being initiated, all subsequent arriving units should anticipate what their roles will be to assist completing the rescue. Resources should be assigned to assist with the completion of that priority.
Ventilation should be considered to make the environment tenable, and fire location should be confirmed. The top priority of hose lines advanced into the building should be protecting interior victims and search crews, while securing safe egress from the structure should victims be found. Life safety must be the primary consideration in all fireground activities.
Once the required details of the rescue tactics have been considered or when no rescue problem exists, the incident commander should move efforts towards confining and extinguishing the fire. The need to protect exposures is second on the list of tactics as spelled out in REC-REVOS.
A fire attack must be initiated with the focus of cutting off the route of fire spread. This involves preventing movement to other exposures such as from structure to structure or from an interior room to another room.
The placement and volume of fire should dictate whether exposure protection will be needed on the exterior of the structure or completed with the more regular suppression of a room-and-contents fire. As most fire spread occurs vertically before laterally, this may be the time that the IC considers using vertical ventilation to restrict the spread of fire by removing heat and smoke byproducts.
Rescue for rescuers
As initial resources complete rescue activities or as a greater number of firefighters arrive, the IC must consider implementing a rapid intervention team. Most departments with enough initial responding resources tend to add an extra suppression apparatus to fill that role. Your department will make the determination of whether that crew arrives on an engine, truck, rescue squad or an ambulance.
I am well aware that the OSHA regulation calls for two in and two out, but I am a strong believer that a minimum of a four-person back-up crew is best able to deal with down firefighters. The Jeff Tarver's line of duty death in Phoenix has taught us that lesson and we would demean him and lessen the truth of the research completed by Phoenix Fire if we do not pay attention to its report.
The rapid intervention team should report to the IC and get a report that includes number and position of crews operating on scene, incident action plan, progress of tactics, building hazards and tactical operating channels. The rapid intervention team officer and one member from the team should perform their own size-up to identify those obstacles on the exterior that will interfere with their ingress.
Security bars and locked doors should be identified and mitigated in the area of operations; consider removing them all to ensure firefighters who call a MAYDAY have other ways out of a structure. In addition, if truck companies have not thrown egress ladders, have the RIT perform that and announce on the tactical communication channels that they are in place and where they are positioned.
Finally, the rapid intervention team should stage near the command post with the structure-specific tools required to gain or manufacture ingress points that may not exist. Stage all RIT team equipment on a tarp and ensure saws are warmed up prior to needing them.
Putting on the wet stuff
Knowing the structures and their building construction will greatly assist the IC in anticipating the direction and speed of fire spread inside a structure. It will also give the IC the information necessary for positioning crews for the best manner to isolate and contain the fire.
In addition to being able to gather information regarding the construction of the building, a pre-incident plan will also aid the IC in projecting the size and type of combustible or flammable products contained within the building. This should help to anticipate the method of extinguishment and the volume of extinguishing agent required to completely extinguish the fire.
Most times this agent will be water, but not always. Knowing what products are contained on site will greatly assist in choosing what the initial suppression agent and tactics will be required.
Remember that damage to the building occurs from numerous impacts: time, remodeling, live loads (snow, water from suppression) and the fire itself. These items will significantly impact the load carrying structural supports before, during and after a fire.
Structural stability should be assessed before, during and after a fire. If in question, don’t hesitate to bring in a structural engineer or representative from the local building department to assess the safety of the structure prior to having crews attack it during overhaul.
While not the most glorious of firefighting tasks, salvage and overhaul delivers the most positive public relations impacts compared to all the others. A house that requires a vertical ventilation hole to prevent back draft from occurring, rarely initiates complaints from the homeowners or their insurance company.
Tearing all the cabinets out of a kitchen, though, for a small oven fire will create far greater negative feedback from the owners. While it is necessary to ensure that hidden fire is not causing further problems, overhaul should only cause the amount of damage necessary to ensure fire has not spread beyond the area where it was extinguished.
Crews also should be coordinating with fire investigators to ensure all evidence is documented and collected before manual destruction of an area occurs.
Remember, this is a place that belongs to individuals who have significant financial and emotional investment in this building we can treat so cavalierly.
Prevent damage from occurring when possible and clean up the mess after the investigation. Secure those items that can never be replaced: pets, pictures, videos, computers, secure documents, etc. Look back at those things a family will need to move forward over the next few days — medications, identifications, or clothing.
Will this family be displaced for a short while and has Red Cross or other disaster related contacts been initiated and responding? Have we used their insurance company's disaster restoration company to save them money?
Science and art
The tactical options available to a fireground commander are both science and art.
Knowing what type of ventilation to use and when to use it can be the difference between successful civilian rescues or fatalities. Knowing where to place initial hose lines can be the difference between protecting crews from flashovers and treating firefighters for burns.
All of the concepts discussed during this series have been available to the profession for years, but officers have the opportunity to see how each of the pieces should be applied for each fire. While it is true that all pieces belong in the picture, how and when you apply them will be the difference between success and failure.
Remember, people are the reason for success and also the main obstacle to success. How you perceive your challenges will dictate your drive to engage them.