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S.O. Sidelines
by Fire Department Safety Officers Association

Reducing the need for Rapid Intervention Crews

More effort must be directed to keeping firefighters out of harm's way in the first place

By Michael Petroff
Battalion chief/training officer (ret.)

Rapid Intervention Crew training is among the most popular topics today. But when is an RIC designed to operate? Answer: After a firefighter is in trouble and may not be able to self rescue.

We spend hours of training and considerable funds developing RIC kits and procedures. We issue helmet stickers, vests and bestow special status to the RIC. Fire officers are taught to place RICs at multiple points of entry and to assign "sufficient" staffing of such crews.

It would appear that as conditions deteriorate, focus may be concentrated on beefing up RIC status, rather than considering strategic withdrawal and changing to a defensive operation.

The results of an extensive study by the Phoenix Fire Department following the death of Firefighter Brett Tarver in 2001 found that "rapid intervention isn't rapid." In an old article in Fire Engineering, Executive Assistant Chief Steve Kreis said while the concept of rapid intervention has been institutionalized in many departments nationwide, the number of LODDs has not been significantly reduced.

The United States Fire Administration's special report, "Rapid Intervention Teams and How to Avoid Needing Them," seems to focus more about the implementation of an RIC or FAST than it does about the title of the document.

Limited information is given on reducing the need for RIC. But in order to reduce firefighter line of duty death and injury, we must focus more on risk management issues such as building construction, developing needed fire flow, victim survivability profile, firefighting staffing and training issues and firefighter fitness.

While it is noble and honorable to be among those willing to risk their wellbeing to rescue a fellow firefighter, more effort must be directed to keeping those firefighters out of harm's way in the first place.

NFPA Standard for Fire Service Rapid Intervention Crews NFPA 1407 does not present "prevention" of the need for RIC within the document.

The scope of the document states, "This standard specified the basic training procedures for fire service personnel to conduct fire fighter rapid intervention operations. This standard specifies basic evolutions that can be adapted to local conditions and serves as a standard mechanism for the evaluation on minimum acceptable performance during training for rapid intervention activities."

The International Association of Fire Chiefs' draft "Rules of Engagement for Structural Firefighting" guidelines are worth checking out : 

  • Size‐Up Your Tactical Area of Operation
  • Determine the Occupant Survival Profile
  • DO NOT Risk Your Life for Lives or Property That Can Not Be Saved
  • Extend LIMITED Risk to Protect SAVABLE Property
  • Extend Vigilant and Measured Risk to Protect and Rescue SAVABLE Lives
  • Go in Together, Stay Together, Come Out Together
  • Maintain Continuous Awareness of Your Air Supply, Situation, Location and Fire Conditions
  • Constantly Monitor Fireground Communications for Critical Radio Reports
  • You Are Required to Report Unsafe Practices or Conditions That Can Harm You. Stop, Evaluate and Decide.
  • You Are Required to Abandon Your Position and Retreat Before Deteriorating Conditions Can Harm You
  • Declare a May Day As Soon As You THINK You Are in Danger

By following the IAFC guidelines, maintaining crew integrity and having situational awareness, the number of injuries and deaths will be reduced. Making efforts to reduce the need for RIC will also result in a reduction of casualties.

About the author

The Fire Department Safety Officers Association was formed in 1989 for the purpose of addressing firefighting safety issues. Today, more than 3,000 members represent public, private and industrial fire and EMS personnel around the world. The FDSOA is an accredited certifying agency of the National Board on Fire Service Professional Qualifications. The FDSOA membership and Board of Directors are active in many facets of the fire service including the National Fire Protection Association. For additional information on certification and membership as well as its Annual Safety Forum October 27-31 in Orlando, Fla., go to FDSOA.org.



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