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Street Smarts
by Michael Lee

Coordinated fire attack: Rescue activities

Saving life is the main reason we have our jobs and should drive our initial actions when initiating efforts on the fireground

By Michael Lee

In past articles I have touched on the need for a well coordinated fire attack process. I did not feel that I had given sufficient time to work through the intricacies each of the components, how and why they are critical to the successful conclusion of a fire, and how to weave them and their impacts into a well orchestrated tactical event. I will hopefully be able to address the finer details regarding singular tactical options in this series where I will describe each facet of a well coordinated fire attack process.

Coordinated fireground actions are critical for a safe, effective and successful end of a fire suppression event. In past articles, I have also mentioned the need for a mnemonic or acronym to assist with recalling critical tactics for fireground management and introduced the REC-REVOS version I utilize:
Rescue
Exposures
Confinement
Rapid intervention
Extinguishment
Ventilation
Overhaul
Salvage

As we dive into the upcoming series, it is critical to explain that this acronym is not a step-by-step linear process.

For instance, it may be necessary to ventilate a structure to make a safe entrance for an attack team. Understand that the acronym is a mental reminder of all over-arching tactical goals that a fireground commander should consider as a mental Incident Action Plan is created.

Another good analogy may be the weaving of a tapestry using threads as tactical decisions. For the Incident Commander to weave a specific picture, he/she must utilize the tactics in a manner that will produce a certain response from the fire, structure and personnel. To address a different end view to the tapestry, he/she weaves the threads (tactics) in another manner to create the picture needed.

Solid information
Understand that all tactical decisions will be more successful when based on solid information. A good size-up with as complete a 360-degree walk around as possible will assist the fireground commander with making educated decisions.

After the initial size-up is completed, command is established and resource needs have been anticipated, the first tactical decision we will make is that of rescue.

Saving life is the main reason we have our jobs and should drive our initial actions when initiating efforts on the fireground. The argument regarding the degree of risk to take to perform rescue of civilians always prompts debate.

OSHA's two-in-two-out rule has intimidated a significant portion of our profession since its inception. I believe this regulation was promulgated with a proper concern for firefighter survival in mind.

But the problem is that the office in the sterile halls of bureaucracy where this rule was created is not the hot, smoke-filled bedroom where children will hide themselves from our primary search crews.

There is a "loophole" where an Incident Commander, when faced with what is believed to be sufficient evidence to prove that an imminent rescue can be made, can make an "exception."

This should not be misconstrued to mean that this rule can be "opted" out of by using this excuse. And anytime a crew enters a structure in violation of this rule, their actions should be examined closely.

What this means is that when a life can be saved, safe, effective rescue operations should be selected as an initial action. In addition, rescue has to be an initial consideration in all fireground scenarios. An immediate rescue without a coordinated tactical approach should be attempted only in extreme cases.

Decision made
Once the decision has been made to initiate search and rescue assignments, application of on-scene resources should be applied to assist with the search assignment or to improve the surrounding environmental conditions to increase the ability to locate victims.

This can involve the use of positive pressure ventilation (or positive pressure attack actions) to accelerate the location of victims and actually improve the survivability of occupants.

Internal attack teams must remember that although they may be looking for fire, their priority is rescue. The attack team's priority during rescue operations is to contain fire and keep it from jeopardizing anyone in the fire building.

This may mean that initial search companies may require the engine team to divert from their initial suppression assignment to protect their means of egress (interior stairways and corridors) for themselves and any occupants.

They are responsible for protecting firefighters who are searching on the fire floor and above it. They may also be asked to place their hose stream between the fire and victims. If this should occur, coordinate re-assignment of crews through command to ensure other tactical operations in play can be addressed.

However, to be fair to the engine crew and their suppression responsibilities, the faster the fire is out, the quicker the environment will become tenable.

Tactics for primary searches
Primary search tactics should be directed toward finding the greatest number of occupants as swiftly as possible. Part of your initial size-up should assist with this in that time of day will generally describe where people will be on the inside of the residence.

Daylight hours will have people populating the more public areas of their occupancies; kitchens, family rooms, etc. This is not to say that people who work alternate hours may not be in their more private areas. You should use building construction clues prior to entry to help with trying to decipher the internal layout of the residence.

When faced with larger structures (square footage) or high occupancy target hazards (senior care centers), and advised of possible large numbers of rescues, order another full alarm response or two.

Anticipate the need for an "all hands rescue" initially in these scenarios and assign minimal resources to fight fire that is not impeding the rescue operations. Establish a rescue branch if necessary and anticipate enough personnel for the rotation and rehab of working firefighters.

In conclusion, rescue is the first label in the acronym (REC-REVOS) and the first responsibility each of us has toward our constituents. We should be prepared to perform rescue as a priority during the selection of initial fireground tactics.

We should be aggressive when necessary to save lives, and ensure that the risk to our own lives is as reduced as possible while completing the tasks assigned to us.

I know that everyone has heard the term "risking a lot to save a lot" when talking about rescue. My final point is when you are deciding to "risk a lot", know as much about the conditions you will be operating under as possible and be a "calculating cavalier" instead of a "blind knight."

About the author

Michael Lee has 25 years experience in pre-hospital paramedic experience and about 20 years experience in the fire service. He started as a FF/Paramedic and worked up through the ranks, including training officer, to his current position as battalion chief. He currently serves as battalion chief at Mountain View Fire Protection District in Colorado. He is currently filling the role of safety officer for FEMA USAR Colorado Task Force One and has military service in the U.S. Navy. To contact Michael, email Michael.Lee@FireRescue1.com.



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