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2 operational acronyms firefighters must learn

There are hundreds of acronyms in the fire service, but these two are a must for fireground operations

There are over 300 acronyms in the fire service world. Most are abbreviations, such as AFFF for aqueous film-forming foam, or FEMA for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Others are descriptive, such as OS&Y for outside screw and yoke valve or even hazmat for hazardous materials. Others are borne out of humor and often hide an inside joke or an uncomfortable reality – CHAOS being the humorous acronym for “chief has arrived on scene.”

The most important acronyms, however, are the ones used in operations during an incident. Whether describing fire attack actions or evaluating size-up criteria, such acronyms are critical to firefighters understanding any active situation and getting their part right.

Operational acronyms provide a clear order to directed actions, allowing for measurable progress and appropriate resolution to each described segment. Here are the two operational acronyms you need to recognize and understand if you are to be a solid firefighter.


The first acronym taught to working firefighters is RECEO-VS. This stands for Rescue, Exposures, Containment, Extinguish, Overhaul - Ventilation and Salvage. This gives firefighters their actions on the fireground in order of strategic importance.

Obviously, the preservation of life is paramount in any action plan. But in the heat of battle with flames showing, not having a mnemonic to prioritize initial actions could mean an emergency gone wrong.

Understanding RECEO-VS in total is the key to its effectiveness. It can be argued that extinguishing the fire is a substantial tactic for increasing life safety on scene.

If all prior control measures have been evaluated and extinguishment becomes the initial action for evacuation, it would be acceptable within the response structure of RECEO-VS. While not cast in stone, RECEO-VS is the appropriate sequence of event actions that allow for the greatest opportunity for success on the fireground.

Although many firefighters combine ventilation and salvage into the original acronym, the hyphen allows both actions to occur any time within the sequence of events. We know that ventilation is a vital part of a coordinated fire attack and can be needed throughout a knockdown or overhaul. The same is true of salvage.

Developed in the early 1980s, RECEO-VS has stood the test of time. However, detailed analysis from inside and outside the fire service community has led to another acronym for on-scene actions.


The acronym SLICE-RS stands for Size-up, Locate the fire, Identify and control flow path, Cool the space from safest location, and Extinguish the fire. Supplementing these are Rescue and Salvage.

Using current and fashionable lingo gleaned from the latest fire research, this acronym combines an awareness of size-up with a strong emphasis on fire movement and firefighter safety. Seen more for first arriving crews rather than the concerns of command officers, it should not replace RECEO-VS, but serve as another tool in the box.


Addressing the issue of size-up as another operational event, a definitive list of on-scene considerations are enumerated in the acronym COAL WAS WEALTH. Memorizing this acronym and understanding its meaning is paramount to first arriving officers as well as any command staff.

While initially generalized due to time constraints, a detailed understanding of each segment of this size-up acronym will be critical to accomplishing all tasks and tactics associated with a prolonged fireground progression.

Here’s how this second acronym breaks down.

  • Construction: What type (I, II, III, VI, V) of construction is involved? Heavy timber may allow more interior search time than ordinary construction. Plaster and lath, more smoke production than aluminum studs and fire-resistive drywall.
  • Occupancy: What is the occupancy – residential, commercial or industrial? Could the zoning/use described on the pre-incident plan be outdated or violated? Is there cooperation or civilian unrest?
  • Area: How big is the involved area and what is the size of potential spread? High-rise or industrial site will influence safe zones and command and control considerations.
  • Life hazard: What are the dangers to civilians and firefighters? Are there markings, placards or signs indicating hazmat, gas storage or limited egresses due to security concerns? Are there secured areas and, if so, for what reason?
  • Water: Do you need hydrant locations or alternative water supply? Are there obstructions, vandalism or frozen stems to contend with? Will pressure be limited?
  • Auxiliary systems: Can you expect any help from sprinklers, standpipes, fire alarms or are they going to be a hindrance to firefighter movement and actions? Utilities could be considered especially as they affect fire suppression devices.
  • Street conditions: Are the streets safe and accessible for arriving units? Is there a timeline for traffic control and who will handle it?
  • Weather: What impact will it have on access, roads, structures, equipment, health and safety?
  • Exposures: Are adjacent buildings susceptible to radiant heat? Could embers enlarge affected area? Could explosions or chemical releases affect evacuations, fire spread or extended contamination issues?
  • Apparatus and personnel: Got enough and is it the right type? What else will you need and when will you need it? Are multi-jurisdictional responses changing levels of training and experience?
  • Location: Confirm an exact location for dispatch and for staging arriving units. Declare an exact A side designation to eliminate location confusion around the structure itself.
  • Time: Time is the influencing factor on traffic, population movement and conditions affecting long term incidents.
  • Hazards: Over and above initial dangers, what hazmat or industrial operations are involved? Will hazards and associated dangers increase over the duration of the incident? Will they be present during overhaul and investigation?

Detailed in its initial description, COAL WAS WEALTH is a useful checklist for command officers throughout the emergency incident. Any changes in one or more of these topics could suggest consideration of new tactics or modification of the overall strategy.

Failure to account for any one of these details could mean placing unwarranted stress on crews and equipment.

There are many useable acronyms available throughout the fire service such as SAMPLE and LOVE-U. However, the operational fireground acronyms of RECEO-VS and COAL WAS WEALTH are worth the time and effort to understand and learn their application.

Adhering to their ordered timeline while measuring their segmented progress are substantial reasons for bringing any fire incident to a successful and safe conclusion.

Follow the SROVT principles – solid, realistic, ongoing, verifiable training – to develop strong incident commanders

This article, originally published on May 09, 2017, has been updated.

Jim Spell spent 33 years as a professional firefighter with Vail (Colorado) Fire & Emergency Services, the last 20 years as a captain. He helped create the first student/resident fire science program west of the continental divide, formed the first countywide hazmat response unit and was on the original Colorado Governor’s Safety Committee. As founder of HAZPRO Consulting, LLC, Spell advised businesses on subjects ranging from hazard analysis and safety response to personnel development and organization. His writing won six IAFF Media Awards. Many of Spell’s articles are available by podcast at His last book was titled “Boot Basics: A Firefighter’s Guide to the Service.” Spell passed away in April 2024 after a short battle with cancer. His last four articles detailed his cancer journey.