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Rules to live by

The ‘Rules of Engagement for Structural Firefighting’ are a valuable resource for firefighters

Everybody needs rules — the world is a fairly chaotic place. Rules give us structure and direction, and aid in decision making. The fireground certainly counts as one of the chaotic places in our world.

Surviving this chaotic world can be made easier through lots of things such as training, equipment, staffing — and certainly rules.

There is, at this point, a large recognition within the fire service that although the number of fires has dropped drastically over the past few decades, the number of firefighter deaths directly from fire attack hasn’t dropped at the same rate.

Clearly, just from those statistics, more must be done. Many highly stressful professions have rules of engagement, from the military to the local police agency. But such a standard of rules hadn’t existed for the fire service until recently.

In 2008, after a year of review, the International Association of Fire Chiefs’ Safety, Health and Survival Section began to develop a set of “Rules of Engagement for Structural Firefighting.”

The section created a project team of both section members as well as representatives from the Fire Department Safety Officers Association (FDSOA), the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF), the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC), the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and other organizations. Collaboration also occurred with the IAFF, which was working with the IAFC on its “Fire Ground Survival Project.”

I’ve stated many times in these articles that we are each responsible for our own safety as well as those around us. This concept can be seen in the tenants of Crew Resource Management, where the entire team participates equally in safety.

The project team also recognized the role we all can play from our unique perspectives, capabilities and functions on the fireground. For that reason the Rules of Engagement are separated into separate sets: one for the line officer/team leader and firefighter and one set for the incident commander.

Although the themes running through the rules are similar for each, these two separate groups quite literally live by two separate rules.

Rules of Engagement for Firefighter Survival

  • 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.

The Incident Commanders Rules of Engagement for Firefighter Safety

  • Rapidly Conduct, or Obtain, a 360 Degree Size‐Up of the Incident.
  • Determine the Occupant Survival Profile.
  • Conduct an Initial Risk Assessment and Implement a SAFE ACTION PLAN.
  • If You Do Not Have The Resources to Safely Support and Protect Firefighters – Seriously Consider a Defensive Strategy.
  • DO NOT Risk Firefighter Lives for Lives or Property That Can Not Be Saved – Seriously Consider a Defensive Strategy.
  • Extend LIMITED Risk to Protect SAVABLE Property.
  • Extend Vigilant and Measured Risk to Protect and Rescue SAVABLE Lives.
  • Act Upon Reported Unsafe Practices and Conditions That Can Harm Firefighters. Stop, Evaluate and Decide.
  • Maintain Frequent Two‐Way Communications and Keep Interior Crews Informed of Changing Conditions.
  • Obtain Frequent Progress Reports and Revise the Action Plan.
  • Ensure Accurate Accountability of All Firefighter Location and Status.
  • If, After Completing the Primary Search, Little or No Progress Towards Fire Control Has Been Achieved – Seriously Consider a Defensive Strategy.
  • Always Have a Rapid Intervention Team in Place at All Working Fires.
  • Always Have Firefighter Rehab Services in Place at All Working Fires.

Over the next several articles we’ll take a look at these rules. We’ll take a look at some instances in which they weren’t followed, how they can work and how we can all help include them in our operations.

In the meantime, MANY THANKS to the members of the Rules Of Engagement Project Team for their effort. You can find the full report, along with a great deal of support material at:

Learn how to make your department a safer place in Tom LaBelle’s FireRescue1 column, ‘The Butcher’s Bill.’ LaBelle provides tips, advice and opinions that balance accomplishing strategic objectives with making sure every firefighter goes home.
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