Mayday prevention through simple ‘engineering controls’
Crews should train on implementing IRICs and placing rescue tools, all while following key standards
Rapid intervention training and curriculum has undergone extensive review and changes in our techniques and tactics, spanning from its beginnings in the early to mid-1990s through present day. The fire service has made great strides related to mayday management and rapid intervention concepts, culminating with Don Abbott’s Project Mayday and his team’s comprehensive data collection related to mayday events.
As our tactics continue to evolve and we continue to learn and grow as a fire service, company officers and instructors can implement some simple “engineering controls” to further enhance firefighter safety without compromising our mission efficacy of aggressive firefighting and life safety. Such controls include the use of NFPA 1407: Standard for Training Fire Service Rapid Intervention Crews as a training doctrine, the implementation of an initial rapid-intervention crew (IRIC), if able, and the placement of ladders early into the incident.
NFPA sets the standard
Rapid intervention has been integrated into NFPA doctrine for years. The 2020 edition of NFPA 1710: Standard for the Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations, and Special Operations to the Public by Career Fire Departments even lists rapid intervention as a main component of the initial first-alarm responsibilities when managing building fires.
Who performs rapid intervention and when varies from organization to organization, and the dynamics of the fireground often dictate additional needs from the first-arriving companies. It makes little sense to tie up an arriving ladder company with RIC when active rescues need to be made. However, not establishing a RIC can (and has) lead to disastrous results when conditions change and a mayday occurs. Some departments have a dedicated RIC based on their order of arrival to a scene while others will dedicate rapid intervention to an “on-deck” crew. Whichever model your organization uses, the key is to remain situationally aware and ready to engage in firefighter rescue.
Any mayday incident is stressful to all involved and can quickly lead to chaos on the fireground. There are numerous firefighters and departments across the country who take an attitude of “it cannot happen here” and are therefore ill-prepared to manage the rescue. Coupled with the myriad mayday training programs available, it can become difficult to navigate what to train on or how to prepare our firefighters, company officers and incident commanders when the unthinkable strikes.
Fortunately, NFPA 1407 provides specific goals and skills for all members of the organization – skills to test competence during individual company drills or larger department-wide training. Some skills referenced:
- Removing a downed firefighter through a hole in a floor or through a window;
- Utilizing the universal air connection/transfill hose;
- Search techniques; and
- Downed firefighter assessment.
There are many more, all found in chapters 7 and 8. It is vital that all organizations train and drill to a standard competency related to rapid intervention and found in the standard. This will ensure that all firefighters working on the fireground are proven capable through training on the basics and fundamentals of rapid intervention and can communicate clearly with shared expectations and a basis for rescue.
IRIC implementation through fire-based EMS
Also included in NFPA 1710 is the use of an IRIC, or an initial rapid intervention crew. The IRIC is essentially a “two-out” to satisfy the OSHA requirements set forth in 29 CFR 1910.134, which refers to having two rescuers on standby when members enter an IDLH atmosphere. There seems to be apprehensions to OSHA when discussed freely among firefighters in that the regulations prohibit aggressive firefighting and rescue, when we routinely enter burning buildings for fire attack and search before a dedicated rapid intervention crew. The IRIC can help bridge that gap, and one way that it can occur is through fire-based EMS. Obviously not every fire department provides an EMS service, and I am not advocating for such. Yet, in my own organization, we have shifted the roles of our firefighter/paramedics at structure fires and put them into a forward-operating position for rescue.
Here’s how it works: The IRIC arrives on an EMS unit with two trained and equipped firefighter/paramedics and dresses out in their PPE. They then report to the area of operation and standby for rescue. Our tactics in my organization are dynamic enough that the IRIC may be placed into operation for search of civilians or could be utilized for vent-enter-isolate-search (VEIS), but often are placed into their main role as IRIC. They report with forcible entry tools to wherever the engine company stretched, which typically is the alpha side front door. They can secure utilities or even place ladders if able. They are reinforced quickly with a dedicated RIC from another fire company to deliver a five- to six-person rapid intervention crew. This allotment allows for the crew to effectively split to cover a larger area for search, provide extra personnel for victim movement, and to ensure that multiple maydays from the same crew could be managed simultaneously.
Rescue tools at the ready
One tool that the IRIC can bring to the front door to assist in a mayday event is the folding ladder or attic ladder. The IRIC likely doesn’t have access to a RIC pack right away (although they may be able to grab one as they report to the front door), but every suppression company has a folding ladder on the apparatus. As they report to the front door, they can bring the ladder, ready to be placed into a hole if a firefighter were to fall through. Falls through holes and operating above a fire represent a statistically significant number of mayday incidents, and the ladder serves a better purpose close to the operating area than on a rig. If your organization cannot use an IRIC or personnel is a factor due to limited staffing, the same ladder can be placed by your engine operator.
A simple drill: The initial line is stretched, charged, with a water supply established, and the ladder placed by the front door. It may be slightly outside of the box, but the implementation of the folding ladder near the door or area of operation provides a tool to use in the event of a catastrophic collapse and fall into a basement. Similarly, the ladder can be used if a firefighter were to fall through a roof and be trapped in rafters, as the ladder can be used to bring the firefighter down through the ceiling instead of back up through the trusses.
Rapid intervention crews are necessary on the fireground. While most rescues are made by the initial company involved in the mayday or by a nearby company, RICs are able to deploy and either assist in the rescue, provide more personnel, or takeover suppression operations to protect downed firefighters.
In order to be prepared, firefighters must spend time in standardized RIC training with practical skills to reinforce good habits. These skills and other topics can be found in NFPA 1407. Further, the skills and training can be put into place routinely on the fireground by utilizing fire-based EMS units or support units to form an IRIC early on in the incident to rescue the initial company if a mayday were to arise and to lessen the time of the RIC to deploy.
Bottom line: Your organization and company must identify what works for you, but under no circumstance should you assume that a mayday cannot happen to you or in your department. Remain vigilant, train hard, and stay aggressive.