Rapid Response roundup: Key takeaways from major incidents
Mayday training, preplanning, mutual-aid agreements and scene size-ups emerge as common themes in major incidents
Following significant events, we at FireRescue1 seek to elevate public safety response efforts through a quick analysis within 24 to 48 hours. We call these write-ups “Rapid Response.” Such analysis comes with the caveat that the situation is often still unfolding, so we provide a high-level look at the incident, plus actionable takeaways and guidance to help you do your job more effectively if facing a similar event.
It’s interesting to note that regardless of the incident type, common themes emerged within the Rapid Response reports – themes that can easily be applied to various scenarios.
Here’s a look at the most notable common takeaways from the most talked about Rapid Responses from the past few years.
Mass-fatality fires – Jan. 5 and 9, 2022
Incident brief: In fairly unprecedented back-to-back tragedies, the cities of Philadelphia and New York faced devastating residential fire losses – 12 in Philadelphia on Jan. 5 and 19 in the Bronx on Jan. 9. Philadelphia tragedy took place in a three-story duplex and New York’s was in a 19-story apartment building.
Key takeaways: Life safety messaging and MCI planning come into focus.
- CRR: Both incidents highlighted the need for the fire service to double-down on community risk reduction efforts. Beyond the obvious discussion of the potential impact of residential sprinklers, there were so many factors to both of these fires that highlight the need to do more in our efforts to spread life safety messaging. Specifically, in New York, the apartment door was left open, allowing the fire to spread to upper floors. In Philadelphia, the fire was reportedly started by a child playing with a lighter near a dried-out Christmas tree.
- MCI planning: Most firefighters are accustomed to mass-casualty incidents in vehicle wrecks, but not so much in residential fires. Both incidents highlight the need for firefighter participation in mass-casualty planning, as well as organizational resources to assist all first responders dealing with the emotional toll of such heartbreaking incidents.
Learning tools: Use these tools to reinforce life safety and planning efforts.
- Leveling-up CRR: Beyond teaching kids to ‘stop, drop and roll’
- ‘Information fatigue’ is making it harder for our safety messages to stick
- MCI mindset: Plan, train, respond with confidence
Indiana Walmart warehouse fire – March 16, 2022
Incident brief: Firefighters initiated an interior attack on a fire in a 1.2-million-square-foot sprinkler-protected warehouse facility. Firefighters made their way to the seat of the fire, which was deep within the racks of a mezzanine level in the warehouse. In an attempt to overhaul the initial fire area, firefighters ordered the sprinkler system to be shut off so they could continue with overhaul. Unfortunately, it appears the fire had extended unchecked above, and quickly overtook the entire facility. Although a mayday was called for two missing firefighters, they were found safe outside the fire area.
- History repeats: This was not the first, nor will it be the last, sprinkler-protected warehouse to burn. Properly engineered, properly inspected, properly maintained and properly managed sprinkler systems are common threads in every one of these incidents. Some of the incidents have involved excessive combustibles stored beyond the engineered capacity.
- Mayday training: This incident is yet another reminder that mayday training across all ranks and levels of your department should be an essential element of training.
Learning tools: Review the following with your crew.
- Your Mayday Survival Guide: Resources to survive mayday incidents
- Walmart distribution fire raise questions about fire protection systems
FDNY EMS lieutenant fatally stabbed – Sept. 29, 2022
Incident brief: An unprovoked attack on FDNY EMS Lt. Alison Russo-Elling resulted in her death. While not on a response call at the time, she was reportedly on duty, out to get lunch near her Queens station. This is the latest in a series of attacks that highlight the dangers first responders face.
Key takeaways: First responders are simply not immune to violence.
- Violence increasing: Attacks on firefighters and EMS personnel used to be rare events. This attack, among others, shows the marked increase of attacks. Some other notable attacks: Captain Vidal “Max” Fortuna of the Stockton (Calif.) Fire Department was shot and killed on Jan. 31. Two Arizona EMTs were ambushed in an ambulance on July 18, 2021. The shooter then went to a house fire scene and shot both a neighbor and a firefighter working the scene.
- Situational awareness: Firefighters and paramedics are no longer immune for the violence that pervades many of our communities. This recent report from Seattle Fire Department paints a grim picture of what we are facing every day.
Learning tools: Use these tools to enhance your violence response-focused training.
- Tactical withdrawal: When firefighters must evacuate dangerous scenes
- Scene safety and responding to civil unrest
Surfside building collapse – June 24, 2021
Incident brief: A sudden and catastrophic early morning collapse of an occupied apartment building left first-arriving firefighters nearly speechless. While the investigation remains open, most experts point to a gradual degradation of the building’s structural components as the cause. The collapse resulted in 98 deaths, including a Miami firefighter’s daughter. Thirty-five people were rescued via aerial ladders from the portion of the building that remained standing. The entire structure was demolished 10 days later. Search and rescue crews remained on the scene for two weeks before the incident officially transited to a recovery operation.
Key takeaways: Advanced training and critical partnerships mattered most in this incident.
- SAR training: Similar to the victim searches conducted at the Twin Towers and the Oklahoma City bombing, firefighters were confronted with perilous conditions. In each of the mentioned incidents and those that have similar underpinnings, ensuring that properly trained technical teams and search and rescue crews are promptly alerted is critical to victim-survival and firefighter safety.
- Mutual-aid: It is critical to have pre-established mutual-aid agreements, and engage in cross-jurisdictional training.
Learning tools: Review additional news posts as well as a first-hand account of the SAR operation.
- The Surfside condo collapse: An operational play-by-play, from deployment to AAR
- Massive fire-rescue response to collapsed Miami condo
- Video captures moment Miami-area condo tower collapses
Los Angeles blast – May 16, 2020
Incident brief: LAFD firefighters were attacking an interior fire, and two crews had ascended via aerial ladders to the roof when conditions quickly deteriorated. The first-in company officer recognized the deteriorating conditions and ordered an evacuation. Firefighters narrowly escaped death, describing, “…a sudden eruption of smoke and fire, generally consistent with a smoke explosion or flashover” that was “very high, very wide, rumbling the entire area.”
LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas (now retired) captured the essence of the near-death experience, as the mayday was called, describing multiple firefighters exiting the roof with their “turnout coats on fire.” Miraculously, no one was killed in the blast.
Key takeaways: There were several significant learning opportunities from this incident.
- Scene size-up: Recognizing signs and symptoms of a “sick-scene,” similar to personally recognizing the signs and symptoms of a stroke or heart attack, was key to preventing multiple LODDs here. Scene size-up must be a continuous activity, not a one-time occurrence upon arrival.
- Mayday operations and training: We must institutionalize mayday training across all ranks, use common terminology and technology, and ensure rapid intervention teams are trained and prepared.
Learning tools: I encourage you to review additional news items, plus an in-depth webinar featuring Chief Terrazas and Ian Soriano, the apparatus operator for LAFD Station 9, C platoon, the day of the incident.
- Beyond Boyd Street: Lessons from the Los Angeles blast that injured 11 firefighters
- LAFD firefighter recounts explosion: ‘Death felt closer now’
- Video: LAFD captain burned in explosion shares his story of recovery
Civil unrest around the U.S. – May 25, 2020
Incident brief: After the death of George Floyd at the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, protests broke out across the country. Similar to the 2015 Baltimore protests after the in-custody death of Freddie Gray, or the 2014 Ferguson, Missouri, protests after the shooting death of Michael Brown, fire departments across the nation found themselves on the front lines of violence. There were many stories of rocks, bricks and other projectiles being thrown at fire engines and firefighters, and of hoselines being cut by protestors.
Key takeaways: It’s time for fire departments to take a more proactive approach to these incidents.
- Reactive response: We can go back to the 1960s Washington, D.C., riots to take cues from fire department preparation for civil disturbance. From hardening of apparatus and facilities to response protocols, to ballistic vests and armed escorts with fire and EMS personnel, the attempts to protect firefighters was commonplace, albeit reactive.
- Preplanning: The disconnects then and now, is the lack of preplanning done for civil disturbance coordination across agencies and across boundaries. While we’ve come a long with Rescue Task Force concepts and the active shooter protocol in NFPA 3000, there remains much to do to prepare fire departments for operations in what are essentially local warzones.
Learning tools: Review these resources and share with your training officers.
- NFPA 3000: Preparing and training firefighters for active shooter incidents (eBook)
- Caught in the middle: Fire department response during civil unrest
- A new threat: Fire chiefs emphasize collaboration to manage civil unrest
Beirut warehouse explosion – Aug. 4, 2020
Incident brief: A massive explosion killed 218 people, including 10 firefighters, and left more than 7,000 injured and over 300,000 people homeless in Beirut, Lebanon. Described as the largest non-nuclear explosion ever witnessed, the blast of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate (equivalent to around 1.1 kilotons of TNT) registered as a 3.3 earthquake by the U.S. Geologic Survey. The materials had been stored in a warehouse without proper safety measures for six years after having been confiscated by the Lebanese authorities from an abandoned ship.
Key takeaways: The Beirut blast was eerily similar to other blasts here in the U.S., spotlighting common themes.
- Preplanning: The 2013 West, Texas, ammonium nitrate explosion also killed 10 firefighters. At around 50 tons, the volume was less than 1/40th that in Beirut; however, the first responder impact was identical. Both the West and Beirut firefighters were unaware of the true contents at the fires they were sent to fight, highlighting the importance of preplanning. The West explosion was apparently the result of applying water to the materials, while the Beirut explosion was apparently related to a smaller explosive event that set off the larger blast.
- Time, distance, shielding: Similar to the 1995 Oklahoma City terrorist attack, the ammonium nitrate blasts drive home the fact that high-order explosion situations are not something the fire service is able to control. Similar to radioactive response, ICs must focus on limiting time on target, increasing distance from the target and shielding crews.
Learning tools: In addition to resources for explosive events, learn more about the firefighting crew killed in Beirut.
- Beirut and beyond: Planning for explosives in your community
- Ammonium nitrate: What firefighters must know
- Mission impossible: The last fire fight of Beirut’s Platoon Five