Incident Safety Begins with Proactive Fireground Behaviors

The concept of the Rapid Intervention Crew (RIC) has gained much notoriety in recent years as a fireground strategy for making conditions safer for those firefighters engaged in interior firefighting operations. The first edition of NFPA 1407: Standard for Training Fire Service Rapid Intervention Crews In December 2009, the NFPA’s Standards Council approved . (See the on-line article, The Great Escape).  The new standard provides guidelines for fire departments to develop RIC policies, procedures, and training.  This new standard should do much to enhance the “status” of the RIC as a critical fireground task assignment on par with fire attack, ventilation, laddering, etc.

While this is a positive step in the right direction regarding firefighter safety, I believe that the RIC is a “reactive” approach to firefighter safety.  The RIC is in the “background” until something goes wrong, e.g., a firefighter becomes lost, entrapped or otherwise endangered.  I also think that the presence of the RIC provides a false sense of security, especially when the RIC consists of only two firefighters.

In the wake of the death of Firefighter Brent Tarver during a supermarket fire in Phoenix, AZ, the Phoenix Fire Department conducted a series of evaluations that simulated the conditions of that fatal event in order to determine how many firefighters it truly takes to effect a firefighter rescue. (See article, Mayday and Rapid Intervention Realities: The Phoenix Perspective.  The study methodology and results are below the account of the incident and operations the day of Firefighter Tarver’s death).

Their results indicated that it took an average of 12 firefighters to safety, effectively and efficiently rescue one endangered firefighter.  Granted, these evaluations were conducted in a “big box” occupancy, a 40,000+ square foot supermarket, and it likely would take fewer than 12 firefighters in a 1400 square foot single-family dwelling (SFD).  I feel confident, however, that a firefighter rescue in such a SFD would require more than two firefighters.

Even if it takes only another two firefighters, where are they going to come from? (Those firefighters already engaged in fire suppression tasks, e.g., fire attack and search and ventilation, must stay focused on those tasks lest the fire continues to grow in its severity and magnitude potentially putting more personnel in jeopardy).

Volie IC Vehicle

I submit that there are several proactive fireground behaviors that are critical to reducing unmanaged hazards on the fireground and thus improving firefighter safety.  These behaviors include:  Proper use of the Incident Command System by all personnel on the scene.  Everyone–from the firefighter to the chief–must know and understand their position responsibilities for their assigned ICS position.  Everyone should clearly understand what their job is and who their boss is on the fireground.

  • Incident Commander conducts an initial Risk Assessment [See IAFC’s 10 Rules of Engagement for Structural Firefighting] to determine the appropriate mode of operation–defensive, offensive, or marginal–and reassess every ten minutes while operations are ongoing.
  • The IC develops, communicates and implements an Incident Action Plan to all their subordinates.  Division and Group Supervisors and Crew Leaders should clearly understand their assigned objective, the resources assigned to them, and their radio call sign.
  • The IC establishes an Accountability System to accurately track the of all assigned resources on the fireground.  If Firefighter Jones gets in a “jam”, the IC should know who Jones was working for and where Jones should have been working. (Effective and efficient deployment of the RIC and other resources to assist Jones are dependent on quickly identifying  the “last known location” for FF Jones).
  • The IC is unyielding in their control of incident communications.  They position themselves so that they have a work environment where they can hear all incoming radio traffic, and their subordinates can hear their outgoing radio transmissions.
  • Division and Group Supervisors and Crew Leaders are unyielding in their enforcement of crew integrity, i.e., nobody works solo and the officer always knows where their people are and what they’re doing.

In these days of budget reductions and inadequate staffing, the best use of RIC is the non-deployment of RIC because our proactive fireground behaviors ensured that they were never needed.  What’s your take?

About Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer

Battalion Chief (Ret.) Robert Avsec served with the men and women of the Chesterfield County (VA) Fire and EMS Department for 26 years. He’s now using his acquired knowledge, skills, and experiences as a freelance writer for and as the “blogger in chief” for this blog. Chief Avsec makes his home in Cross Lanes, WV. Contact him via e-mail, [email protected].