By now, I hope you have at least heard of the "Rules of Engagement" created by the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC). The Rules are designed to give guidance for risk assessment to the firefighter (who is at the greatest risk) as well as the incident commander (and command team...
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By now, I hope you have at least heard of the "Rules of Engagement" created by the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC). The Rules are designed to give guidance for risk assessment to the firefighter (who is at the greatest risk) as well as the incident commander (and command team officers). The goal is to reduce firefighter injuries and fatalities. The Rules were developed by members of the IAFC's Safety, Health and Survival Section along with representatives from many nationally recognized fire service organizations – i.e., the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), Fire Department Safety Officers Association (FDSOA), National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF), etc. As such, they are now rapidly becoming the standard of practice for the fire service.
It should be noted that many of those who participated in the development are senior fire chief officers who have directly and personally experienced serious firefighter line-of-duty injury or death under their command in metropolitan, suburban and rural firegrounds. They belong to that unique group of fire officers whose thought processes and fireground operational expertise were shockingly enhanced by tragic events. They have truly experienced "the worst day." They understand the difference between a disciplined fireground with well-trained firefighters under tough, no-nonsense command, control and accountability and firegrounds that look and function like a free-for-all, playground or circus – with predictable, sometimes deadly results.
Simply put, the Rules help "un-gray" some of the "gray" areas in fire operations – at least for some departments. In other fire departments, it's very clear. And while all fireground operations depend on conditions from the time of day to the weather to the construction to the fire conditions to your staffing and much more, there are some solid, common-sense rules that help us determine when a risk is worth taking – and when it is not.
To be sure, there are times when we as firefighters must take extreme risks and when we as chiefs and command officers must direct crews to take risks that may lead to serious injury or even death. Again, so I am clear – there are times when we must risk our lives because there are lives to be saved and firefighters have, and will, die in the line of duty doing so. It is what we do. Not all line-of-duty deaths are avoidable; however, so many are. But these high-risk decisions must involve some level of risk assessment by both the individual firefighter and the incident commander – not a knee-jerk reaction with little information.
The Rules support the fact that there will absolutely be times when we must place our personnel in great harm's way. The Rules also, however, support the fact that in many cases there is no reason to "needlessly" risk or waste a firefighter's life, such as when conditions simply will not allow us to do any more than is humanly – and intelligently – possible.
The Rules help your department develop or review existing standard operating procedures (SOPs) to train and to operate from at every level of the fireground – from the line firefighter to the company officer to the incident commander. It applies common sense based on numerous "real-life" experiences of those who have personally been involved in the line-of-duty deaths of firefighters.
This month, I devote this space to the IAFC's Rules of Engagement, which certainly applies to our mission – the minimization of firefighter close calls. In the coming months, the IAFC and its affiliates will produce additional outstanding documents, lesson plans and materials that will allow chiefs, officers, training officers and firefighters to apply the Rules at varied levels in daily operations.