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.
Part 1: Rules of Engagement For Firefighter Survival
- Size-up your tactical area of operation
Objective: To cause the company officer and firefighters to pause for a moment, look over their area of operation, evaluate their individual risk exposure and determine a safe/effective approach to completing their assigned tactical objectives.
Objective: To cause the company officer and firefighters to consider fire conditions in relation to possible occupant survival of a rescue event as part of their initial and ongoing individual risk assessment and action plan development.
Objective: To prevent firefighters from engaging in high-risk search and rescue and firefighting operations that may harm them when fire conditions clearly prevent occupant survival and significant or total destruction of the building is inevitable.
Objective: To cause firefighters to limit risk exposure to a reasonable, cautious and conservative level when trying to save a building.
Objective: To cause firefighters to manage search and rescue and supporting firefighting operations in a calculated, controlled and safe manner, while remaining alert to changing conditions, during high-risk primary search and rescue operations where lives can be saved.
Objective: To ensure that firefighters always enter a burning building as a team of two or more and no firefighter is allowed to be alone at any time while entering, operating in or exiting a building.
Objective: To cause all firefighters and company officers to maintain constant situational awareness of their self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) air supply, where they are in the building, and all that is happening in their area of operations and elsewhere on the fireground that may affect their risk and safety.
Objective: To cause all firefighters and company officers to maintain constant awareness of all fireground radio communications on their assigned channel for critical information that may affect their risk and safety.
Objective: To prevent company officers and firefighters from engaging in unsafe practices or exposure to unsafe conditions that can harm them, allowing any member to raise an alert about a safety concern without penalty and mandating the supervisor to address the question to ensure safe operations.
Objective: To cause firefighters and company officers to be aware of fire conditions and cause an early exit to a safe area when they are exposed to deteriorating conditions, unacceptable risk and a life-threatening situation.
Objective: To ensure the firefighter is comfortable with, and there is no delay in, declaring a Mayday when a firefighter is faced with a life-threatening situation and the Mayday is declared as soon as they think they are in trouble.
Part 2: The Incident Commander's Rules of Engagement for Firefighter Safety and Survival
- Rapidly conduct, or obtain, a 360-degree situational size-up of the incident
Objective: To cause the incident commander to obtain an early 360-degree survey and risk assessment (as applicable) of the fireground in order to determine the safest approach to tactical operations as part of the risk assessment and action plan development and before firefighters are placed at substantial risk.
Objective: To cause the incident commander to consider fire conditions in relation to possible occupant survival of a rescue event before committing firefighters to high-risk search and rescue operations as part of the initial and ongoing risk assessment and action plan development.
Objective: To cause the incident commander to develop a safe action plan by conducting a size-up, assessing the occupant survival profile and completing a risk assessment before firefighters are placed in high-risk positions.
Objective: To prevent the commitment of firefighters to high-risk tactical objectives that cannot be accomplished safely due to inadequate resources.
Objective: To prevent the commitment of firefighters to high-risk operations that may harm them when conditions prevent occupant survival and destruction of the building is inevitable.
Objective: To cause the incident commander to limit risk exposure when trying to save a building that is believed, following a thorough size-up, to be savable.
Objective: To cause the incident commander to manage search and rescue, and support firefighting operations, in a highly calculated, controlled and cautious manner, while remaining alert to changing conditions, during high-risk search and rescue operations where lives can be saved.
Objective: To prevent firefighters and supervisors from engaging in unsafe practices or exposure to unsafe conditions that will harm them, allow any member to raise an alert about a safety concern without penalty, and mandate the incident commander and command organization officers to address the question.
Objective: To ensure that the incident commander is obtaining frequent progress reports and all interior crews are kept informed of changing fire conditions observed from the exterior by the incident commander, or other command officers, that may affect crew safety.
Objective: To cause the incident commander, as well as all command organization officers, to obtain frequent progress reports, continually assess fire conditions and any risk to firefighters, and regularly adjust the action plan to maintain safety.
Objective: To cause the incident commander, and command organization officers, to maintain a constant and accurate accountability of the location and status of all firefighters within a small geographic area in the hazard zone and be aware of who is presently in or out of the building.
Objective: To cause a benchmark decision point, following completion of the primary search, requiring the incident commander to determine whether it is safe to continue interior operations where progress in controlling the fire is not being achieved and there are no lives to be saved.
Objective: To cause the incident commander to have a rapid intervention team in place ready to rescue firefighters at all working fires.
Objective: To ensure all firefighters who endured strenuous physical activity at a working fire are rehabilitated and medically evaluated for continued duty and before being released from the scene.