Safety 101 - Lesson 28

A higher level of risk is acceptable only in situations where there is a realistic potential to save known endangered lives.


The responsibility for risk assessment is a continuous process for the entire duration of each incident. The incident commander shall continually re-evaluate conditions to determine if the level of risk has changes and a change in strategy or tactics is necessary. The incident commander shall assign one or more safety officers to monitor and evaluate conditions to support this risk analysis.

At a minimum, the risk analysis for a structure fire shall consider:

  • Building Characteristics
    • construction type and size
    • structural condition
    • occupancy and contents
  • Fire Factors
    • location and extent of fire
    • estimated time of involvement
    • what are smoke conditions telling us
  • Risk to Building Occupants
    • known or probable exposures
    • occupant survival assessment
  • Firefighting Capabilities
    • available resources
    • operational capabilities and limitation

This can be summarized succinctly in 10 rules of engagement for structural firefighting which can be applied locally by all fire departments

10 Rules of Engagement for Structural Firefighting

Acceptability of Risk

  1. No building or property is worth the life of a firefighter
  2. All interior firefighting involves an inherent risk
  3. Some risk is acceptable, in a measured and controlled manner
  4. No level of risk is acceptable where there is no potential to save lives or save property
  5. Firefighters shall not be committed to interior offensive firefighting operations in abandoned or derelict buildings.

Risk Assessment

  1. All feasible measures shall be taken to limit or avoid risks through risk assessment by a qualified officer
  2. It is the responsibility of the Incident Commander to evaluate the level of risk in every situation
  3. Risk assessment is a continuous process for the entire duration of each incident.
  4. If conditions change, and risk increases, change strategy and tactics
  5. No building or property is worth the life of a firefighter.

Lesson #28
In the interest of firefighter safety, each fire service organization must determine the level of aggressiveness it is willing to take, when there is no life saving objective and there is minimal potential for saving significant property.

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DR. WILLIAM F. JENEWAY, CSP, CFO, CFPS, a Firehouse.com Contributing Editor, is Executive Vice President of VFIS and has over 30 years experience in safety and risk management in the insurance industry. He was named "Volunteer Fire Chief of the Year" as Chief of the King of Prussia, PA, Volunteer Fire Company, and is the author the text Emergency Service Risk Management. He has partipated the NVFC Corner podcasts on Radio@Firehouse.com. To read William's complete biography and view his archived articles, click here.