Managing the Fireground Mayday

Over the past five years, the fire service has placed a new emphasis on firefighter rescue, an emphasis never before considered to be necessary.

    • Suggested team size: 2 Firefighters, 1 Officer

  • Suggested team size: 2-4 Firefighters

Although Safety Engine/RIT operations are not typically long duration events, the effects of emotional stress should be considered and relief personnel made available. Arriving relief personnel should be staged remote from the incident to prevent the desire to self-commit.

As a general rule, the IC should attempt to stay one alarm ahead of the requested incident demands. Mutual aid request in small departments should be placed early to ensure proper relief and support personnel are available as necessary.

Air supply - On scene air supplies are typically designed to handle the everyday "Bread -n- Butter" incident. Incidents involving trapped, lost or disoriented firefighters bring about a much more complex focus on air supply. Key components of a successful firefighter rescue and ultimate incident mitigation may reflect the ability to properly establish an effective air supply, rescuers locating downed, lost or trapped members must make this a top priority. An important point to remember: In most cases, the single most important limitation of the lost, trapped or disoriented firefighter is their air supply.

Mobile Air Cascade (MAC) - Fire departments who do not have a mobile air cascade unit as part of their standard structural response need to ensure that a MAC unit is summons early in the incident.

Photo Courtesy Timothy E. Sendelbach
Safety Engine/RIT personnel establish a secondary air supply prior to victim removal.

Long Duration Cylinders - Incidents involving firefighters who are lost within a large structure and extensive search operations (i.e. large warehouse - requiring team/tagline search) may require long duration cylinders (45-60 minute cylinders).

Special consideration may also be given to equipping Safety Engine/RIT Officers with long duration cylinders to enable continued supervision during crew rotations. This continued supervision enables the Safety Engine/RIT Officer to provide uninterrupted assignments to relief crews thereby expediting the rescue process. Once relief crews are properly assigned, the Safety Engine/RIT Officer can be relieved and the necessary information transferred to his/her relieving officer. This transfer and the continued progression of the incident are critical to the success of the rescue effort.

Safety Engine/RIT Officers must make every effort to ensure all of the necessary information (i.e. current conditions, assignments, and potential safety hazards) is properly transferred to the relieving officer to maintain the continuity of the operation underway.

Alternative air supply capabilities - Firefighters who are trapped beneath large amounts of debris may require specialized air supply systems (i.e. supplied-air systems). The Incident Commander of such an incident must make every effort to forecast these needs and request them proactively during Safety Engine/RIT deployment operations.

Water - Specialized application devices - The need for a defendable space from fire can only be initiated by direct water application. Specialized application devices such as piercing and/or distributor nozzles provide excellent mechanisms for confined areas in which water application is necessary (See Fire Engineering, Dec. 1998 "A.W.A.R.E." A Lifesaving Plan for Rescuing Firefighters). Departments who are not currently equipped with this specialized equipment should identify where these devices can be obtained during such incidents if the need arises.

Extrication Equipment - Incidents involving trapped firefighters will invariably occur during times of limited resource availability, with this in mind, what can the on scene personnel do to overcome these shortcomings in the short term? What tools are immediately available to assist in the rescue effort? Portable hydraulic extrication tools -Good, but limited in smoke filled environments, Hand tools (i.e. forcible entry tools, hand saws, etc.) - Excellent and readily accessible on most firegrounds, Rescue airbags - Excellent, yet limitations in high-heat environments exist, consider establishing a means for thermal surface protection, high-lift jacks - Excellent, small, light-weight and very inexpensive in comparison.