The Strategic Six & the First Five Minutes

Initial responding companies to the scene of a working fire have a huge responsibility when it comes to setting the stage for a successful suppression operation. When it comes to tasks on the fireground, the National Institute for Standards and Technology...

Forcible Entry – Gaining access into modern buildings is not as simple as forcing a single lock on a door; many times the entry crew will have to deal with multiple types of locks on doors, along with ornate “homemade” styles of security devices. Furthermore, it is not sufficient to only force one door; many times multiple doors in multiple dwellings may need to be forced, along with the rear doors of the building. There should always be at least two ways out of a structure, and taking the rear door can provide another avenue of egress, especially if the initial entry becomes blocked by debris or fire.

Search & Rescue – A rapid search must be done immediately upon arrival for victims to have the best chance of survival. The amount of hydrogen cyanide and carbon monoxide produced during structure fires is staggering, and these “toxic twins” are responsible for many fire deaths.  A good rule of thumb to employ for search crews includes at least two search team members for every 2,000 square feet of floor space to be searched.

Water Supply & Suppression – When we talk about water at the incident, we are talking about both an adequate supply and fire flow for maximum BTU absorption. This must include at least two different sources of water supply by two engine companies, along with a minimum of two initial attack handlines stretching into the building to locate, confine and extinguish the fire (Photo 4). In most cases, a third handline will be stretched into position by a company arriving on a separate alarm, but at least two handlines need to get through the door in the first few minutes.

Ventilation – Reading the smoke and fire conditions upon arrival will help identify the best method for tactical ventilation. Consider the air track and natural exchange of air in the building; for the most part it is being replaced by the smoke and an increase in pressure from the fire. Now the initial attack lines enter through the door, providing the fire with a path of least resistance to fresh air to support combustion. In reality, the attack companies are standing in the horizontal vent opening, trying to push in as the fire is trying to push its way out for more air. Without a vent opening somewhere else in the structure, the entry point serves as a vent point as well; notably, the wrong location for a vent point. Conversely, the vent opening cannot be opened until there are charged hoselines in place, ready to stretch in and get water onto the fire, or the fire can grow beyond the capabilities of the initial companies.

Rapid Intervention Crew – Both the Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) have standards that state there must be a crew positioned outside the structure during interior structural firefighting operations, or any other Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health (IDLH) atmospheric conditions, to provide rescue for a lost, down or disoriented firefighter within a structure fire. This crew should be staffed with a minimum of four firefighters, but optimally should have six members: Rapid Intervention Crew (RIC) Officer; Navigation Firefighter; Two Search Firefighters; and Two Support Firefighters. Many case studies have proven that two firefighters on a RIC company are not enough to rapidly extricate a downed firefighter from inside a structure fire.

These “Strategic Six” functions that are to be performed in the first five minutes will require an adequate amount of manpower to complete (see Photo 5). Considering all of the above tasks, approximately 18 to 20 firefighters are needed on the first alarm to complete these assignments, not considering the exchange of empty self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) cylinders with full cylinders on working firefighters. Without an adequate amount of firefighters, one or more of these tasks are not getting done.  


Being successful on the fireground requires initial arriving companies to identify the needs of the incident at the onset and provide adequate, capable resources to handle the emergency. Consider the alternative; which one of the above listed “Strategic Six” tasks would be acceptable to not perform during the initial phase of the operation? The real question doesn’t involve not performing the tasks, but how to make sure there are enough resources on hand to get them done. Without them, the incident priorities will not be achieved.

Until next time, stay focused and stay safe…