Let's Talk Fire: Rules Of Engagement

Know where you are and what to do to get out of it!

Situational Awareness is a key
Situational Awareness is a key

What Are The Rules Of Engagement

In recent years the fire service has changed courses from it's previous demeanor. In the past we were macho men and butch women running into a burning building and beating the fire out with our bare hands. Now we do things more intelligently. Why, you may ask did this change take place. To many firefighters were dying in the line of duty. This brought about a need for a set of guidelines that would make firefighting safer but still allow us to do the job we need to do to protect people and property. As a firefighter on a volunteer department I can tell you that sometimes it just isn't easy to follow these rules of engagement but I know in the end that they are in place to protect the scene and all who are involved with it. The time of diving into to a house fire as soon as we get there is thankfully over. Let's take a look at these rules of engagement and break each of them down and discuss what makes them important to our field.

The Rules Of Engagement

1. Rapidly conduct, or obtain from a member already present on the scene a 360 degree size-up. Know where the fire is, what it is doing, and any other attribute that could save you in the long run. This is the moment when you want to identify factors that define your next action. What type of building construction are you dealing with? Do you have any inkling on the fuel load inside the structure? Most importantly is there anyone inside? Not only do you need to know these things but you need to know what resources are available to you, how much mutuial aid if any do you need, and a plethora of other factors. This is the point where you must start making decisions on the scene and how you will approach it.


This fire would be unenterable.
This fire would be unenterable.

Risk Management

Moving right along.

2.Determine the occupant survival profile. This may be the hardest aspect of our job. This is the point where you must look at the situation as a whole. If there are people inside the structure this is the point where you have to decide if it is logistically possible to save them. In the conditions the structure is in and the fire would it be possible to make entry and retrieve a person, still alive? Most of us regardless of the answer will go in if there is even the slightest chance present that we can save a life. In the event the structure is 80% involved and the smoke is heavy we know that the person or persons inside just are not gonna make it out. We need to assess that chance and make sure we react appropriately. Risk a little to save a little, risk alot to save a lot.

3.Conduct an initial risk assessment and implement a safe action plan. This is where we look for ways to help with the problem, but avoid becoming part of the problem. If we know the roof will give in 5 minutes or so we do not need to make entry. It will leave a civilian and a firefighter down, remember we are number 1, our buds are number 2, and then we deal with the rest of the equation.

4.Do you have enough resources to support fire attack inside? This is where you determine if you even have enough resources to make a successful interior fire attack. If not maybe you should start a defensive attack and go from there. I will be honest as a volunteer firefighter there are scenes I respond to where we are dealing with a fully involved structure and we are faced with handling it with 4 firefighters. It happens. Sometimes we have to look at what we have and be realistic to what we can do.

5.Never risk a firefighter for life or property that cannot be saved. If the structure is beyond hope and you know the lives inside are lost to the flame don't go in for any reason. This is a tough decision to make but we have to understand our own limitations and not put ourselves in a state of injury for nothing. If you know there is no chance of completing the task without injury than don't do it.

Be Safe Always!

On to the next few.

6.Limit risk to protect savable property. The overall goal is to save lives and property without becoming injured ourselves. If I know the house I am at is gone and we can not save it than I am gonna pull my men and women back away and go full on defensive with out attack. Getting injured sucks, but getting injured trying to save something that is already gone is pointless.

7. Take measured risk to protect and rescue saveable lives. This is firefighting 101. Look at what you are dealing with when you enter. Is there a chance of flameover, or flash? Understand that getting to that person is vital but so is protecting your life. I have seen cats jump into fire in hopes of saving a life just to find the person was not even in the structure. Make choices that benefit you as a fiirefighter and the victim. If you go down attempting rescue the next crew going in are not going for that victim, they are coming for you.

8. Act upon dangerous firefighter practices and conditions. Stop, evaluate, and decide. This is two guides in one. The first is we need to make others aware of conditions that present unsafe environments. Power lines, holes in the yard, even dogs could fall into this catagory. The other aspect is what we all have on our department and wish we didn't, freelancers. Firefighters who think they know it all and are God's gift to the service. We all have them. When you see a fellow fighter acting in this manor make it known to the IC and get them away from the scene.

9. Maintain 2 way communication and keep the interior attack crew aware of changing conditions. We all have our quirks about accountability but it saves lives. If you see the roof slant let that crew inside know what is happening. It is vital that you on the outside know what is going on inside, but also vital that the interior attack crew have an understanding of the outside as well.

RIC or RIT Teams must train to gain!

Training how to save each other is a vital step to success.
Training how to save each other is a vital step to success.

Bring It Home

10. Obtain frequent progress reports and use them to plan the next actions. Find out if what you are doing is working. If it isn't make the needed changes so that it does. This is vital to a successful fire ground operation. Always use what you know to plan ahead.

11. Know where the crew is at at all times. More accountability. While it seems redundant it keeps the freelancing down to a minimum and allows the IC to always have an understanding of who is doing what and what adjustments need to be made.

12. If during the interior search no progress is made on fire suppression, go defensive. Sometimes we just can't get the flames down. It happens to the best of us. Remember as that fire burns the building weakens and more chance for catastrophe presents itself. be wise to this and know when to pull the interior crew out to a defensive position.

13. Always have a RIC in place. Remember two in two out. Any time you have a crew inside a fire structure a rapid intervention crew needs to be positioned outside with a charged line ready and willing to go in and save a downed firefighter. Having a RIC on hand makes the chances of a successful rescue that much better.

14. Rehab your crews. Have rehab positioned and ready to provide firefighters the chance to cool down and get their composure. Rehab is a necessity to any fire scene and should be reinforced by the administration of the department. Here is a very informative link to a PDF file from FEMA that will show you the basis of rehab for emergency responders. Free PDF

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