Tactical Building Blocks Questions Answered

By Frank Ricci

I would like to thank all of you for your commitment to firefighter safety and training. I can be reached on Fire Engineering’s online training community. I encourage all of you to check it out and sign up. We have a group called “Tactical Building Blocks”; we could use your input.

If you haven't yet heard the Tactical Building Blocks Webcast, CLICK HERE.

Q. My company currently dispatches the RIT company on finding a working fire; however, we do not use any companies listed on the first two alarms to ensure the RIT company does not get put to work. Is this acceptable?  

A. No. This practice places firefighters at risk. If your department refers to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports, you will find that RIT often is needed in the beginning phases of the operation.

Q. One size does not fit all" How can you get the "bosses" to see that when they have the bean-counter mentality and haven’t been on the street in a long time?

A. Participate and get involved. Progress takes time. Respectful persistence pays off in the long run.

Q. What are your suggestions for identifying vacant properties for your personnel to ensure safety?

A. I am partial to paint-marking systems, which many departments use. You can find some good examples in the Safety chapter in Fire Engineering’s Handbook for Firefighter I and II. Remember, make sure that the property is vacant before you tag it!

Q. Does your department have your first-due engine pull past the involved building to get a three side-view for the officer?

A. Yes, this action is not just about size-up. It is also about leaving room for the truck. We can stretch hose; you cannot stretch ladders. Blocking out the truck should be punishable by death. 

Q. How about delegating the 360° walk-around to someone?

A. Yes, someone has to complete it at the beginning of the incident.

Q. I disagree with the masking up at the door. We have seen several close calls with firefighters masking up next to doors and windows. The masks in our department are clear; you can see out of them.

A. Even though your department’s masks are clear, all masks restrict vision. They are also prone to fogging up. You are correct in that masking up too close to the hazard zone can place you in harm’s way. If you perform a proper size-up, the circumstances will dictate action. As a firefighter and an officer, I want to be able to take one last look before I commit my troops.

Q. What do you think about a designated RIT radio channel before a Mayday is declared?

A. I think this is a great concept! If your department goes that route, let us know how it works out.

Q. With the newer integrated PASS alarms and personnel who do not shut them down after exiting the structure or an event, personnel do not ask questions when they go off. How do we make sure that these PASS devices are either shut down initially or that command or other personnel attempt to find out why the devices are going off?

A. Training, training, and more training. Every PASS alarm must be investigated!

Q. What do you think of Positive Pressure Attack?

A. Positive pressure ventilation (PPV) is another tool in the box. I don’t believe one size fits all. The vent attack must be coordinated. You must also know the location of the fire. At high-rise fires, PPV can have a positive impact on firefighter safety.  

Q. What is your opinion: at basement fires, bulkhead vs. interior stair?

A. With two engines on the scene at the same time, one line should hold the top of the stairs. The attack line should go down the Bilco stairs. Proceeding down the Bilco stairs has several advantages, there are fewer stairs and they are made of concrete or steel.  They terminate along wall, and nothing is stored under them. 

Q. Obviously, an engine guy spending the day on the truck.  

A. This statement surprised me. I spent 13 years on our city’s busiest truck. Before that, I was on a heavy rescue in Bethesda, Maryland, inside the Beltway. Truck work is one of my passions. It has become a lost art. As the fire environment is changing, the need for truck work is increasing.

Q. Your thoughts on opening windows vs. breaking them?

A. The questions you should ask are the following: Why am I venting? Is the line in place, or can I compartmentalize my location so I do not draw the fire? Is the primary search complete? Where is the fire? What are the heat conditions? This is a judgment call. Remember, if you choose to take a window, you had better have answered the questions above, and if you take it, clear it and make it into a door.

Q. Does your department use positive-pressure fans during below-grade, basement fires?

A. No, we do not. Most of the construction in our city in balloon frame.

Q. You mentioned taking protective action before calling a Mayday. Please explain that in more detail?

A. Example: you are caught in the hall with fire coming down on you, and you have no line. The best action would be to get in a room and shut the door and then radio the Mayday.

Q. At our last structure fire, we had a RIT of two. It’s kind of a joke.

A. Your last fire did not have a RIT. A two-person RIT is an empty promise. The RIT must be a minimum of four persons.

Q. If you cannot do a 360° due to "row houses," why not just go through a neighbor's house to get a look at the back side of the house? (B.C. Canada)

A. Going through an exposure is always a good call; however, if the first-due company has to take this action, the fire is only getting bigger. Another company, chief, or other member should get a look at the rear and make a report.

Q. Do you think it is necessary to deploy RITs in nonfire situations (i.e., complex rescues)? (Cristobal from Chile)

A. Yes .RIT should be assigned to any incident where our members may get jammed up--confined space, hazmat, swift water, fires, complex rescues, and so on.

Q. I work in a small department. How do you get the upper management (older chief and city management) to see the need for more personnel initially on scene so RIT can be available? on every fire scene? 

A. Participate and get involved. Although progress takes time, respectful persistence pays off in the long run. Work to educate your members through drills and training. Educate the public, and sell our service.

Q. Do you think RIT needs to be preassigned, or can it be assigned as the appropriate company arrives on scene?

A. We must allow command to make decisions based on the circumstances; however, RIT should be assigned on the initial dispatch.

Q. Are there statistics that show whether a fire in a normal three-bedroom home or in a multistory building has the greater need for RIT?

A. Refer to NIOSH and National Fire Protection Association reports as well as Fire Engineering’s Firefighter Handbook . You are about four times more likely to get killed in a building fire vs. a house fire. Note that all fires have the potential to go wrong! 

Q. I'm an assistant chief for a rural department. We teach an initial attack team to conduct the 360. This allows the firefighters to see the fire conditions, smoke conditions, possible entry/exit points if an evacuation is needed, and to shut down utilities.

A. I think this is great if they arrive and they are the only ones on scene. However, if you or another command officer is on scene, why would you all walk around the house? The fire is only getting bigger, placing your attack team and the occupants of the house at greater risk. Command should be able to give a report from the rear to give the company officer a global view of the fire.

Q. What are your thoughts on the first-in engine: Is the priority to establish command or get operations started?

A. In my opinion, the first-due engine should get to work! Put out the fire, and all gets better. Combative command is the way to go.

Q. How do you get firefighters who have never been trained properly in truck work to understand “over-venting”?

A. The answer is simple: Train. Train. Train. Truck work is one of the most misunderstood components of the fireground. Fire Engineering’s Firefighters Handbook is not just for new firefighters. It is an excellent resource on the topic. We have a new DVD that should help as well; “Tactical Perspectives” should be out by FDIC. We cover Tactical Ventilation, Fire Attack, Search, and Command in four DVDs that contain real fire footage.

Q. Horizontal ventilation (breaking windows): I agree that breaking windows ahead of a fire can result in pulling fire on the attack team, but you led me to believe that venting the fire room itself is not tactically sound. When the roof cannot be opened, why would you not want the room to light off ahead of the attack team?

A. I think you mean breaking windows BEHIND the advancing line can draw the fire on top of them. Venting the fire room is key. That is the reason the fire will be drawn out of the windows. We need to coordinate taking these windows with the attack team. We do not want to prematurely vent and cause the room and hall to light up. Let the line get into place and then take the windows ahead of the line in the fire room or as close as possible.

Thanks for your time feel free to reach out to me on the community and special thanks to our sponsor Williams Direct Dryer. No one wants to wear wet gear!

Frank Ricci is a Lieutenant with the New Haven Fire Department and a contributing author to the Firefighters Handbook I & II (PennWell 2008) for the Safety and Survival chapter, written with Anthony Avillo and John Woron. He was the Project Manager for Emergency Training Solutions for the Firefighters Handbook I & II Power Point presentations. He is a FDIC hot instructor and lecturer and has won a landmark case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Frank has testified before Congress and has been a lead consultant for Yale on several studies. Frank has worked on a heavy rescue unit covering Bethesda and Chevy Chase, Maryland, and was a “student live in” at station 31 in Rockville, Maryland. He developed the Fire Engineering film Smoke Showing. Frank is a co-creator of Fire Engineering’s Tactical Building Blocks Poster Series and has several Training Minute video segments. Frank’s DVD, Firefighter Survival Techniques, is available at Fire Engineering Books and Video and he is he is currently filming the “Tactical Perspectives series:” Command, Ventilation, Search and Fire Attack.

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