Roundtable

ACCOUNTABILITY

As I pointed out in “Account-ability and the Incident Management System” (Fire Engineering, December 1997), current accountability systems for the most part only tell us who is inside and who is outside of the building. That’s merely part of the battle. Of larger concern (when the building “acts up” or if the fire starts to overtake us) is knowing where the crews are inside the building. If the incident commander (IC) knows that no firefighters are in imminent danger when these minor setbacks occur, he can react to these mishaps with deliberate actions-but not chaos. In my mind, an effective accountability system must tell us not only who is inside the building but also where the crews are inside that building.

Our department uses a citywide riding list and individual 4- 2 6-inch PlexiglasT boards on every apparatus. Chiefs carry this list during the tour. Officers are required at roll call to write the names of all members riding the apparatus for that tour. The boards may or may not be collected during an incident.

We use a strong incident management system (IMS) at incidents. The IC is required to make assignments to incoming companies, and we are working with our officers to enforce the behavior of informing us at all times of their location inside the building. We are also stressing crew integrity and that crews must enter and remain together as much as possible. Incident commanders (chief officers) are working at tracking crews on a status sheet or board by assignment and location.

Our current system is very inexpensive and has everything we need to track crews inside and out. Strong leadership and basic IMS practices, coupled with officer discipline and teamwork, will allow us to successfully track crews at fires and other incidents. What we need now is practice, practice, practice!

-John (Skip) Coleman, deputy chief of operations, Toledo (OH) Department of Fire and Rescue; author of Incident Management for the Street-Smart Fire Officer (Fire Engineering, 1997); editorial advisory board member of Fire Engineering; and member of the FDIC Educational Committee.

Question:What accountability system does your department use, and do you consider your current system successful?

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Larry Anderson, deputy chief,
Dallas (TX) Fire Department

Response: The Dallas Fire Department uses a “passport” personnel accountability system. Each firefighter is issued a personnel accountability tag (PAT) with his name and rank engraved on it. On reporting for duty, each firefighter places his PAT on a responder board carried on the dashboard of the apparatus. The company officer is responsible for ensuring that the responder board reflects the crew actually riding the apparatus at any given time. The company officer carries a passport tag marked with the company identification-“Dallas Engine 33,” for example. At one-alarm incidents (or incidents to which fewer than six companies respond), where the span of control is small, the IC normally maintains an awareness of the location and function of all companies without using passports.

At incidents that have been sectored, company officers surrender their passports to their respective sector commanders on reporting to the sector. The sector commander has attached to his turnout coat a ring holding the passports of all companies assigned to his sector. Anytime company members leave a sector, they must retrieve their passports and take them with them to their new assignments. If a company is sent to rehab, members must check in with the rehab officer and, once again, surrender their passports. Whenever the IC initiates a roll call, each sector commander checks with all companies on his passport ring. Once a personnel accountability report (PAR) is obtained from all companies in a sector, the sector commander reports a PAR to Command. Roll calls are initiated at various benchmarks during an operation, including the following: a report that a firefighter is missing or trapped, a change from an offensive to a defensive strategy, a sudden hazardous event at the incident, a report of “out taps” for those incidents where personnel have entered the hazard zone, or before suspending the use of passports.

This system has served us well for more than seven years and has become firmly ingrained in our firefighters. Getting used to the routine was the toughest part. During my 30 years with the Dallas Fire Department, we have lost six firefighters in structure fires. I firmly believe they died because we did not know where they were. My greatest nightmare is to have that happen again. We have not lost a firefighter in a structure fire since we started personnel accountability, and I thank God for that. To that extent, I consider our accountability system successful, while I knock on wood for the rest of the afternoon.

Joseph A. Floyd, Sr., assistant chief,
Columbia (SC) Fire Department

Response: We use a passport system to track and account for fire personnel. Each member is issued two personnel identification (ID) tags with a self-fastening back. The tags are attached to the back of the firefighter’s helmet. At the beginning of an on-duty tour, personnel assigned to apparatus or another vehicle remove their ID tags from their helmets and place them on a board permanently located in the apparatus/vehicle cab. The other tag is placed on a transportable board (passport). Personnel reassigned to another station or unit take their ID tags with them. A firefighter going off-duty removes his tag from the board and passport and places it back on his helmet.

Each command vehicle carries extra blank ID tags to be used as temporary tags by persons (utility personnel, city officials, for example) not permanently issued tags. During single-company operations, the passport tags remain with the apparatus unless the IC issues other instructions. During multicompany operations, the IC will have the members of each company, including units/companies in staging, bring their passports to the command post and place them on a ring attached to the incident command board. The incident command board records the who, what, and where for each unit on-scene and is continually updated. Additional companies, unit(s), or other individuals report to the command post on arrival, have their IDs posted on the IC board, and receive their assignments. On leaving the incident, companies and personnel reclaim their passports. Should someone be unaccounted for, a “Code Red” is broadcast, and the IC conducts a PAR. When a Code Red is called, all personnel are to evacuate the affected area immediately. Drivers of all equipment on the scene are to turn on sirens and blow air horns for one minute. Central (911) is to stop all radio traffic on the channel in use, sound an alert tone, and repeat the Code Red message three times. Personnel are to drop what they are doing immediately. They are not to remove tools or perform any functions; they are only to get out. Personnel are to report to their company officers/supervisors for a head count, and Command is to be notified when all personnel are accounted for or if anyone is not accounted for. A roll call of units is necessary to determine if anyone is unaccounted for during an emergency incident. Command will then initiate the roll call by announcing the unit or sector designation first and then waiting for a response from that unit. The IC board will be the checklist for the roll call. If a company fails to return a PAR, the IC will immediately deploy a team to locate that crew.

Ken Folisi, battalion chief,
Lisle-Woodridge (IL) Fire District

Response: We believe that for any accountability system to work properly, well-trained and disciplined fire companies must work within a competent, organized incident management system. A functional accountability system must also be designed around department staffing and response procedure. With this in mind, our goal was to design a system that allows us to quickly and efficiently account for our personnel on the emergency scene. We wanted a system that would be accurate, easy to set up, and user-friendly and that would eliminate even the slightest delay in deploying companies on the emergency scene.

The following standard operating guideline (SOG) describes our system.

Title: SOG 1202-Personnel Accountability

Objective: To quickly and efficiently account for personnel on the emergency scene.

Guideline: At the beginning of the shift, no later than 07:05 hours, all company officers shall have accountability name tags of the members of their companies affixed to the two fire companies’ accountability control tags. One control tag shall be located on the vehicle dashboard; the other shall be affixed to the rear underside of the company officer’s helmet.

The battalion chief or his designee shall contact all stations to verify the personnel roster and riding positions and arrange the master accountability control board, with the appropriate personnel name tags correlated to the appropriate vehicle number tag. The master accountability control board will then be placed in the battalion chief’s car.

The individual station company officers shall notify the battalion chief or his designee of any changes in personnel assignment throughout the shift. At the emergency scene, the master accountability control board shall be located at the command post in a readily accessible area.

The incident commander shall be responsible for tracking on-scene companies throughout the incident. This shall be done in written form and kept at the command post.

As companies are assigned to sectors within the incident management system structure, the person responsible for those companies shall track the location and activities of those under his immediate supervision (sector). This is done by collecting the accountability tags from the underside of the company officer’s helmet. The incident commander is still ultimately responsible for tracking the assigned companies with regard to which sector they have been assigned.

Automatic-aid and mutual-aid companies shall hand off one of their accountability tags to the incident commander before they start their assigned activity and the second tag to their assigned supervisor. If automatic-aid or mutual-aid companies arrive at the emergency scene and it is necessary to start an assignment before Command is formally established, or if Command is at a location removed from their position, a company officer/accountability officer shall be responsible for getting the accountability tag(s) to Command.

When company officers are working with a full crew-e.g., using the fire apparatus engineer/driver as a member of the working company-the company officer shall notify Command that he is working with a “full crew.”

During emergency scene operations, at 20- to 30-minute intervals, incident command shall perform a personnel accountability report (PAR) of companies operating on the emergency scene. The PAR check can be assigned to the safety officer. The PAR check is completed by contacting individual companies. The company officer shall be responsible for accounting for the company members under his control as well as for stating the sector assignment. Example: “All companies from Command, PAR check: Engine 511” ellipse “All present assigned to Interior Sector”; “Truck 517” ellipse “All present assigned to Sector C”; “Medic 550” ellipse “All present assigned as rehab”; “Engine 541” ellipse “All present assigned to Sector A”; and so on. In the event of an emergency requiring immediate accountability, Command shall state via radio, “All companies from Command, Emergency Accountability.” All companies shall clear the fireground channel of all nonemergency radio traffic and immediately be prepared to report company accountability.

Command shall call each company operating on the scene, starting with those who may be in trouble. Other officers in supervision of multiple companies may answer for companies under their direct supervision. If a company does not report all present when called, then Safety, rapid intervention team (RIT), and all fireground companies are notified. Example: “All companies from Command, emergency accountability”: “Truck 537ellipse. Truck 537ellipse Safety, RIT, and all companies operating on the fireground, from Command: Truck 537 does not respond for accountability.” Command shall immediately establish a rescue sector and continue with the accountability check of the remaining operating companies.

This SOG has been in place since 1997. A recent scheduled review/revision of all our emergency response SOGs revealed no need to revise the original system. The SOG has been used successfully in downed/missing firefighter situations as well as whenever conditions at a structure fire call for a switch from offensive to defensive operations. Whenever members are ordered out of and off a structure, an accountability check is performed, and the SOG works exactly as intended. We encourage all fire departments to design and practice a functional accountability system.

Ronald Hiraki, chief of training,
Seattle (WA) Fire Department

Response: We initiated the Passport Accountability System in the late 1980s in response to a firefighter death. The system consists of attaching individual name tags to a “passport” representing the company or team. The company officer or team leader carries the passport and gives it to the appropriate supervisor when under that supervisor’s span of control. Matching helmet shields and other placards marked with the company or team designation are used to help identify members on the fireground. All of these items are attached with a self-fastening strip so that the system can be easily changed in the station or in the field if necessary.

The system was tested and refined by firefighters before being implemented in the entire department. The system was then demonstrated to fire departments throughout the county and was formally adopted on a countywide basis. The county formally adopted the hardware (name tags, passports, helmet shields, and status boards), a standardized lesson plan, and standard operating procedures. Minor modifications have been made to the system on a countywide basis during the past few years.

The hardware has been successfully used for the past 10 years. Our members recognize that the hardware is only a tool to help us keep track of each other. We recognize that true accountability is the responsibility of every individual member, who must look out for himself and his team members. As individuals and as a team, members must remember to keep their supervisors informed of their status at all times.

The Passport Accountability System has been successful for the Seattle Fire Department and has been adopted by many other departments.

Rick Lasky, chief,
Coeur d’Alene (ID) Fire Department

Response: We currently use the passport accountability system. It was adopted several years ago by the majority of the fire departments in our region. Like with any other accountability system or fire service tool, for that matter, support from the troops and the administration is needed to make the program successful. Department members are reminded that every officer is accountable for each member of his company and that every member of that company is accountable to his officer. If the members are not willing to use the system properly or don’t believe in it, or if administrators do not emphasize its importance, the program will most likely fail. The program has been very successful in our area.

Our accountability system works in the following fashion. Each department member is issued several self-fastening name tag bars to be used with a unit passport card or an accountability/status board. At the beginning of the tour of duty, on-duty personnel are required to place one of their name tags on the officer’s white passport card and on the apparatus’ red passport card (used as a backup for the white card), which are both on their assigned unit. The company officer is responsible for ensuring that all members in his company have submitted their name tags.

All of our apparatus and support and staff vehicles carry accountability/status boards that can be used at an incident for tracking purposes. The incident commander and sector officers are responsible for tracking passports on the scene. The responding officer is responsible for delivering the passport to those officers. We are fortunate that at most of our incidents we are able to use a staff member or one of our support personnel as a safety officer or accountability officer. Automatic-aid and mutual-aid companies, off-duty paid personnel, along with responding volunteer firefighters, furnish their passports and name tags to the incident commander, sector officer, or accountability officer on arrival at the scene.

In the past six months, we have had two Mayday situations. Having a strong accountability system in place made it possible to take a quick, accurate roll call. Once again, keep in mind that the system will work only if everyone believes in it, uses it properly, and supports it.

Garry Morris, assistant chief,
Phoenix (AZ) Fire Department

Response: The Phoenix Fire Department used from the early 1980s to 1991 a basic accountability system consisting of self-fastening name tags attached to the bunker coat collar. In 1990, we recognized that this system was inadequate, and the department initiated a research project to upgrade the system.

The research effort looked at any potential accountability system we could locate inside and outside the United States. Two model systems were eventually proposed-an individual plastic name tag turned in by the individual firefighter, a model used by the British fire service, and a system built around a modified Seattle passport system, in which the company officer turns in a plastic 3- 2 5-inch passport on which all crew members are listed. Both systems were field-tested for six months. The passport system, with additional modifications, was selected overwhelmingly.

The system includes the use of a passport with a hard copy listing of crew members. The engineer of the first engine to each side of the building or at the point of entry at a structure fire becomes the initial accountability officer. At significant incidents, staff members relieve the engineer of these duties, or a fire company is split up and individual members are assigned to each accountability location.

In our experience, it is absolutely essential that the passports and accountability be maintained at the point of entry. The accountability officers collect passports as crews enter and return them on exit. (To take name tags to a command post, as some departments do, severely compromises accountability tracking.) The accountability officer also monitors the expected exit time of crews and raises an alert if there is a delay.

The department also has a designated radio channel for accountability. As the incident escalates and “accountability officers” replace the engineers, these officers use this channel to monitor accountability among themselves and communicate with an accountability sector officer at the command post. These officers will have two radios-one on the tactical channel and one on the accountability channel. Our research reflects that the tactical channel will quickly become jammed with critical traffic if a firefighter is lost or trapped in the building. The second channel allows for accountability roll calls of all crews.

Another major component of our system is automatic roll calls (personnel accountability reports, or PARs). A PAR is mandated for the following situations:

  • on declaration that the fire is under control,
  • at the lapse of a 30-minute period,
  • on the withdrawal of crews from the building when going defensive,
  • on any report of a missing or trapped firefighter, and
  • any time Command requests one.

Our system has proven successful from the perspectives of acceptance, high application on the fireground, and effectiveness in tracking personnel. The department continues to look for improvements and is monitoring technology to identify a means for improved accountability for firefighters.

Jim Murtagh, deputy chief,
Fire Department of New York

Response: Our department has a very detailed and deliberately redundant accountability system, and its implementation process starts long before the tour begins. Over the years, FDNY has established specific assignments for all its members and standard operating procedures for almost all of its operational possibilities. All members are taught and trained to understand the roles and requirements for each of these assignments and their relationships to the varied but predominant types of buildings in the city.

At the beginning of each tour of duty, the officer in command of every unit is required to prepare a unit riding list and verify that each member knows what his responsibilities are. Three copies of the riding list are made; one is carried by the officer in charge of the unit, a second is posted on the dashboard of the apparatus, and the third copy is posted on the wall near the fire station’s entrance. These riding lists identify by name all members working that tour and whether they are on a tour swap, working overtime, or on a detail from another unit. The list also identifies the position or duties of each member (chauffeur, nozzle, backup, roof, forcible entry, for example), the SCBA number they will be using, the tools they will carry, and the position on the apparatus they will be riding. Any changes of personnel or assignments that occur during the tour are reflected on the riding lists.

When the IC arrives at the scene, he will have a ticket that identifies the units responding to the scene and access to the riding lists on each apparatus. When the command board is set up, it reflects a complete listing of all units on-scene and their current assignments-operation, standby, or recuperation.

This combination of well-defined roles and responsibilities and specific assignments for all members, coupled with detailed riding lists available at three locations (two on-scene and one off-scene), tracking and controlling all units responding to the incident by dispatch and Command, and integrated SCBA-PASS alarms give the IC and the FAST units the information they will need to rapidly identify who may be missing and where to begin the search and rescue efforts should they become necessary.

Bob Oliphant, lieutenant,
Kalamazoo (MI) Dept. of Public Safety

Response: Our department’s accountability system consists of a board with hooks for holding individual tags. The hooks may represent various fireground functions. Personnel assigned to these functions place their personal tags on the respective hooks. Individual tags are snapped on the back of each person’s helmet and can be readily removed as assignments are made. Crew members arriving and beginning operations before the accountability system becomes operational leave their tags on a board attached to the inside door panel of the apparatus; the tags are collected later.

The only personnel actually accounted for are those assigned to tasks generally considered to be high risk such as interior extinguishment, search and rescue, and roof ventilation. Personnel assigned to setting up PPV fans or raising ladders would not be accounted for under most circumstances. This approach is more manageable than trying to account for everyone who shows up.

Our accountability system originated from another department that had been using it with good results and had refined it before we adopted it. The system is simple, manageable, and flexible. Personnel readily accepted it, and it is easy to implement. Depending on the nature of the incident, the IC can handle the system or it can be assigned as a specific function. As the incident progresses, accountability can be maintained as operations are added or removed.

Frank C. Schaper, chief,
St. Charles (MO) Fire Department

Response: Most departments in this area use some type of tag system. The tag system works in some situations, but not all. Departments using a tag system at large events find the system unwieldy and often unmanageable. While I was still with the City of St. Louis, the decision was made not to use a tag system. At that time, it was felt that a tag system for the St. Louis Fire Department would not meet the department’s needs. It also proved to be costly.

We looked for another method. Fire Commissioner and Chief Neil J. Svetanics (retired) asked Fire Alarm Manager Gregg Gerner and me to come up with a system. We were told it had to be simple, it had to work, and it had to be inexpensive to implement. We settled on the 20-minute Member Accountability Roll Call (MARC). [Editor’s note: The MARC is described in detail in the following response.] This system met the chief’s parameters. If your department uses incident command, comes to fire scenes on apparatus, has a team or company, and has a radio, you can use this system. How this system was developed and implemented is out of the scope of this Roundtable. Suffice it to say that the system works and integrates easily into present-day tag systems. Most departments in the St. Louis metro area have integrated the 20-minute MARC into their system.

Leigh Hollins, battalion chief,
Cedar Hammock and Southern
Manatee (FL) Fire Districts

Response: We use a combination of a “homegrown” system along with the more recognized Member Accountability Roll Call (MARC) system through the Manatee County Emergency Communications Center (ECC). Our homegrown system utilizes a small metal “dog tag” with a metal clip. The tag is placed on a ring in the apparatus to which the firefighter is assigned during the tour. In addition to the tags of the assigned members, a metal tag with the number of the apparatus is on the ring. In addition to this, the battalion chief places a hard copy of the daily assignment roster in the command vehicle each morning; the roster lists the assigned stations of the firefighters. Personnel swaps and a list of firefighters who normally would be on duty but who are off that day are also included, to avoid confusion.

If the accountability system must be implemented during an incident, an individual is assigned to retrieve the ring from each apparatus and to deliver the rings to Command. Command then has an accounting of who is assigned to which company. All staff personnel who arrive on the scene bring their tags to Command for accounting. Depending on the magnitude of the incident, the IC may also use a board to track companies and assignments.

In addition to the above mentioned system, we also use the MARC system, which is automatically initiated by the ECC on “tone out” of all structure fires. A timer is started for 15-minute MARCs. At each 15-minute MARC thereafter, the ECC advises Command of its second MARC, third MARC, and so on. The IC can use these MARCs to keep track of time for strategic/tactical/safety purposes, to take a roll call, and to perform an updated size-up, or the IC can choose to discontinue the MARC. Additionally, the IC may revise the interval of the MARC (a 10-minute MARC, for example) and may call for the MARC to be implemented at any type of call, such as a confined-space situation or a haz-mat incident.

We have had great success with the combination of these two types of accountability-related systems, which are very easy to implement and manage.

Marc D. Greenwood, lieutenant, Akron (OH) Fire Department

Response: Our department uses a triple-tiered accountability system. Its strengths are simplicity and utility. All members are issued three accountability tags: Two are apparatus tags; the third tag is self-fastened to the underside of the helmet brim.

Level One accountability is strictly maintained 24 hours a day. Members affix their apparatus tags to the apparatus ring at the beginning of the shift. Members who must leave their stations for any reason remove their accountability tags. A firefighter going to another station places the tag in the apparatus at the new duty station. An administrative officer checking for personnel can determine at a glance which personnel are assigned to a particular apparatus.

Level Two accountability goes into effect on receipt of a second-alarm fire. The IC confirms the second alarm, sets up a command post, and identifies the location of the command post. All command personnel wear vests identifying their command positions. All units must be logged on the IC status board or an IC worksheet for the duration of multiple-alarm incidents. During Level Two accountability, all fire companies must remain intact. Assignments are made by company designation. The deployment of intact companies maximizes teamwork and minimizes freelancing, which is the scourge of the fire service.

Level Three accountability is called for whenever it is necessary to identify individuals who may be missing. It is also used after an explosion, a partial collapse, or an emergency evacuation. Level Three is announced over the primary radio channel. There must be face-to-face contact to account for all members. Company officers report to their sector officers after determining all their personnel are present. Sector/ group/division supervisors will have face-to-face contact with their company officers prior to reporting to the IC. If a firefighter is missing, the IC obtains the missing person’s name from the safety officer. The firefighter’s name is broadcast to all sector/group/ division supervisors so that the probable location of the missing person can be determined as quickly as possible. The IC formulates a rescue/search plan. Radio traffic is minimized during the rescue/search. The IC notifies all sector/group/division supervisors when the missing person is located. Radio restrictions are then terminated. This is an excellent system for accounting for firefighters. Strict unity of command and a manageable span of control are maintained. This is an intelligent and systematic approach to accountability. Although firefighting is a dangerous occupation, it doesn’t have to be done dangerously. This system safeguards firefighters as they engage in the rewarding and demanding tasks of protecting life and property.

Steve Howard, chief,
Basalt (CO) Fire Rescue

Response: We have been struggling with ways to adequately handle accountability for a number of years. We have tried “cow tags,” ID tags, passports, and many other systems, but none seem to adequately handle the problem. As volunteers, our firefighters can enter a fire scene by responding on an apparatus or in their personal vehicles. We spent all our efforts trying to intercept people at these two points of access and then track them from one point. It was too much for one person to try to track all these people. The system was harder to deal with than the emergency.

The accountability forum at Fire Engineering’s Fire Department Instructors Conference two years ago finally broke me out of the slump. During the discussion, I made the point that the fire service was buying accountability systems without analyzing the problem. We were trying to make our problem fit the system’s solution. As one prominent chief on the panel said, “Accountability is not trinkets. The trinkets should only remind us to account for our people.” The ID tags only help with doing a head count (or body count) after the fact. We went back to how we were teaching the incident command system and focused on the activities and reporting relationships at the bottom of the chain of command instead of focusing on the overhead structure most firefighters could care less about. We focused on rebuilding the officers’ roles and the people assigned to them. We began to make officers accountable for knowing who was working for them, what they were doing, and where they were. The firefighters were responsible for always knowing for whom they worked, what they were supposed to be doing, and where they were supposed to be. For 95 percent of our emergencies, we required only two levels of this reporting relationship.

We still have the ID tags, and people try to use them. Our measure of success is as follows: (1) Ask any officer on the fireground “Who is working for you, where are they, and what are they doing?” and get the right answer and (2) then ask any firefighter “For whom are you working, what are you supposed to be doing, and where are you supposed to be?” and get the answer that matches the officer’s. That is successful accountability!

To submit answers to previous questions or topics for future columns, e-mail or or mail comments to ROUNDTABLE; Fire Engineering; Park 80 West, Plaza Two, 7th floor; Saddle Brook, NJ 07663.

Roundtable

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Two-In/Two-Out Rule

Various standards and regulations directed at fire department operations over past years have required us to significantly change some of our operating procedures. Among them are the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 29 CFR 1910.134 Respiratory Protection Standard, which includes the two-in/two-out mandate that dictates that prior to commencing interior firefighting operations, two firefighters must enter the structure as a team and remain in direct voice or visual contact at all times and that at least two other fully equipped and trained firefighters remain outside the structure monitoring those inside and be ready to rescue the interior team if the need arises. The standard goes on to identify which actions the outside team can perform, what its members must wear, and conditions under which fire departments can deviate from the standard.

The state of Ohio, in which my department is located, is not an OSHA state. As such, we not required to meet the provision of that law. However, we have recognized that this specific standard establishes a “standard of care,” which can make us liable if a firefighter were to be injured or killed and following this provision could have prevented the death or minimized injuries.

Our two-in/two-out policy states that “we will strive” to meet the following provisions:

  • “Interior structural firefighting operations will not commence until four (4) trained and properly equipped members are present on the scene.” (Meeting this requirement is not a problem, since the Collective Bargaining Agreement establishes a minimum staffing provision of four firefighters per engine company.) Additionally, the provision has strict mandates that cover minimum crews and the formation of a “buddy system.”
  • “Members operating inside a structure shall operate under the buddy system and shall at all times remain in direct visual or voice contact with one another.”

-John (Skip) Coleman, deputy chief of operations, Toledo (OH) Department of Fire and Rescue; author of Incident Management for the Street-Smart Fire Officer (Fire Engineering, 1997); editorial advisory board member of Fire Engineering; and member of the FDIC Educational Committee.

Question: The two-in/two-out rule has been in effect as a part of the OSHA Respiratory standard for about a year now. Approximately 25 states are not OSHA states and are not “legally” obligated to follow the specific rule, but they are still affected by the “standard of care” the rule presents. How is your department addressing this requirement?

Gary P. Morris, deputy chief, Phoenix (AZ) Fire Department

Response: The Phoenix Fire Department has been using RIC teams as a standard component of a structural fire response for many years. As a result, compliance with the two-in/two-out rule was a natural transition.

Because of our re-gional dispatch system and related automatic-aid agreements with 15 other fire departments, we formed a regional consistency committee. The objective of this group was to create a standard operating procedure for the more than 1,000 square miles of service area. It should be noted that all departments have a minimum company staffing of four members.

The result was a common SOP for all departments. The SOP also requires that a full RIC team be implemented as soon as possible at working fires-typically a four-member company. The two-in/two-out team is referred to as the “Initial Rapid Intervention Crew” (IRIC); it consists of the “in” team-a company officer and a firefighter. The engineer and a firefighter (typically the hydrant person) constitute the “out” team. Both teams have full radio communications.

Occasionally, a first-in company may have three-member staffing (i.e., one member at training). In this situation, that company will assume command and will radio the second-due company that it will assume the IRIC role on arrival. The on-scene company will prepare for entry.

The second component of the SOP requires the automatic dispatch of a RIC company as soon as the dispatch center receives a report of a working fire. In some cases, more than one RIC team is dispatched, such as for a second-alarm or a larger complex fire.

The Phoenix Fire Department also operates a basic life support (BLS) ambulance transport system staffed by dual-role, cross-trained firefighters. These ambulance vehicles carry the crews’ bunker gear and SCBAs. A “rescue company” ambulance is dispatched as a standard component of a structural alarm. These rescue companies routinely assume the IRIC role (another advantage of the fire service’s assuming an EMS transport role).

Rick Lasky, chief, Coeur d’Alene (ID) Fire Department

Response: Idaho is not an OSHA state. Unfortunately, some of the fire departments in our state use that reason for not supporting the two-in/two-out concept. In addition, somewhere along the way, it was “tagged” a labor issue. Union departments have been using it as a means to force their departments to hire more firefighters. This is not the case.

While attending a regional chief’s meeting, I was amazed to hear such comments as the following: “Here’s another unfunded mandate.” “If someone is going to fund it, I’ll support it.” “It’s just another union issue.” “I’m all for safety, but no one is going to tell me how many firefighters I need or how to run my fire.” These comments were made while the organization was discussing whether it would support several legislative issues. What is really sad about this issue is that it appears that most of the people making the comments don’t seem to know much about the two-in/two-out rule or where it came from. When asked to explain it, they couldn’t.

I had the opportunity to discuss this issue with several Idaho union officers and discovered the following:

  • They had a very clear understanding of the issue.
  • The Professional Fire Fighters of Idaho (PFFI) handle a variety of issues and concerns but place the highest priority on supporting, developing, and providing programs pertaining to the health and safety of not just their members but all of the state’s firefighters-simply, they just want to support and/or provide a program that makes the fireground safer.
  • On the brighter side, several fire departments are practicing methods of two-in/two-out in different scenarios to see what works and what doesn’t, and more and more are training on firefighter rescues. More departments are implementing mutual- and auto-aid agreements that provide for more personnel at an incident. However, there still are a few departments that rarely call for help and that are sending one, maybe two, engines to a fire. Some even feel that there is no need for a command officer to respond to structure fires. At one time or another, we all need help.

    Currently, the Coeur d’Alene Fire Department brings enough people to the incident to provide this type of support. Recently, we were presented with a Mayday situation: A firefighter was down inside a building. Because we had mutual-aid companies en route and on the scene, one of our neighboring departments removed the firefighter when the call for help went out. Fortunately, his injury was minor; however if it were serious, we would have had enough people on-scene and en route to handle it. You would hope that this type of concept would catch on in some areas. No one ever wants to have to deal with a fireground fatality, but whether you’re in an OSHA state or not, you might still have to explain (in court) the program you have in place to protect your firefighters. Staffing has always been an issue, and it’s not going away anytime soon. Developing a program that provides for a rapid intervention team or just gets more personnel to the scene can only improve firefighter safety on the fireground.

    To the fire chiefs not willing to support two-in/two-out or anything that resembles it, try to remember back when you were a firefighter fighting fires, a time when you, too, would spend the better part of a day arguing and fighting for a safer fireground. Try to do what you wanted your chief to do. Keep an open mind!

    Bob Oliphant, lieutenant,Kalamazoo (MI) Dept. of Public Safety

    Response: Michigan is an OSHA state and complies with the two-in/two-out rule. In general, the rule has not been a problem for us because of the number of personnel who typically respond on an alarm. Personnel usually arrive in sufficient time and numbers so that interior operations can be started quickly. A “manpower pool” is established at most working fires. Personnel in the manpower pool waiting for assignments comprise the two-out component of the rule. We do not have enough personnel for a dedicated RIT team. The two-in/two-out rule would definitely affect our ability to operate at more than one fire at a time and would probably require mutual aid.

    Even though the intent of the rule is to protect firefighters, I can recall room-and-contents fires that were quickly extinguished by experienced personnel with fewer than the mandated personnel required by the two-in/two-out rule on-scene. Whether it would have been better to wait for the required number of personnel to arrive while the fire continued to grow is an issue of endless debate.

    I have discussed this issue with chiefs from other departments. Responses have varied from “Wait for sufficient personnel to arrive” to “Do what we’ve always done-put out the fire-with fewer than the required personnel on scene.” The new standard is clearly a challenge for some departments.

    The two-in/two-out rule is part of the new OSHA respiratory standard, which has been instrumental in our department’s acquisition of new SCBAs and the implementation of an improved respiratory program. Although the requirements might affect our ability to operate at some fires, I believe the rule will benefit us overall.

    Jim Murtagh, deputy chief,Fire Department of New York

    Response: The objectives achieved by the two-in/two-out rule are paying attention to and acting on the safety of our firefighters. FDNY adheres to this concept and has made a significant commitment to its members’ safety. All firefighting units arrive on-scene with at least five members. In addition, the second, third, and fourth units and a battalion chief arrive within minutes of the first-arriving units, bringing the initial force up to approximately 25 members.

    With respect to implementation of the two-in/two-out rule, the IC must grapple with three individual decision points:

    • Is the fire or emergency an IDLH (immediately dangerous to life or health) condition? If the answer is no, then two-in/two-out does not apply.
    • Is there a known life hazard? If the answer to this question is yes, then the rescue of the occupants takes priority over the two-in/two-out rule, and the rescue attempt should be undertaken. However, when additional personnel arrive, they should be used to comply with the intent of the OSHA rule.

    If the answer to question 1 is yes or to question 2 is no, then the two-in/two-out rule is applicable, and the IC must make provisions to comply with it. However, this does not mean that we stand around and wait for additional help to arrive. It means we must call for additional help, establish a reliable water supply, position ladders, begin ventilation, and position our firefighters to make an attack.

    In New York City, sufficient firefighters are almost always on-scene before these critical initial firefighting actions are completed. In addition, when the first-arriving unit notifies the dispatcher that there is a working fire, an additional unit is assigned to respond as the FAST team to perform the functions of the firefighter rescue team.

    Frank C. Shaper, deputy chief (ret.),St. Louis (MO) Fire Department

    Response: OSHA1910.134 is not a fire service standard. By and large, it applies to private industry and is very broad in scope. Although the document is lengthy-I believe the preamble alone is 300 pages-only a small portion deals with the fire service. That part is commonly referred to as the two-in/two-out rule and focuses on interior firefighting.

    Missouri is one of the 13 states classified as a non-OSHA state and is not legally obligated to follow the specific rule. But, it is still affected by the “standard of care” the rule presents. With that in mind, you will find that the fire departments in the St. Louis metropolitan area address two-in/two-out in their standard operating procedures or guidelines.

    The St. Louis Fire Department was practicing two-in/two-out way before the rule was written. Implementing the Total Quint Concept in 1987 allowed the department to beef up its personnel and reconfigure its response assignments. Our department, like departments of other large cities, sends 26 firefighters and two battalion chiefs on all first-alarm fires. This complement of firefighters, adhering to the standard operating procedures, covers the two-in/two-out rule nicely. Of the 28 firefighters attending the fire, 14 are assigned truck work. Working in pairs, these assigned truckies perform outside horizontal ventilation or are at least out of the IDLH zone. These firefighters wear full protective gear with self-contained breathing apparatus and can be quickly deployed to handle an interior rescue mission.

    When a second alarm is struck for a structure fire, the other heavy-duty rescue squad is dispatched. The six firefighters assigned to this rig are designated the rapid intervention team (RIT) and act accordingly.

    Even though Missouri is not an OSHA state, firefighter safety is paramount in the St. Louis Fire Department. This system works for us and is at least a good-faith attempt to meet the rule and maintain a “standard of care” for our personnel on the fireground.

    Joseph A. Floyd, Sr., assistant chief, Columbia (SC) Fire Department

    Response: South Carolina is an OSHA state, and the Columbia Fire Department (CFD) has taken steps to comply with the two-in/two-out requirement. We have developed and put in place standard operating guidelines (SOGs) that meet the department’s needs and that are in compliance. The guidelines include the use of rapid intervention teams, which we call “FAST” teams (Firefighter Assist and Search Teams).

    The OSHA standard requires that special precautions be taken when entering an IDLH atmosphere. It does not define the point at which an atmosphere is considered IDLH. Our guidelines define an IDLH atmosphere as one in which firefighters would normally wear self-contained breathing apparatus.

    The OSHA standard does not specify the comprehensive medical, physical fitness, training, and protective equipment requirements needed to perform these duties, but personnel entering the IDLH atmosphere and those serving on the FAST must meet other applicable OSHA standards and CFD SOGs and directives and must also be properly equipped. Initially, a FAST may be established using only two firefighters, but this number should be increased to four as soon as possible.

    An officer or firefighter shall be put in charge of each FAST, and any remaining firefighters left from the formation of a FAST shall be assigned to another company, or a leader shall be appointed to manage that group.

    Multiple FAST teams should be established at large incidents to cover personnel working in remote areas of the IDLH atmosphere or a hazardous area. At least five firefighters must be on the scene of a structure fire for interior operations to begin: two persons to enter the structure, two on the outside ready to perform FAST duties, and the pump operator.

    Early in an incident, the incident commander (IC) can serve as a member of the FAST, but an engineer setting up or operating a pump or aerial ladder may not be included on the FAST.

    Engineers whose trucks are not actively operating may be assigned to FAST duties. To maintain an effective incident command structure, the IC should not be part of the FAST for any longer than is necessary.

    Personnel assigned to a FAST shall not be given other duties that interfere with their ability to monitor conditions that may indicate that a firefighter is in distress or may hinder their ability to quickly initiate a rescue.

    Should a FAST be given orders to perform other duties, the officer or firefighter in charge of the FAST will inform the requesting party that the crew is assigned as a FAST.

    FAST members will act only under the direction of the IC.

    The regulation states: “Nothing in this section is meant to preclude firefighters from performing emergency rescue activities before an entry team has been assembled.” The exception applies only when firefighters have evidence that someone is in immediate danger. Before committing to a rescue, personnel will determine that they are acting on reliable information, that there is a person to be rescued, and that a rescue is viable.

    Entry to search a structure may not occur routinely without meeting the two-in/two-out requirement. Applying the exception to perform rescues does not include performing firefighting, except in situations where fighting a fire facilitates a rescue.

    Once rescues are made or attempted, firefighters may not stay in the structure or reenter it to perform other tasks without meeting the two-in/two-out requirement.

    If the resources to meet the two-in/two-out requirement are not on the scene, the IC must wait for responding companies to arrive before starting operations within an IDLH atmosphere. Although any delay in attacking a fire is usually undesirable, this extra time can be put to good use performing other important functions and preparing for work in the IDLH atmosphere. Common tasks that can be performed before beginning interior operations at a structure fire include the following:

    • Radio the next arriving company’s officer to assign two members of that company as a FAST.
    • Lay a supply line with the first-arriving engine when smoke is showing.
    • Perform a thorough size-up by conducting a quick 3607 walkaround of the scene, and gather other important information.
    • Shut off utilities.
    • Choose a point of entry and pull and charge handlines for the interior attack.
    • Stage smoke ejectors and tools that may be needed near the point of entry.
    • Determine the best means of ventilating, and choose points for horizontal or vertical ventilation. Begin ventilation, if appropriate.
    • Ladder a structure that will require ventilation at upper levels or to provide a secondary means of escape.
    • Make an exterior attack to knock down a large volume of fire or to slow fire spread (but do not spread the fire with an exterior attack).

    The requirements of the two-in/two-out standard may result in delayed interior operations, which are difficult to justify to the public, particularly when additional damage has occurred while waiting for resources to arrive. Whether or not an interior attack is delayed, fire department response times and operations are often misunderstood by the public. Make every effort to provide response times recorded by Central and to explain operations to owners, occupants, and neighbors so that firefighters’ actions will not be misunderstood.

    Larry Anderson, deputy chief, Dallas (TX) Fire Department

    Response: Texas is not an OSHA state, but that does not diminish our responsibility to provide as much of a margin of safety on the fireground as possible. We are all aware that firefighting is a dangerous profession and will continue to be so, but there are procedures that can make a difference in bringing the entire firefighting force back to the station after an emergency operation.

    In 1993, the Dallas Fire Department implemented personnel accountability procedures that have become a mainstay in our standard operating procedures. Basically, these procedures require us to do the following:

    • maintain an awareness of firefighters by location and function,
    • control access to and within an incident,
    • be able to identify the members at the scene,
    • provide a rapid confirmation of safety, and
    • provide a rapid search and rescue response to lost or trapped firefighters.

    Two-in/two-out dovetails nicely with the accountability procedures that have been in place for several years. We are fortunate that our city administration supports constant staffing of four firefighters per engine and truck. Having a minimum of four firefighters available on the first-arriving unit makes compliance with two-in/two-out procedures easier to accomplish. The main training issue has been to get our company officers to realize the need to get all four crew members to the scene. Leaving a member at the hydrant destroys our ability to have a two-person team available for immediate rescue. A one-alarm assignment in Dallas consists of three engines, one ladder truck, and a battalion chief. Consequently, the first-arriving engine will generally go to the scene and initiate a “quick attack” and have incoming engines bring water.

    Another issue that had to be addressed was the deployment of a second charged hoseline dedicated to rescue. You must resist the temptation to grab a charged hoseline already in place at the entry point. If an officer deviates from establishing the rescue team for any reason, such as a civilian rescue situation, that officer must submit a written explanation for such action to the chief of the department.

    As I see it, two-in/two-out has affected our day-to-day, one-alarm operations more than anything else. We have been making provisions for rescue teams or rescue companies on major fireground operations for years. Taking that mindset to the one-alarm level has taken some adjustment.

    Ronald Hiraki, chief of training,Seattle (WA) Fire Department

    Response: The Seattle Fire Department has had its share of budget cuts. In the late 1970s, more than 220 firefighters were on duty. By 1998, that number had been reduced to 195. Most engine companies were staffed with three firefighters. Only the engine companies in the downtown core and a few strategically placed engine companies had a staff of four or five. All ladder companies had four or five firefighters.

    In 1998, the fire department proposed plans to operate all companies with a crew of four. This would allow any company to initiate interior fire operations and comply with the two-in/two-out rule. To accomplish this, the department would need 13 more firefighters on duty. Working within the constraints of the city’s budget, the fire department proposed adding six on-duty firefighters. This meant that the department still needed seven additional on-duty firefighters to staff every company with four people. Since this was not possible, we had to re-examine how units were staffed and dispatched to fires.

    The chief created the Resource Allocation Committee consisting of firefighters, company officers, chief officers, union members, representatives of the City Budget Office, and members of the City Council staff to examine the issues. The Resource Allocation Committee used a sophisticated computer program that plotted the effects of the distribution of fire units on fire and EMS responses.

    The department considered decommissioning two engine companies in single stations and relocating two BLS transport units to those stations. The neighborhoods in which the engines would be decommissioned strongly opposed the move. The fire department also considered staffing several engine companies with two firefighters and “marrying” them with a BLS transport unit with a crew of two. Firefighters were considerably concerned about operating engine companies with only two firefighters.

    In the end, the mayor and city council approved adding six on-duty firefighters. Personnel on companies that had more than four firefighters were reassigned to establish four-member engine companies. The seven stations outside of the downtown core that house an engine and a ladder company were designated as Attack Forces that consisted of three personnel on the engine company and four on the ladder company. The Attack Force responds together on fire responses. However, it may be split for EMS responses, allowing the three-person engine company to respond to an EMS incident. The ladder company can respond to another EMS incident or to a fire incident with four people and still meet the two-in/two-out rule.

    READERS COMMENT . . .

    Gary L. Weiss, assistant chief,South Walton (FL) Fire District

    Response: Our district has in place an SOG that explains and lists the requirements for interior structural firefighting; the two-in/two-out rule is specifically listed in the SOG as written in the standard. The driv-er/operator is required to don an SCBA after making the primary hook-ups. This firefighter may become part of the initial two-out team if needed. An additional company is dispatched on all confirmed fires and designated as a rapid intervention team (the dispatcher can upgrade an assignment as required by the information gathered).

    All companies have received rapid intervention training, which is incorporated into our ongoing back-to-basics training. The requirements of the OSHA rule and the Standard of Care Doctrine have been explained to all company officers. However, since this is a guideline, and our officers are not robots, they are empowered to make decisions on their own; deviation is permitted within acceptable limits.

    Even though we are located in Florida, a non-OSHA state, we feel the protection of our firefighters is of prime importance.

    Rick Decorie, lieutenant,Danville (IL) Fire Department

    Response: Illinois is one of the 13 states not legally obligated to follow the two-in/two-out rule. In September 1998, our department issued a general order changing our response to single-family dwellings. We now respond with at least three engine companies. The third-in engine company becomes the standby team to fulfill the OSHA requirement.

    Depending on the engine and the staffing for the day, the standby team will consist of three to four firefighters. The engine company will assemble near the entrance in full gear and SCBA with the tools of its choosing. It usually stays within visual and/or radio contact with the IC. The concept is still relatively new to our department. As with most departments, not everyone agrees with it, but we use it whenever we can.

    Michael A. Terpak, battalion chief,Jersey City (NJ) Fire Department

    Response: Following is a brief description of the current FAST policy in place in our department.

    Firefighter Assist and Search Team

    (FAST Unit)

    1. :PURPOSE

    The main objective of a Firefighter Search and Assist Team is to locate and rescue trapped or missing firefighters. They will also be utilized for rapid intervention to any incident situation which places members in distress.

    2. NOTIFICATION:

    2.1 Upon transmission of a “Working Fire,” the central office dispatcher will assign a truck company to the incident, which shall be designated as the FAST Unit.

    2.2 The dispatcher shall notify the assigned company via house speaker and on-air radio that they are assigned as the FAST unit.

    2.3 The dispatcher shall notify the Incident Commander (IC) of the identity of the responding FAST Unit.

    3. LOCATION:

    3.1 The members of the FAST Unit shall, upon arrival, report to the command post in an area near the IC, except when the fire or emergency is in a high-rise building. In this case, the FAST Unit should be at the operations post one floor below the fire or emergency.

    3.2 The FAST Unit shall remain in close contact, verbal or visual, with the IC. The FAST Unit should begin a size-up of the building, noting the location and number of entrances and exits, fire escapes, horizontal exits, and any other information that may be useful during search and rescue operations.

    3.3 At incidents covering large geographic areas or unusual operations, the IC may request additional FAST Units and assign them to divisions/exposure locations or sectors. (In the event more than one FAST Unit is utilized, (the teams) shall be numbered, FAST Unit 1, FAST Unit 2, etc.)

    4. DUTIES:

    4.1 The FAST Unit members with portable radios shall monitor fireground radio transmissions (the fireground is often very noisy); this will assist the IC with (the) monitoring (of) emergency traffic.

    4.2 Upon arrival, the members of the FAST Unit shall assess the location for portable ladders. The FAST Unit shall place at least one portable ladder on the front of the fire building to the fire floor or floor above. If the fire has entered or endangers an exposure and portable ladders were not placed during initial operations, the FAST Unit shall place at least one ladder on the front of the exposure. (This should be done at tenements, row frames, brownstones, taxpayers, private dwellings, or at any operation where portable ladders could assist with the firefighter’s escape.) The ladders will be acquired from the nearest truck company.

    4.3 The FAST Unit shall be aware of the location of truck company apparatus for emergency use or for repositioning. When possible, an aerial ladder should be positioned, stabilized, and pointed in the direction of the fire building.

    5. TOOLS:

    5.1 The FAST Unit will report to the IC with the normal complement of truck company tools and power saw.

    5.2 One member shall bring a search rope w/bag.

    5.3 The FAST Unit shall have immediate access to a defibrillator on an apparatus in close proximity to the Command Post, or if no apparatus is accessible, they shall bring the defibrillator from their apparatus.

    6. RESTRICTIONS:

    6.1 The FAST Unit should not be utilized for firefighting. If the Incident Commander directs the FAST Unit to perform duties other than rapid intervention duties, an additional company shall immediately be special called to replace the original FAST Unit.

    6.2 The FAST Unit may be used to provide relief for units operating at the incident only after the fire is placed “UNDER CONTROL” and with the explicit approval of the Incident Commander. If reliefs are needed prior to this, the Incident Commander must anticipate this need and have other units staged or special called for this purpose.

    6.3 In the event high fire activity im-pacts truck company availability, the officer in charge of Central Office may substitute an engine company. It will be the responsibility of the engine company’s officer to secure any needed tools or equipment prior to reporting to the Incident Commander.

    7. REPORTS:

    7.1 If the FAST Unit is utilized at any incident, a report will be forwarded by the Incident Commander, outlining in detail the rapid intervention actions performed by the FAST Unit. The report should include an evaluation of the action taken and any recommendations.

    7.2 Any time the FAST Unit is utilized for purposes other than rapid intervention, a report shall be forwarded by the Incident Commander to include an explanation of the team’s assignment and the necessity for using it for other than its intended purpose.

    Billy Goldfeder, chief,City of Mason (OH) Fire Department

    Response: We are fortunate to have excellent staffing that normally allows us to meet and exceed the intent of the two-in/two-out rule. However, we felt that we needed even more staffing to ensure our members’ safety and excellent staffing to serve the taxpayers’ needs.

    Our department is an active participant in the Warren County (OH) Fire Chiefs Association. I chaired its two-in/two-out/rapid intervention (FAST team) Committee in 1997, and we developed a policy under which the various fire departments in the county count on each other for additional staffing to meet the two-in/two-out rule as well as to provide a FAST team on reported structural fires. The Warren County Dispatch Center automatically sends an additional engine or truck on the first alarm on reported structure fires, to ensure that adequate staffing needs are met on the scene of a structure fire. Normally, this company functions as the FAST team, standing by in case a firefighter needs rescuing. However, the FAST team can be rotated and replaced as the incident commander requires. This program has worked particularly well in the communities where staffing may not be as abundant. The success of this program is attributed to the mutual understanding that all departments must support each other for the good of our firefighters and citizens to meet unfunded mandates.

    Thomas R. Beasley, lieutenant,Memphis (TN) Fire Department

    Response: The City of Memphis Fire Department does not have a written SOP or SOG on rapid intervention teams currently, but the topic is addressed on the fire scene. Our department is having success meeting the OSHA two-in/two-out requirements by leaving one firefighter on the initial attack team at the door along with the driver of the first-in pumper. The firefighter left at the door is relieved when the truck has arrived on the scene. Of the four firefighters assigned to the truck, two are on the outside placing ladders, doing ventilation, and cutting utilities; they can assume the two-in/two-out requirements. The rescue company will assume the position of a fully dedicated RIT on its arrival with four firefighters and the proper tools. The incident commander will then have the option of calling for an additional truck or engine for the RIT to allow the rescue to do other duties assigned, or he may leave the rescue as the RIT.

    On deployment of the RIT, a secondary RIT will be placed in operation. Such was the case recently. We had two unaccounted for firefighters inside a burning warehouse. Rescue 2, the rapid intervention team, was deployed. Rescue 1, which was working on the roof, moved to the command post to become the RIT.

    Two pumpers, one truck, and one heavy rescue are dispatched on a confirmed working residential fire. Apartments and commercial buildings get three pumpers, two trucks, and one heavy rescue. All of the city’s engines and trucks ride with four personnel; the rescues ride five when possible. Depending on the size of the incident and the building, we may have more than one RIT. Even with the resources with which we are blessed (52 engines, 25 trucks, and two heavy rescues), we have a tough time meeting the governmental standards placed on us.

    It is important to make sure that the RIT can do other things, not just stand in the yard and look like sheepherders leaning on pike poles. The RIT needs to be proactive on the scene. The officer needs to make a good size-up: the type of building construction, the number of floors, the locations of the windows and doors for entrance and egress, and the locations at which firefighters are operating.

    The rest of the crew can be gathering the necessary tools: SCBAs for fallen firefighters, hand tools, lights, guide ropes, saws, stokes basket, thermal imaging camera, ladders, and so on. The list of tools may change according to the type of the structure’s construction and the tools’ availability. The crew can be placing ladders to windows where firefighters are located and putting ladder trucks into operations for access.

    Our first priority is firefighter safety! The RIT is not always going to be the most active position on the fire scene, but it could be the difference in a lost or trapped firefighter’s life. The position must be maintained with the maximum of attention and seriousness.