RECEO Revisited

By Tom Kiurski

If I have captured your interest with the title, you may have been in the fire service long enough to have heard an instructor early in your career discuss “RECEO,” which explained the list of things a company officer was to remember, and in what order. This was before there was an incident commander (IC) to make sure the fire was handled as it should have been. Join me in taking a nostalgic look back and reflect on the old acronym RECEO.

I first heard the term RECEO in the early days of my fire service career, which began in 1981. Things were simpler then, and the fire service reflected that. There were no thermal imaging cameras, Nomex® hoods, National Incident Management System (NIMS) classes, or PASS devices in large numbers. The simplicity of firefighting then was reflected in this short five-letter acronym that represented all the company officer had to think about.

I believe the concept of RECEO back in my early days had to do with the total incident. The incident was a progression of items that had to be checked off a list in the ranking officer’s mind (again, there were no ICs!)  Just like today, many firefighters may have been involved in executing one tactic, but they adhered to the priority order. The letters were taken as a sequence of steps, like following a recipe. As one task was completed, the strategy moved to the next level, which was the next letter in RECEO. The RECEO acronym stands for Rescue, Exposures, Confinement, Extinguishment, and Overhaul.

As you can see, the progression of the list moves from the broader concern of protecting exposures to scaling down the incident. The progression makes sense, since it would be difficult to work on overhaul when you haven’t completed confinement.

It hardly seems enough to take the total fireground incident and break it into five pieces. No doubt, you can look and ask where in the process do primary and secondary search come into play or at what point should the water supply be established. Although I cannot answer all of the questions that arise, I can do my best to explain the basics of the steps.

The “R” stands for rescue, which has always been and continues to be our number-one priority. It has always come first and still must be our first tactical consideration. When this term was introduced, we didn’t have different terms for “victim rescue” and “firefighter rescue,” but if any rescue had to be undertaken, it was, and still is, a high priority.

With rescue work finished or deemed unnecessary, the next priority was the exposures. The definition I like to use for exposures is anything that is not burning when you arrive that is in danger of catching fire. Exposures are not limited to other buildings; they can be other rooms within a structure, other stores within the strip mall, vehicles in the driveway, vacant fields, and so on. If we begin with tackling the exposure problem, the fire problem begins to move in the right direction, which is limiting its spread.

Confinement takes the fire and begins to compartmentalize it into a smaller space where it cannot grow. Its growth potential is cut off, and it can only continue to burn in the confined space it now occupies. Obviously, confinement will look different at every fire. One fire may be confined to the dumpster in which it started; others may be confined to the city block that was involved on your arrival. With that being said, confinement gives up no more ground and starts to make headway on fire control.

Extinguishment is the next logical step to take in tactical order. Once the exposures have been eliminated, the fire is confined to an area, and then crews must work to extinguish the remaining fire to stop its destruction. As you know, extinguishment takes on many appearances, but the objective is to put out the fire by whatever means necessary. Back in the early days of RECEO, there were few options when it came to ways to extinguish a fire.

Overhaul is the tactic we employ to search for and extinguish any hidden fires that remain after the main body of fire has been knocked down. “Rekindle” was a bad word then, just as it is now.

Keep in mind that any incident can move the process backward a step, if necessary. For example, if a victim is discovered during the confinement tactic, the rescue and removal of the fire victim are now the top priorities. The plan has now jumped back to the “rescue” step, and you must move forward from that point again. The fire may have advanced from the point where it was when the victim was discovered. After the victim has been removed, consider the fire to be in the exposure stage until you can prove that it is finished.

On the side of the RECEO acronym, my instructor-of-old wrote the words “ventilation” and “salvage.”  He explained what each tactic was and that they were the two things that did not have to occur, and if they did occur, they did not follow any certain priority order. Ventilation was a labor-intensive chore a few years ago, when hand tools were the order of the day for getting through a roof.

Although most of us in the class could pick out the definition for the word “salvage” on a multiple-choice test, it wasn’t considered a high-priority item. I would like to think that we hold salvage in higher regard today; but with the number of personnel on the fire scene dwindling, this is one of the tactics that still takes a back seat.

Somehow, RECEO worked. I’m sure the dedication of brave firefighters helped the process along back then, just as it does today.


Tom Kiurski is training coordinator, a paramedic, and the director of fire safety education for Livonia (MI) Fire & Rescue. His book, Creating a Fire-Safe Community: A Guide for Fire Safety Educators (Fire Engineering, 1999), is a guide for bringing the safety message to all segments of the community efficiently and economically.



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