Saturday, October 17, 2009

Commentary on Houston Fire Department's 10 Rules for Survival

The 10 Rules of Survival from FireRescue1

Seat belt – Use of Seat belts is mandatory any time the vehicle is in motion.

This is an excellent rule, it's part of the National Fallen Firefighter Foundation's 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives, it's the reason that Dr. Burton Clark has the Seat Belt Pledge, and it should be an absolute for every firefighter, medic, and police officer.

Speed – Obey all traffic laws; obey all HFD policies; Do not bust red lights or intersections; Non-emergency response is acceptable. A more detailed version of basic emergency vehicle operations safety policies, and put in firefighter's language. My personal corrolary to this is "It is better to arrive on scene driving the speed limit than to get halfway there really fast."

PPE – Only HFD issued PPE; No extra layers for insulation; weakest part of PPE ensemble is the SCBA face piece. This is a good rule, although some departments allow the use of personal gear if it has been approved and has been inspected by an authorized department representative.

Size-up – Perform a 360; accurate arrival reports; Use TIC for temperature reading prior to entry, communicate via radio. This rule is a good start, but it could go farther. The 360's should be repeated until the operation is terminated. Size-up should not be a one-time event, it should be a continuous process that begins with pre-emergency planning and ends upon the safe return of all units to quarters after the fire or emergency. Additional chief officers should be stationed geographically to observe conditions and report them to Command. Another of my basic rules is "Always keep an experienced set of eyes on what the Incident Commander can't see."

Water before you go – Goal to have an interrupted water supply before entry. This is an appropriate rule for most fires, but there are exceptions. High rise fires are an exception. Quick grabs of visible victims are another exception.

Low-Low-Low – On entry; inside; on exit. This is so obvious that lots of firefighters...don't do it. More time in live burn training helps reinforce this rule.

Standing up so that your helmet looks like a 10-year veteran after one fire isn't just dangerous, it's stupid.

Ventilation – Goal of first ladder is ventilation; Release heat and smoke to benefit firefighters and survivable victims. Another good rule, but if there are visible victims on upper floors, the 1st due ladder should start on rescue. Another ladder or even an engine company can take the ventilation. If an engine needs ladders to help vent upper floors, there are always those ground ladders on the first-due truck. This rule should be the default when no obvious victim is in place.

RIT – RIT on every incident; in place ASAP. We should do this every time, but fireground tasks have a way of stealing the manpower that would otherwise have been used for RIT. RIT is also seen as a "do nothing" job in some departments. Clarification between "Passive RIT" and "Active RIT" should be made. Active RIT is less of a do-nothing job and is beneficial if your department doesn't have the manpower of a major city department like Houston. Passive RIT or the Phoenix "On Deck" system are workable alternatives if you have the manpower and equipment to make it work.

Crew Integrity – Not an option; Critical to incident accountability; Call Mayday early. These are absolutes, in my book. Lost or disoriented crew members often result in firefighter LODDs or serious injuries. They also result in additional risk to the firefighters who respond to the MAYDAY. Incident accountability works best through the span of control, and span of control fails if the company officer loses track of a firefighter...or worse, intentionally splits the crew after entering the IDLH atmosphere. We need to lose the John Wayne mentality and call a Mayday when we still have the air to survive until RIT can find us and assist us with whatever other problems we may be experiencing. The more quickly the MAYDAY is called, the greater the chance of resolving it without a subsequent funeral.

Communication – Throughout incident; interior and exterior progress reports. We need to communicate, but we need to communicate in an organized, disciplined, and coordinated way. A simple thing like a company officer assuming that one side of the building is Side A and a later-arriving chief re-assigning another side as Side A can result in fatal confusion. Continuous radio babble can result in so much traffic that MAYDAYs are not heard or their receipt is delayed. The Hackenship auto dealership fire and the Charleston Sofa Super Store fire are examples of this. A designated tactical channel to get dispatch traffic and other companies relocation traffic off the fireground channel is essential. A second tac channel that allows firefighting to continue on a different channel after a MAYDAY is also essential. The MAYDAY firefighter or crew and RIT should never have to switch channels in order to communicate.

Houston has implemented some common sense rules that, if adhered to, will improve firefighter safety. What they are telling us is that there's no shame in being safe. Following these simple safety rules will improve response and fireground safety for everyone who follows those rules. My thanks to HFD for sharing these simple, but oh-so-important safety rules with the rest of us.

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