Save Our Own
NFPA Journal, July/August 2010
One of the most dreaded radio transmissions on the fireground is an emergency traffic call from a firefighter for assistance. The emergency traffic, or mayday, call presents a challenge to everyone operating at a fire because there is a tendency for everyone to abandon their assignments when a mayday is declared and go to the aid of the firefighters requesting assistance. The incident commander (IC) must maintain control, while on-scene units exercise discipline and the rapid intervention crew (RIC) locates, protects, provides air for, extricates, removes, and provides medical care for the downed firefighters.
Rescuing downed firefighters is the specific mission of the RIC. The RIC must be adequately staffed, well trained, properly equipped, and under the direction of a competent leader. Minimum RIC requirements are contained in NFPA 1500, Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program; NFPA 1710, Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations, and Special Operations to the Public by Career Fire Departments; NFPA 1720, Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations, and Special Operations to the Public by Volunteer Fire Departments; and OSHA Standard 29CFR1910,134g4, Occupational Safety and Health Standards on Personal Protective Equipment, Respiratory Protection, Procedures for Interior Structural Firefighting. An initial rapid intervention crew (IRIC) of at least two members is required before firefighters enter a building to fight a fire that is beyond the incipient stage, unless there is a reasonable expectation of saving a life.
Fire departments must address RIC operations in their standard operating procedures. There are several theories on how best to conduct RIC functions, with subsequent differences in RIC procedures. In our opinion, each RIC procedure has merit, as well as potential disadvantages.
Some departments require RIC members to stand by at a fixed location near an access point so that all members of the RIC are immediately available for deployment. Others assign the RIC to survey the exterior of the building while improving emergency egress by placing ladders, removing evacuation impediments, and taking other measures to facilitate self-evacuation. A third option is to stage some RIC members at a fixed location while others survey the building and improve exits. The advantage of this approach is that an RIC rescue operation can begin immediately while still providing better egress for interior firefighters and familiarizing the RIC with the building layout. RIC members assigned to survey the building and remove impediments should not enter the fire building.
Providing sufficient RIC staffing can be challenging, as a minimum of two firefighters must be assigned to the IRIC. Staffing should be increased to a minimum of four as soon as additional units arrive. Typically, RICs staffed by four firefighters are adequate when operating at small, uncomplicated building fires where firefighters can be quickly found and easily removed. When downed firefighters are deep within larger buildings and require extrication or other time- and air-consuming measures, four-member RICs will often be insufficient. After losing a firefighter at the Southwest Supermarket fire in 2001, the Phoenix Fire Department conducted extensive training to determine needed RIC staffing. Based on a subsequent investigation, RIC staffing was dramatically increased.
Fire departments must learn from their positive and negative experiences through post-incident analysis and by studying fire investigation reports, attending training programs, and reviewing other departments’ standard operating procedures. Most importantly, they must focus on tactics, risk management, and other safety measures aimed at preventing the mayday call.
This column is adapted from the author's book StructuralFireFighting, available online or (800) 344-3555.