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Pressing the Safety Engine Into Action Early

Many fire departments designate one engine company as RIC on first alarm to a building fire. This is done to ensure that the responsibility of RIC is established early in the game and takes the place of the Initial Rapid Intervention Crew (IRIC) which is the “two-out” part of two-in, two-out. The use of a first alarm engine company as a dedicated RIC is an example of the Safety Engine concept in action.

Some but not all SOPs call for the replacement of this early dedicated RIC with a more permanent team once a dedicated and better equipped RIC arrives. Others use an “on-deck” system to replace early crews that are needed for fire operations. This frees the Safety Engine and its crew to move away from RIC duties and support fire attack or other ops as needed.

However, outside of firefighter mayday situations, there are times when the first designated RIC and/or Safety Engine (RIC/SE) should be inserted into offensive operations prior to the arrival of a more permanent RIC. Times where RIC/SE should be inserted early to aid offensive operations include times when civilian lives are in extreme danger, or the situation is present where there could likely be civilian loss of life if search and rescue does not take place forthwith.

Examples of such situations include building fires that have not been cleared of occupants, but more specifically:

  • Rapid advancement of fire in large single family or multi-family residential construction, especially lightweight construction
  • Smoke and/or fire in residential institutions such as nursing homes, hospitals, and prisons
  • Large area buildings that are likely occupied such as schools

These buildings have some commonalities that make them a challenge to evacuate. They are either subject to rapid fire advancement, large spaces in need of quick coverage in a search operation to make sure all occupants are located and evacuated, hidden fire that is sometimes difficult to locate until it is too late to evacuate, populations that need an abundance hands-on assistance to evacuate.

In the typical single family dwelling fire a crew such as a truck company is often split with two going in for search and two remaining outside for laddering & ventilation on first alarm. However, in a larger building where occupants must be located rapidly prior to the fire compromising the ability to remove occupants, and where the fire behavior dictates aggressive roof or aerial ladder operations, larger crews are needed for both search and laddering & ventilation.

Accountability and effectiveness principles dictate that crews work better when they stick together. Logically when an advanced fire and search situation calls for a larger more effective search crew, and a larger more effective laddering & ventilation crew, the RIC/SE should be the logical choice to conduct the search as a fully integrated crew. This keeps the normally split truck crew together to perform laddering & ventilation in concert with the rest of the operation.

The overriding responsibility of the fire service is preservation of civilian life. When life is threatened, the fire department should be prepared to insert all necessary resources to make the fire attack, search, laddering, and ventilation as effective as possible.

Firefighters are there to save lives and take calculated risks doing so. Advanced fire situations upon arrival, large area search operations, and the possibility of non-ambulatory occupants are all situations that are a direct threat to civilian life, which justifies the insertion of the RIC/SE as a search and clearing resource immediately upon arrival. This should always be done with the understanding that this RIC is replaced as soon as possible by other incoming resources that are already en-route to the scene. Additional resources should be systematically dispatched to buildings where this action is likely.

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