The IAFC’s Safety, Health & Survival Section has developed a set of Rules of Engagement for Structural Firefighting that, when applied to fireground operations, will improve risk assessment and safety for firefighters. The Rules also serve as a best-practice model procedure for fire departments to adopt in their own SOPs.
The Rules of Engagement can also serve as an excellent training document during this year’s International Fire/EMS Safety and Health Week. The document contains all the Rules, objectives and lesson plans, along with related NIOSH fatality-investigation report summaries and Near-Miss reports. I encourage all readers to review the Rules.
The project to develop the Rules began with a discussion of the concept shortly after the section was formed in 2006. It was noted the NFPA data during the period of 1976-2006 showed that the fire service experienced a 58% reduction in firefighter line-of-duty deaths. But the country also saw a paralleling 54% drop in the number of structural fires over the same period.
These nearly identical declines implied there was really no significant change in fatalities when compared to the number of fires. With a continued annual average of around 100 firefighter fatalities, the question was if we had really made a difference with all the technology and improvements. Or did the fire service need additional tools to improve the safety culture of the American fire service?
At the section’s midyear meeting in 2008, a project team began to develop the Rules of Engagement. The team consisted of section members and representatives from several other nationally recognized fire service organizations, including:
- Fire Department Safety Officer Association
- National Fallen Firefighter Foundation
- National Volunteer Fire Council
- National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
All draft material was also shared with representatives of the IAFF, who had developed the Fire Ground Survival Program. The IAFC board of directors endorsed the Rules of Engagement in 2010 at Fire-Rescue International.
Early in the development process, it was recognized that two sets of the Rules were needed: one set for firefighters, who are exposed to the greatest risk, and another set for incident commanders, who are responsible for keeping all members on the fireground safe. Each set has several commonly shared Rules, but the objectives and lesson plans are described somewhat differently based on the level of responsibility.
The Rules of Engagement integrate several nationally recognized safety-related programs and principles. They include risk-assessment principles from NFPA Standards 1500 and 1561. Also included are concepts and principles from the Crew Resource Management Manual and data and lessons learned from the National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System.
The Rules also align well with the concepts in the IAFF's Fire Ground Survival Program. Additionally, the development process also included review of lessons learned from numerous firefighter fatality investigations conducted by NIOSH’s Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program.
The Rules recognize that those at most risk are the firefighters and company officers operating in the hazard zone and so integrate them into the risk-assessment and decision-making process. The Rules allow them fully to say no to unsafe conditions or practices and report such situations, without penalty, through a structured process.
Because the development process involved so many national fire service organizations and broad public comment to achieve consensus, along with an increasing number of organizations and individual fire departments that are formally adopting the Rules of Engagement, they have now evolved to the point of being considered a standard of practice for the fire service.
Ret. Chief Gary Morris is a director at large on the Safety, Health & Survival Section’s board of directors and is the team lead for the Rules of Engagement project. He was formerly chief of the Rural Metro Fire Department in Scottsdale, Ariz.