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Rules of Engagement for Firefighter Survival: Go In Together, Stay Together, Come Out Together

Go in Together, Stay Together, Come Out Together

Objective: To ensure firefighters always enter a burning building in teams of two or more members and no firefighter is allowed to be alone at any time while entering, operating in or exiting a building.

A critical element for firefighter survival is crew integrity. Crew integrity means firefighters stay together as teams of two or more. They must enter a structure together and remain together at all times while in the interior, and all members come out together. No firefighters shall be allowed to be by themselves at any time while in a burning structure. Period!

It’s an individual responsibility of every firefighter to stay connected with his or her partner or crew members at all times. Freelancing by any member must be strictly prohibited.

Additionally, crews or buddy teams must never freelance. All firefighters must be operating under the direction of an incident commander, division/group supervisor or company officer/lead buddy-team member at all times.

The ultimate responsibility for crew integrity and ensuring no members get separated or lost rests with company officers and lead buddy-team members. They must maintain constant contact with their assigned members by voice, touch or visual observation while in the hazard zone. They must ensure their teams stay together. If any of these elements aren’t adhered to, crew integrity is lost and firefighters are placed at great risk.

If firefighters becomes separated and can’t get reconnected with their partners immediately, they must get on the radio and attempt to communicate with their company officer or partner. If reconnection isn’t accomplished after three radio attempts or reconnection doesn’t take place within one minute, a mayday should be declared—if conditions are rapidly deteriorating, the mayday must be declared immediately.

As part of a mayday declaration, the firefighter must next activate the radio’s emergency alert button, followed by manually turning on the PASS alarm. Note that some departments may require the emergency button to be activated before declaring a mayday.

It’s critically important that there is no delay in declaring a mayday; a one-minute delay can be life threatening. If the firefighter gets reconnected before a RIT arrives, the mayday can be cancelled.

Similarly, when company officers recognize they have a separated member, they must immediately attempt to locate the member by radio or yelling. If contact isn’t established after three attempts or within one minute, a mayday must be declared immediately.

The hoseline is the firefighter’s lifeline to the exit and firefighters should stay attached to the line and use it as an anchor point while operating in the interior of a structure. Firefighters not utilizing a hoseline should utilize a rope lifeline, particularly when operating in large-square-foot buildings.

Crew integrity is also essential to fireground accountability. All firefighting operations must be conducted under a recognized firefighter-accountability system. A key component of a recognized accountability system includes tags or passports (with crew names) that are given to an accountability officer at the point of entry.

The system must also be able to identify the location of assigned crews within a small geographic area of an incident scene. A true accountability system must have the capability of always knowing who is and who isn’t in the building and be able to identify when a firefighter is delayed or missing.

All accountability must be managed at the point of entry to maintain continual awareness of who’s in or out of the hazard zone. Tags or passports collected only at the command post can’t maintain awareness of who’s in or out of the building—this isn’t an accountability system. It’s just a list of potential fatalities.

Bottom line: if firefighters don’t have partners, they should never be allowed to enter a burning building.

Gary Morris is a director at large on the Safety, Health and Survival Section's board of directors and was the team lead for the Rules of Engagement project. He was formerly chief of the Rural Metro Fire Department in Scottsdale, Ariz.

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