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Rules of Engagement for Incident Commanders: When No Progress Is Achieved, Consider Defense

If after completion of the primary search, little or no progress toward fire control has been achieved, seriously consider a defensive strategy.

Objective: To cause a benchmark decision point, following completion of the primary search, that requires the incident commander (IC) to consciously determine if it’s safe to continue offensive interior operations where progress in controlling the fire isn't being achieved and there are no lives to be saved.

A report that the primary search is completed (all clear) is always a critical benchmark for decision making by the IC and action-plan development. It’s a point in time when the IC must confirm the current strategy is working effectively or change it.

This decision point is especially important to firefighter safety where fire crews are still in the building and little or no progress in controlling the fire is being made.

If the primary search has been completed or it’s determined there are no lives to be saved and if the first wave of fire operations has not made progress on controlling the fire, operations may have entered a marginal situation and a very dangerous period for firefighters. It’s the IC's responsibility to ensure safe operations, and the situation may now require a defensive strategy.

No building is worth the life of a firefighter. Nearly all buildings that are lost to fire are rebuilt. If fire control hasn’t been achieved, the IC must seriously consider withdrawing crews! A defensive strategy must now be implemented and the action plan revised.

The IC must also understand that withdrawing crews often takes longer than it took them to penetrate to operating positions. The withdrawal must occur early enough to allow adequate time for fire crews to safely exit the building before the fire can harm them. Because of marginal and risky conditions, the rapid-intervention team must be on alert status and ready to respond immediately to an emergency. Once crews have evacuated the building, a personnel accountability report must be obtained to confirm all firefighters have indeed evacuated successfully and are accounted for.

Bottom line: If there are no occupants in the building or no is survival possible and the fire can’t be controlled, don’t continue interior operations. Evacuate the building and implement a defensive strategy.

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