Burlington County Fire Chiefs Association



Rapid Intervention Reality - from Phoenix

Subject: Rapid Intervention Reality Check

By Michael Ward    <mward@nvcc.edu>
Fire Science Program Head, Northern Virginia Community College.

The Phoenix Fire Department's Deployment Committee has a sobering message to their firefighters operating in large buildings, like a 7,500 square foot warehouse: "If you extend an attack line 150', get 40 feet off the line and then run out of air, it will take us 22 minutes to get you out of the structure." The lesson to remember is not to get off the fire attack line.  The statement is based on 200 rapid intervention drills conducted by PFD as part of their recovery process after Firefighter/paramedic Brett Tarver  died in the March 14, 2001 Southwest Supermarket fire.

PFD obtained three vacant commercial buildings: a warehouse, a movie theatre and a country-western bar. The RIT drill was for the first alarm companies to respond to a report of two firefighters in trouble. One is disoriented and the other one is unconscious. The buildings were sealed from outside light and the facemasks were obscured to simulate heavy smoke conditions. The RIT teams were equipped and deployed as if this is was a working fire. The department ran through about 200 RIT drills with 1144 PFD firefighters participating. Their activities were monitored and timed. An Arizona State University statistician analyzed the data.

The results show that rapid intervention is not rapid:

  • Rescue crew ready state 2.50 minutes

  • Mayday to RIC entry 3.03 minutes

  • RIC contact with downed firefighter 5.82 minutes

  • Total time inside building for each RIC team 12.33 minutes

  • Total time for rescue 21 minutes

The evolutions also revealed three consistent ratios:

  • It takes 12 firefighters to rescue one

  • One in five RIC members will get into some type of trouble themselves.

  • A 3000-psi SCBA bottle has 18.7 minutes of air (plus or minus 30%)

The results of the RIC drills reflects the experience Phoenix had during the efforts to rescue Firefighter/paramedic Brett Tarver. There were a dozen maydays sounded during the rescue effort, and one PFD firefighter was removed from the supermarket in respiratory arrest.

The Phoenix experience is not unique. Houston Fire Chief Chris Connealy participated in a discussion about the Phoenix RIC drills during the 2003 Change in the Fire Service Symposium. On October 13, 2001, Houston Engine 2 Captain Jay Jahnke died on the fifth floor of Four Leaf Towers, a 41 story residential high-rise. During the Houston RIC operation, two heavy rescue company firefighters became disoriented, low on air and had to rescue themselves. An engine company captain and firefighter run out of air and collapsed on the fire floor. Chief Connealy said that the Houston experience is similar to Phoenix.

Phoenix is changing its approach to rapid intervention crews in three procedural ways: increase suppression units assigned to RIC, increased in command officers, and considering a two-part RIC process.

There is a scalar approach to RIC dispatch assignments in Phoenix. For a "3-1 Assignment" (three engines and one ladder), a fourth engine and an ems transport (rescue) is added to the assignment to function as the rapid intervention team. For a 1st alarm assignment, two engines, one ladder, one rescue and a battalion chief are the RIC team. A second alarm includes an additional two engines and ladder for RIC. Beyond a second alarm, the incident commander can call additional companies as needed.

The recovery process also looked at the utilization of company and command officers on the fireground. A company officer core competency is to command a fire company. A core chief officer competency is to command fire companies. It is a function of the fire department hierarchical structure, not of personality.  For example, a captain filling-in as a battalion chief does a better job as a West Sector officer than she would have if she was commanding Engine 2 AND in charge of West Sector. At the sector level of the incident management system, company officers are required to wear two hats. There are too many levels of tasks. Phoenix suggests that it would be more effective to send more command officers to a fire event to function as sector and division commanders and allow the company officers to command their companies. It is a waste of talent and experience to allow command officers to stay in their fire stations while a low-frequency, high risk event like a structure fire is occurring
in the city.

A third change in rapid intervention crews is using a two-phase approach.  Many of the RIC team members ran out of air during the training evolutions.  The drills showed that a 3000-psi SCBA bottle was good for 13.09 to 24.31 minutes of air. The average SCBA time was 18.7 minutes. The average time from mayday to removal was 21 minutes. RIC teams were running out of air during the firefighter removal phase. In addition, it was taking a crew of 12 firefighters to remove one firefighter. Phase one of a RIC response is to send a team in to locate the firefighters in trouble. Once located, a second RIC team enters to remove the firefighter.

You are welcome to share this with everyone. Please include the following:
taken from www.thewatchdesk.com written by:
Michael Ward, Fire Science Program Head, Northern Virginia Community College.