Adherence to NFPA 1407 will make rapid-intervention operations safer and more effective — which cannot
Every fire chief’s worst nightmare is a “mayday” call for a firefighter who is in distress at a structure fire. All of the department’s resources and prior training will be put to the test and likely will determine whether the situation’s outcome is a success or failure. Because interior structural fire-suppression operations are undoubtedly the most hazardous activity in which our personnel will engage on an infrequent basis — with situations involving a downed firefighter even less frequent — the department must have a well-written and practiced plan to deal with this critical situation. But even the well-practiced and coordinated rescue operation carries the risk of structural collapse and the subsequent potential for additional firefighter injuries and deaths.
The additional hazards posed by a structural collapse, added to the already present lack of interior visibility, easily can contribute to a rapid-intervention crew being lost or disoriented during interior rescue operations. Fire chiefs long have recognized the risks and hazards of interior fire-suppression operations and provisions have been included in various NFPA standards that clearly direct fire departments to provide adequate personnel on scene for the rescue of firefighters operating at emergency scenes should they become lost, injured, trapped, incapacitated or disoriented.
While these standards clearly identify the need for qualified personnel to carry out a rescue operation in such instances, they offer fire departments no specific guidance on how to plan and train for such rescues to ensure a successful outcome. Over the past few years, we have seen a variety of training programs that have been developed to help departments establish a rapid-intervention-and-rescue capability. Until recently, however, there was no national review of these programs to identify best practices for such practices. Recognizing this shortcoming, the NFPA Technical Committee on Fire Service Training has developed NFPA 1407, Training Fire Service Rapid Intervention Crews. NFPA 1407 was approved by the Standards Council in December 2009 and was made available for use by the fire service in early 2010.
This committee took a similar approach toward rapid-intervention operations that it took in the mid 1980s concerning live fire training. NFPA 1403, Live Fire Training Evolutions was developed in response to numerous serious firefighter injuries and fatalities that had occurred in live-fire training activities. Since the development of NFPA 1403 in 1986, there have been no known serious firefighter injuries or fatalities as a result of live fire-training operations where the provisions of the standard were followed by the fire department or training organization. The committee developed NFPA 1407, in a similar manner, as a national consensus document to guide the fire service to minimize the risk and hazards encountered in critical rapid-intervention operations. Fire chiefs who ensure that their department personnel plan, train, and conduct RIC operations in full compliance with NFPA 1407 can anticipate the highest level of safety and success possible when implementing these critical but extremely dangerous field operations.
What NFPA 1407 Says
The basic training procedures for training fire service personnel to conduct firefighter rapid intervention operations specified in NFPA 1407 meets or exceeds the operational requirements specified in NFPA 1710 which addresses career departments, and NFPA 1720, which addresses volunteer departments. It specifically was developed to create a national standard that would specify a training program designed to create a highly disciplined operational capability to rescue firefighters who become lost, injured, trapped, incapacitated or disoriented in the course of both emergency scene and training operations. The technical committee also believed that fire departments that train their personnel using the prescribed process are much more likely to operate at fire scenes in the same structured manner. This will greatly reduce the associated risks for RIC members and maximize the potential for successful rescue of the downed firefighter(s).
NFPA 1407 specifies basic evolutions that can be adapted to local conditions in order to create a standard mechanism for evaluating minimum acceptable performance during training for rapid-intervention activities. It requires every fire department to have a standard operating procedure or guideline in place that clearly specifies the following:
- The response of a rapid-intervention crew to all interior operations.
- The specific conditions that would require the deployment of a rapid-intervention crew at an incident.
- The criteria for the termination of the rapid-intervention rescue function at an incident.
The technical committee included a model standard operating procedure, in Annex A of the document, to help local fire departments comply with the standard.
NFPA 1407 further requires that fire departments establish written policies for rapid-intervention training that are reinforced through a comprehensive, ongoing training program conducted by the department or training organization. The departmental policy must cover entry-level training requirements for crew members, the training objectives and basic skills necessary for safe operation, and a list of suggested equipment to be used for RIC operations. NFPA 1407 also recommends evolutions that may be used to train firefighters who will be tasked to conduct RIC operations, and defines minimum training and experience requirements for instructors, crew leaders, and team members.
Moreover, the standard requires that such training is performed in such a manner that teams are qualified to provide a constant, sustainable rapid-intervention capability at an emergency scene, utilizing the minimum crew size that is specified in NFPA 1710.
Before being allowed to participate in RIC training, firefighters must have received a minimum level of training in order for them to successfully meet the job performance requirements for Firefighter I, as specified in NFPA 1001, Firefighter Professional Qualifications. In addition, NFPA 1710 requires RIC leaders to meet the requirements for Fire Officer I, as specified in NFPA 1021, Fire Officer Professional Qualifications. Both firefighters and RIC leaders are required to successfully complete a rapid-intervention training program before they can be assigned RIC responsibilities at an emergency scene.
Instructors who train firefighters and crew leaders to perform rapid-intervention operations are required to meet minimum qualifications that are set by the individual fire department or training organization. NFPA 1407 recommends that this minimum training level meet the job performance requirements for Instructor I, as specified by NFPA 1041, Fire Service Instructor Professional Qualifications.
Training programs that comply with NFPA 1407 must cover the following:
- Risk assessment and risk management.
- Activation and management of rapid-intervention operations.
- Department communications procedures which are specific to rapid-intervention functions.
- Personnel accountability and resource management.
- Criteria for the deployment of rapid-intervention crews and resources to the emergency scene.
- Integration of the firefighter rescue operations into the Incident Command system (ICS) used by the fire department or training organization.
- Implementation of an incident-accountability system that meets the requirements of NFPA 1561, Emergency Services Incident Management System.
- The potential impact of RIC operations on the safety and welfare of rescuers and others, as well as on other activities at the incident scene.
- The clear distinction between “rescue” and “recovery” modes of operation at an incident.
NFPA 1407 further requires that personnel receiving RIC training are rotated in and out of the training periodically, in order to prevent and reduce stress and fatigue that could result in injury to the participants.
Firefighters who successfully complete a training program for rapid intervention operations in compliance with NFPA 1407 — either individually or as members of a rapid-intervention team — will have been evaluated for knowledge, skills, and abilities concerning the following:
- Declaration of a firefighter emergency.
- Appropriate search techniques.
- Rescue access and extrication.
- Use of ropes, slings and harnesses for rescue operations.
- Methods to safely protect firefighters in place.
- Methods to move downed firefighters to safety.
- Firefighter self-rescue techniques.
NFPA 1407 also requires the fire department or training organization to identify the tools and equipment that will be used in rapid-intervention operations, and to train all personnel that will be assigned to a crew on the proper use of the provided tools and equipment.
The standard identifies various training scenarios that can be used to evaluate the performance of rapid-intervention teams. Because of the potential for injuries, NFPA 1407 prohibits the use of a live person to act as a trapped firefighter in the training scenarios. However, each scenario is required to be staged as closely as possible to the conditions expected to be encountered in an emergency scene where a rapid-intervention team would be deployed for a firefighter-rescue operation. The standard also requires the following training scenarios for RIC operations:
- Locating, assessing and removing a downed firefighter.
- Moving a downed firefighter up a flight of stairs.
- Moving a downed firefighter down a first flight of stairs.
- Moving a downed firefighter from a first-floor window.
- Moving a downed firefighter from a second-floor window.
- Moving a downed firefighter from a hole in the floor.
The annexes of NFPA 1407 include a wealth of additional information and recommendations for a fire department or training organization seeking to implement a rapid-intervention training program. This additional information includes recommended tools and equipment, breathing-air-management recommendations, and strategies for preventing heat exhaustion and heat stress.
Chief officers will find that NFPA 1407 has been developed to guide their departments through a process that will train firefighters to effectively perform the hazardous task of locating and removing an injured or trapped firefighter from a structural collapse or other emergency incident. Most chief officers significantly underestimate the complexity, resources and time required to rescue a downed firefighter. To be successful, the fire chief and incident commander must understand the absolute necessity of performing a thorough risk assessment at an emergency incident prior to assigning personnel to interior operations where there is a risk of collapse or entrapment.
In addition, chief officers and incident commanders who make a conscious decision to commit personnel to interior operations must recognize the importance of training their personnel to meet the minimum requirements of NFPA 1407, at the very least.
After reviewing the requirements of the standard, some fire chiefs may decide to reduce or limit their interior operations. The bottom line is that the best rescue to have to conduct is no rescue. But if a rapid-intervention operation must be performed, NFPA 1407 will guide the fire chief in how to achieve the safest and best outcome for all personnel at the emergency scene.
Bill Peterson is the retired fire chief of Plano, Texas, and chair of the NFPA Fire Service Training Technical Committee. Ken Richards Jr. is the fire chief in Old Mystic, Conn., and the chair of the committee’s NFPA 1407 Task Group.