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Rapid Intervention in 2010: Standard of Care for Fire Departments

I received  an email from Aaron Mack, asking a question on rapid intervention.

Chief

I just started reading your book, Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services. This is something I’ve needed to dig into for a while as a firefighter.

One question. Pertaining the use of RIC on the fire ground, is there a document or such that states that RIC must be used at a working fire? I’ve been told by an NFA instructor that the need for RIC has “been tested in court”. My department leaders don’t believe in it but several of us have concerns on the lack of preparedness for a FF down and the misuse of ICS.

Any thoughts?

RESPONSE:

Aaron

Thank you for your email. You bring up a good question.

Several lawsuits have been filed that allege that the failure to have a RIC on the fireground contributed to a firefighter death or injury, and constituted negligence. I am not aware of any jury verdicts on that point, nor any court decisions that definitively state that the lack of a RIC constitutes negligence.

The big question that is more important than whether a court has or has not made a ruling on rapid intervention crews – is whether in 2010 the standard of care that fire departments, chiefs, and incident commanders must meet, requires that a RIC be provided at working structure fires? I believe it does, and that any fire department or firefighter who doesn’t recognize that – is out of touch with the main stream fire service.

In terms of standards and laws, OSHA's Respiratory Protection Standard (29 CFR 1910.134), and in particular 1910.134(g)(4) requires compliance with two-in two-out at structure fires. So by law, there must be at least a two person team standing by outside a working structure fire. Admittedly not every state has to comply with OSHA regulations – but it certainly is evidence of what the reasonably prudent fire department or fire chief would do.

NFPA 1500 mandates the use of rapid intervention crews at structure fires, as well as compliance with two-in two out. In addition, both NFPA 1710 (career) and NFPA 1720 (volunteer and combination) require the use of RICs at structure fires. Again – it may not be law, but it is evidence of what the reasonably prudent fire department or fire chief would do.

It is hard for me to believe that in this day and age there are folks in leadership positions in the fire service – that do not recognize the need for rapid intervention crews. Good luck with trying to convince them. Hopefully it will not take a lawyer in the aftermath of a firefighter fatality, to teach your department leaders a lesson.

Comments - Add Yours

  • Robert Avsec

    Curt,
    In December 2009, the NFPA’s Standards Council approved NFPA Standard 1407, Standard for Training Fire Service Rapid Intervention Crews. (See the on-line article, Saved! New NFPA 1401 Provides a Best-Practices Resource for RIC Operations at FireRescue Magazine February 2010.) The new standard provides guidelines for fire departments to develop RIC policies, procedures, and training. This new standard should do much to enhance the “status” of the RIC as a critical fireground task assignment on par with fire attack, ventilation, laddering, etc. It also becomes another component of the standard of service for structural firefighting. Bob

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p0120a62b3877970c Curt Varone

    Bob
    Good point and a very good starting point for fire departments who are looking for some guidance in how to implement, train and utilize RICs in their day to day operations!

  • John K. Murphy

    There is an old saying related to preparation: “it’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it”
    As attorneys, we look to the avaliable published recommended standards; the community standards; the industry standards and any case law. If RIC is the standard, then fire departments will be held to that standard. When a deceased or injured firefighter’s family looks to an attorney for assistance in enforcing this RIC standard, then we have failed in our duty to prepare our departments for a firefighter rescue.
    RIC is part of operational ICS and it is a valuable resource when firefighters go missing or MAYDAY for assistance.

  • http://www.workinjuryie.com/occupational-disease/ Occupational Injury 

    In the United States in 2007, 5,488 workers died from job injuries,and 49,000 died from work-related injuries.NIOSH estimates that 4 million workers in the U.S. in 2007 suffered from non-fatal work related injuries or illnesses.The most usual organs involved are the spine, hands, the head, lungs, eyes, skeleton, and skin. According to data from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an average of 15 workers die from traumatic injuries each day in the United States, and an additional 200 workers are hospitalized.Common causes of industrial injury are poor ergonomics, manual handling of heavy loads, misuse or failure of equipment, exposure to general hazards, inadequate safety training and clothing, jewellery or long hair that becomes tangled in machinery.General hazards in a work environment include electricity, explosive materials, fire, flammable gases, heat, height, high pressure gases and liquids, hot gases and liquids, powerful or sharp moving machinery, oxygen-free gases or spaces, poisonous gases, radiation, toxic materials, work on, near or under water, work on, near or under weak or heavy structures.

  • http://www.workinjuryie.com/occupational-disease/ Occupational Injury

    In the United States in 2007, 5,488 workers died from job injuries,and 49,000 died from work-related injuries.NIOSH estimates that 4 million workers in the U.S. in 2007 suffered from non-fatal work related injuries or illnesses.The most usual organs involved are the spine, hands, the head, lungs, eyes, skeleton, and skin. According to data from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an average of 15 workers die from traumatic injuries each day in the United States, and an additional 200 workers are hospitalized.Common causes of industrial injury are poor ergonomics, manual handling of heavy loads, misuse or failure of equipment, exposure to general hazards, inadequate safety training and clothing, jewellery or long hair that becomes tangled in machinery.General hazards in a work environment include electricity, explosive materials, fire, flammable gases, heat, height, high pressure gases and liquids, hot gases and liquids, powerful or sharp moving machinery, oxygen-free gases or spaces, poisonous gases, radiation, toxic materials, work on, near or under water, work on, near or under weak or heavy structures.

  • Mike

    I volunteer in a 80 plus member department. I would like to know is there any update if a department doesnt use RIT. Has there been departments successfully sued? Has the Chief / Incident Commander been held accountable legally for not having one? I personally feel its a safety issue and automatically removes the issue of who is doing the rescue of a firefighter. My current chiefs dont believe in it for some ungodly reason. Any assistance in documentation to show them not only is it safety for the firefighters on the fireground but its also keeping them out of a legal jam.

    • http://firelawblog.com Curt Varone

      Mike

      Your question seems simple – but it is anything but. Also looking back at my original answer – I think I didn't really think it all the way through.

      First of all, think about what you mean by "successfully sued"? Do you mean a jury awarding damages solely because of RIT? Not gonna happen… Focusing on a jury verdict to justify the need for a RIT is the wrong way to look this entire area. 

      Most LODD are the result of a series of failures… sometimes dozens of failures. Juries are not asked to say why a defendant was negligent – just that the defendant was negligent. So unless the ONLY thing that a FD did wrong was not have a RIT (highly unlikely) and it caused the LODD… there would not be a jury verdict such as the one you are looking for. Also – what about settlements? While it may be next to impossible to have a jury rule solely on the lack of RIT being negligence – it would be totally impossible to reach that conclusion in a settlement situation.

      Have LODDs resulted in lawsuits? Yes… obviously… I currently have 111 suits in my database.

      Has the lack of a RIT been alleged as a factor in some/manycases? Yes – but at some level it is hard to discern whether they are pure RIT cases, or 2 in 2 out cases. Many of the complaints do not specifically allege a violation of RIT requirement even though it is cited in the NIOSH report. They just say the FD was negligent.

      In terms of a case – the recent Buffalo case was premised on a 2 in 2 out violation (among alot of other factors). Its settled in the $4million plus range. No jury verdict… Losts of allaegations besides 2 in 2 out violations.

      I suppose the short answer is – yes there are cases where the lack of a RIT was a factor in the decision – but it is virtually impossible to isolate that one issue. Usually when a FD does not have a RIT they are doing alot of other things wrong as well – and those other things may also factor into the outcome – at the fire and in the courtroom.

      My advice to a fire department (or the FD's insurer) where the FD  failed to assign a RIT as required in NFPA 1500 and OSHA,  and the result was a LODD – would be to write a check. There is no point in going to court to have a judge and jury tell you the obvious.

      Chiefs who don't understand the need for RIT… Well… I would assume they are doing so many other things wrong that RIT may not even be the worst of it!!! It's like the old saying about ignorance and compound ignorance.