Soften the Structure: A Rapid Intervention Company Safety Solution


Blog by Ed Hadfield

Firefighters are injured and killed in structure fires at an alarming rate. According to the NFPA, residential structure fires account for 79 percent of all occupancy fires in America. With that said, as Incident Commanders, we often fail to recognize the importance of providing a Softening Solution on our residential structure fires. In this article I will explain the importance of:

>> Structure Identification
>> RIC Assessment
>> Access and Egress Portal Softening Techniques
>> Portal Identification
>> Softening Techniques on Residential Structures

For the last few years, fire service agencies across America have done an adequate job addressing the issue of Rapid Intervention and the use of Rapid Intervention Company (RIC). However, we still find fire service organizations fail to utilize the RIC in a proactive fashion.

As Incident Commanders and Rapid Intervention Group Supervisors, it is important to recognize the primary goal of identifying and removing all potential hazards on the fire ground in an effort to reduce the chances of deployment.

In the event of an RIC deployment, the keys to success are: firefighter identification, location of the down firefighter, and the reason for entrapment. Once those factors have been established, the quickest access route and egress portal must be identified and used if the down firefighter is to be found in a sufficient amount of time. This should be done prior to the MAYDAY being called, and well planned by the RIC.

Structure Identification:
Structures typically fall into the following categories:

>> Residential
>> Commercial
>> Industrial
>> High-Rise

Each structure type also has a number of different groups. Therefore, we must break our occupancies into both structure type and group. For example, the residential structure has multiple groups including: residential single story, residential multi-story, multi-family habitations and the ever increasing residential care facility. Each group presents various hazards associated with the firefighting operations that must be addressed by the RIC team during their softening phase.

Additionally, any structure that is heavily secured or has multiple protected openings should be declared a high-density structure. This declaration gives clear direction to RIC personnel and a warning to all other personnel that are operating in or on the structure itself.

RIC Assessment:
Once the RIC has conducted primary structure identification, their initial actions to soften the structure should begin.

The RIC needs to assess the primary access portal, determine the number of personnel interior the occupancy, and address the primary portal for known hazards. Typical known hazards in this situation include the rather small orifice of the access portal given the number of personnel that have entered it, the potential of access portal closure, and lastly the lack of lighting at the access portal itself. All access and egress portals on any structure need to be addressed in this fashion.

Access and Egress Portal Softening Techniques:
For the purpose of the article, we will assume that personnel have responded to a large two-story residential structure that is considered a high-density structure, meaning it has multiple protected openings. Given this scenario, your company is assigned RIC responsibilities. Again, the goal of RIC is not only the protection of those personnel assigned to the incident, but you are also tasked with providing them support in the event of a civilian rescue. One of the best methods of support in this instance is to soften the structure for all personnel and RIC operations.

Portal Identification:
Once we have arrived on scene and identified this as a high-density structure, the next actions are to identify the primary access portal, determine which companies have entered this area, as well as determine approximately how many personnel are operating inside the occupancy.

For example, let’s say the first-due company went in the structure with a 1hose line after forcing the security screen door and the inward swinging front door.

As a softening technique, your goal would be the elimination of the security screen door from the structure and removal of the front door completely from the occupancy. First, utilizing a rotary saw cut the security screen door off its hinges and remove it completely from the occupancy. This will leave only the metal frame, which is lag-bolted into the occupancy itself. Then with your Halligan bar; pry the inward swinging front door out of the door frame at the hinge points. Once you have completed this task, drop a box light approximately 18 inches on the inside wall with the light shining across the floor area.

Next, you must identify the area of most danger to interior personnel. By conducting a structure assessment, you are looking for the area of greatest pressurization and generation of smoke. This is a general indicator of where the main body of fire may be located.

Given this is a two-story occupancy, it is safe to assume personnel will be working on the second floor conducting search operations, checking for extensions, and potentially engaging in firefighting operations.

At this point, personnel must be assigned to remove any protected opening from the upstairs windows or balcony doors. As part of an RIC assignment, it is imperative that you pay particular attention to the first-arriving officer’s size-up. When he/she has indicated they are on scene of a two-story residential occupancy that is a high-density structure, it should give you clear direction to bring a ladder as part of your RIC tool complement. Once the bars or other security devices have been removed, attempt to force the opening without breaking the glass. Unless horizontal ventilation is being requested, the glass will remain intact, but the opening should be forced to provide interior personnel with an egress portal that will allow for a rapid egress should it be required. Again, the key is to work from the area of greatest risk to interior personnel back to the area of least danger. Typically, this is the area where the initial attack has been made.

Lastly, once you have cleared a protected opening, it is important to immediately sweep and search inside that particularly opening. Much like the technique of Vent-Enter- Search, this technique includes Force-Sweep/Search-light-identify. As we all know, civilians will usually attempt to leave a burning structure. Given that fact, as you soften the structure, you will be accessing areas that interior crews may not be capable of searching immediately. Therefore, as part of your softening task, you could likely come across a civilian rescue just inside the door you are forcing for your brother firefighter.

The technique of Force-Sweep/Search-Light-Identify includes creating the access/egress point, placing a foot on the door jam or frame fanning out with your body and Halligan bar, and sweeping/searching the area of the portal for anyone that may be in the immediate vicinity. Multiple civilians have been located through utilization of this technique. Following your forcible entry or softening operations, a rapid search/sweep should be conducted. After an all-clear is accomplished, provide some lighting to the access/egress portal.

Finally, clearly identify to all companies operating inside which division or area has been softened, searched, and cleared.

The key element of any RIC operation is to remember, Any RIC deployment is a defining moment. The contents of this article clearly identify a change in the methodology and operations of most RIC operations. These operations are taking RIC operational set- up procedures, forcing you to think outside-the-box of conventional RIC wisdom.

Remember that 79 percent of all fires occur in residential structures. Of those, a majority of all firefighter fatalities occur in these seemingly benign fires. Dont let the routine fire become the one that takes the life of your brother or sister.

About the Author
Ed Hadfield has more than 26 years of fire service experience after rising through the ranks from firefighter to division chief. He is a frequent speaker on leadership, sharing his experiences within the fire service and also with corporate and civic leaders throughout the United States. For more on Hadfield, please check online at

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