On March 14, 2001 the Phoenix (AZ) Fire Department lost firefighter Brett Tarver at the Southwest Supermarket fire. In that event, it was 5:00 in the afternoon, the grocery store was full of people and fire was extending through the building. Phoenix E14 was assigned to the interior of the structure to complete the search, get any people out, and attempt to confine the rapidly spreading fire to the rear of the structure. Shortly after completing their primary search of the building the Captain decided it was time to get out. Tarver and the other members of Engine 14 were exiting the building when Tarver and his partner got lost.
The engineer (driver) was leading the group following the attack line they had brought into the supermarket fire, followed by Tarver and his partner, with the company officer being the last person to begin the long crawl out of the smoke filled structure. At some point Tarver and his partner got off the hose line and moved deeper in the supermarket fire away from their only exit. Early on during the exit attempt through maze like conditions Tarver and his partner basically turned left instead of right. Not knowing this the company officer continued to crawl out of the building thinking his whole crew was ahead of him on the attack line. Tarver and his partner crawled deeper into the fire occupancy eventually ending up in the butcher shop area where they eventually became separated.

Based on radio reports of deteriorating conditions inside the building from E14 and other companies the Incident Commander (IC) considered a switch to a defensive strategy and started the process of pulling all crews out of the structure. During this process Tarver radioed the IC telling him that he was lost in the back of the building. The IC deployed two companies as Rapid Intervention Crews (RICs) through the front access point to no avail.
Other companies coming to their rescue through the back room area of the supermarket later rescued Tarver's partner. After several unsuccessful rescue attempts, Tarver succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning from the acrid smoke and was eventually removed from the building as a full code. Trying to remove the 260-pound firefighter was nearly impossible for rescue team members. Outside, the resuscitation efforts failed.

During the rescue efforts there were more than twelve (12) mayday's issued by firefighters trying to make the rescue. On this tragic day, one other firefighter (attempting to rescue Tarver) was removed in respiratory arrest and was later resuscitated by fire department paramedics on the scene.

Over the next year (The Recovery), the department systematically reviewed its standard operating procedures and fireground operational activities at the strategic (command), tactical (sector) and task (company) levels of the entire organization in an attempt to prevent such a tragic event from ever happening again to the Phoenix Fire Department. One of the many significant questions that was asked was why didn't the rapid intervention concept work? Immediately after the fire the Phoenix Fire Department reviewed its Rapid Intervention and Mayday standard operating procedures (SOPs). Based on drills, training and the data acquired through those drills, in the year following the incident the standard concept of a rapid intervention is now being challenged.

It is now evident that rapid intervention isn't rapid. (Reference: Excerpts from the original article by Steve Kreis and FireTimes.com, LLC. http://www.firetimes.com/printStory.asp?FragID=8399 )

In the wake of the 2001 Southwest Supermarket Fire and LODD of FF Brett Tarver, the Phoenix (AZ) Fire Department issued a comprehensive report of the incident and the lessons learned and research conducted by the FD.

If you have never heard about this incident and never read the report, take the time to do so and understand that the concepts of RIT and FAST are made up of far more elements, considerations and more importantly realities of what you think you can do versus what you may be actually able to do.

Take a look at the NIOSH report of recommendations also. After reading the reports, take a close look at your organization, your personnel and your training and your capabilities and ask your self if you are truly able to perform the necessary RIT/FAST operations or do you have a ways to go to better prepare, train and ensure you’re able to undertake the job.


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It's amazing that this one never got commented on. Worth another look.
Oh my God!!! That had to be the worst feeling in the world for all involved. I have noticed that it takes alot of time from the time of calling MAYDAY to the time that the firefighter is actually out of the building. It reminds me of the video from Huston where the Capt. was trapped. I think it was something like 24 mins. from the time he called for help to the time they got him out. This video sent chills down my spine and I hope it's something I, or anyone else for that matter, never have to face.

Stay safe brothers and sisters!!!

We use this example and several others, along with the Phoenix and Montgomery County RIT studies in our in-house RIT class. We teach all of the NFPA 1407 RIT training skills - both individual and team - but we stress that if you have to call a MAYDAY that you can't count on RIT getting to you or getting you out in time, especially in big box, high rise, or other large or heavily subdivided structures.

MAYDAYS are the classic example of an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure.
In my due (and mutual aid response) area there are 4 big box supermarkets, numerous strip malls, a huge shopping center (smaller stores/restaurants), a big box department store and big box electronics store, not to mention a few car dealerships in the area. Everyone of them presents problems not unlike the one in Phoenix. Although all are relatively new and most are sprinklered, I shudder to think of what we would be up against in a situation similar to the Southwest Supermarket fire. RIT/RIC is something that exists here only on paper.
I'm not sure what you mean by big box but if it refers to the amount of resources needed to mitigate the scene, then we have a few. We have a handful of factories that we cover. 2 of them are pretty good size. Then we have an old lumber yard and store that has been turned into an antiques mall. The worse part about this place is that the railroad still has a siding into this place that they store tank cars full of ethanol on. We run here 2 or 3 times a year on an alarm call. Our neighboring dept. to the north has an entire industrial complex with factories that could end up with the same outcome as the southwest supermarket.If there is ever a working fire in this part of town, we will be there. That was proven in 2003 when a tire recycling plant caught fire and burned for 3 days before being buried under tons of dirt.
Also important to note is how much more resources are needed when a MAYDAY is called. "Two in two out" is a nice catchy term, but in reality even a 4 people on a RIT team isn't really enough, let alone 2 people. Other factors are that despite the rescue operations, crews still have to be committed to firefighting. It can be very easy to want to detract from a task because of a MAYDAY.

As Ben also mentions MAYDAY training is very important and imperative and along with that should be self-rescue, look for egress, activate PASS and so forth, being prepared ahead of time so that if ever in such a situation, one can perform as trained. I have seen many MAYDAY type of training involving nothing more than maybe watch a video and then say this is how we will do it, or calling the MAYDAY without full PPE on, on air and so forth. A whole different experience being in gear vs no gear.

I also included a link from our LODD and NIOSH report. Ours was a large residential home, lightweight construction, where 2 FF's fell through the floor, one got out one didn't. Along with MAYDAY training it is also imperative to train in RIT operations as well and to be a proactive RIT on the fireground. While one doesn't want to experience a MAYDAY for real, from personal experience, one doesn't want to be on that RIT team either. Best way to know how to act in either situation is to train, learn from these reports and never, ever, once think it can't happen to you. No is truly no other shittier feeling than to hear a "MAYDAY" for real.

I'm not sure what you mean by big box

Big box stores....usually a type 2 building, large open interior, such as a Wal-Mart, Home Depot, most supermarkets. Some may have tilt up concrete walls and maybe flat roofs, but the interior is pretty much open where there isn't a need for interior supporting walls.
The southwest supermarket fire was covered in our RIT training. We were fortunate that we were able to train in a slightly different version of the big box... an office building with cubicles. It was an eye opener for all.
Our department has recently trained on RIT and incorporated air management along with it. RIT is not an easy task to accomplish. There are certain traits that need to be known of each member before being placed on that team. Air management, strength, ability and knowledge of the equipment and the task itself.

In the Phoenix FD study and drills they found out that it's truly not rapid, and I too was surprise of the average time it took to find and, to recover a firefighter.

If you think about it you are sending a team into a hostile setting to recover one of theirs. That team stills needs to remember that bad things are still going on around them, and to be aware of that while on their mission. It's hard to stay focus, because all they want to do is find their brother or sister. John C said it best, don't think it cant happen to your department! Train---train---and train till you get it, and your brother or sister!
Ah, I see. Basically a nightmare due to no walls to follow for a rapid egress, right?
Cap, that's part of the big box problem. Other problems are:

Potential for heavy fuel loads.

No physicial barriers to rapid fire and smoke spread.

Flashover can cover huge areas.

Fire can travel a long way in the overhead without detection.

Difficult forcible entry problems, especially on Side C.

Potential for entanglement in stock. (Wal Mart bicycle rack, for example)

Potential for high-rack storage to fall on you (home improvment stores)

Hazardous materials releases (paint, pesticides, fertilizers, cleaning chemicals)

Long travel routes to exits

Air management problems - If your low air alarm sounds, you probably don't have enough air to make it out.

Long hose stretches.

Large volume fire flows required.

Limited horizontal ventilation without breaching masonry walls.

Vertical ventilation is difficult and small holes are inadequate.

Just finding a missing firefighter in one of these when it is full of smoke is a nightmare, even with a thermal imager. Getting him out is another story altogether.
Right on target Ben....

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