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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I shop at a variety of big box stores, and some of the time I actually look past the Halloween/Christmas decoration displays, the discounted "last summer's swim wear" and the wine shelves...some of the time.
John, I can think of one other more fecally intense feeling than to hear a real MAYDAY.
That would be having a MAYDAY and not being able to make a successful rescue.

Here's what I found one day while "browsing" with the wife at a "big box"...Door placard states Type V construction for the Roof... unfortunetly this is a Type II, NC truss roof....
we just disscused this fire yesterday in a firegound tactics and strategy class. Our instructor has talked with one of the rit members that was at this fire. He said there main problem wsas that while they had an sop and rope rescue supplies, they never trained on them. So when the time came that they needed them they had the tools but not the ability to use them effectivly. I think this is a huge are for improvment in many fire departments. It is great to have the tools and initial training, but dose little good if you don't constantly train on them.

John, I can think of one other more fecally intense feeling than to hear a real MAYDAY.
That would be having a MAYDAY and not being able to make a successful rescue.

Yes, it is a very shitty feeling, because the coulda, woulda, shoulda thoughts come more into play and despite what other people say, there is a sense of letting people down.
That's why the training is imperative and so is a proactive approach, the feelings are still there but it helps to sleep at night knowing you did do everything you could.
I have cited the Brunicini charged, Tarver Phoenix Study for years. It is part of our RIT program along with pretty much all the other high profile LODD ones that had bigger public reports.

Another thing not mentioned here in the "big box store concept" was the SW Supermarket Store (the building) itself was a re-fit and built pre-codes. They had a hidden cockloft, fire went undetected for quite some time by interior crews before identified and not constructed with what some have posted for pictures.

You have to realize that at the time of fit-up Phoenix was expanding rapidly, they kept expanding the city limits as the city grew. This structure was not the typical big box store of today.

The other critical factor and Chief Kriess from Phoenix stressed, that they were in transition from offensive to defensive when the mayday operation was identified and ongoing due to rapidily deteriorating conditions.

Great study... with tons of information to absorb, like 1 in every 5 RIT members will call their own Mayday if not resolved quickly and it takes on average 12 to rescue 1.

The next step after the firefighters being trained on how to operate as a RIT is to train the Command Staff that oooo too often get overlooked, and almost everytime cited, poor ICS, span of control, communications, accountability, staffing, training, education....

I use the Houston near miss video for classic examples of an un-trained firefighter who needs to call a mayday as well as what not to do in command during one in my Mayday Management for Incident Command - Strategic Considerations Class.
You are absolutly correct: ..."that they were in transition from offensive to defensive when the mayday operation was identified and ongoing due to rapidily deteriorating conditions". The best advise I always give out to those who are not aware of this event and its lessons...is to read the report.....
thanks for your continued involvment and particpation in quality discussions and postings...
Thanks for resurrecting this discussion. These reports need to be required reading material for all firefighters.
Great study... with tons of information to absorb, like 1 in every 5 RIT members will call their own Mayday if not resolved quickly and it takes on average 12 to rescue 1.

Absolutely...that is what we took out of this too.

I would say this about a RIT operation.....You are going into conditions that you normally would not because the worse thing that could happen on a fireground just happened. Training is imperative and important to know that it typically takes many more people for a RIT operation than what is typically just standing by. These are important studies to learn from and to address the issues on a personal level.
Thanks Chris,

I chose this LODD on my own years ago for a college class.

Operational mode was a huge factor.... command had begun the tactical change over and we could easily miss or be delayed the idenitifcation of a mayday which actually happened.

The hidden cockloft fire was also a huge factor as the open bar joist was covered with light plywood. As well as the trusses were spread out more than what they would be today. (loading)

As far as command and control, PFD changed the RIT response cards and command staffing after the study. The communications model was overloaded, command suffered and control as well. I saw photos of a firefighter trying to go back in with an airpack without a turnout coat post Mayday call.
My thanks go to Jack/dt , who on October 16, 2009 at 7:16pm posted..
It's amazing that this one never got commented on. Worth another look.

I originally posted this on August 16, 2008 (Last year) ..with no replies..
Lots of good dialog and discussions this time out....THANKS everyone..hopefully some of our "newer" member will read these posts and comments and learn from the past....( No more history repeating events)
There was a lot to learn for everyone. I spoke to many of those directly involved in the post analysis and report...again, we need to Learn from the past....

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