The 3 Strike Rule

August 31, 2017

Whenever firefighters commit to an interior attack of a structure fire, it is important that they remain aware of the constantly changing hazardous environment. Prior to entering the structure, they should evaluate the observable conditions and make a mental note to serve as a baseline comparison within the environment.

Remember that under adverse conditions, modern PPE has the capability to shield (or conceal) the environment from a firefighter who is likely focused on fireground activities. Therefore, if a baseline has been established prior to entering a hostile environment, then the process of being able to evaluate the changing conditions (in some cases separate from PPE) can be simplified.

The 3 Strike Rule is based on the co-principles of firefighter safety and risk assessment. After firefighters have made a mental note of the baseline conditions, this rule is used to evaluate and assess the changing conditions.

Fireground personnel making an interior attack should be looking for these “watch out” conditions:

• Strike One – – Smoke with heat. Remember that smoke with heat has a greater inclination to flash and burn than cooler smoke.
• Strike Two – – Less than acceptable visibility. What is your definition of acceptable visibility? For this discussion, the practical definition is “If necessary, you can find your way out of a problem in a timely manner.”
• Strike Three – – The environment is not improving. If a mental note of the conditions were noted before entering the environment, and 5, 10, or 15 minutes later the conditions have not improved or are deteriorating, then it should be obvious that the concept of risk analysis should be re-evaluated.

Let’s apply the 3 Strike Rule to a simple scenario. Assume that you are about to enter a commercial structure with a pike pole for the purpose of pulling ceilings to find an overhead fire. Just as you enter the structure, you observe the interior conditions consist of moderate smoke, heat, and visibility.

As the visibility is moderate, it takes several minutes to locate the area of the overhead fire. While trying to pull the ceiling material, it becomes apparent the level of heat is increasing and visibility is decreasing. As the ceiling material is difficult to pull down, you continue to expend a significant amount of energy and time to accomplish your task even though several other firefighters are assisting you with the stubborn ceiling.

After several more difficult minutes, you now notice visibility has changed from moderate to non-existent (strike one), the level of heat has significantly increased (strike two), and although your low air alarm has not activated, you are able to determine you have about 1,100 psi of air left in your SCBA. In addition to these conditions, you begin to contemplate what path you will take to exit the structure as you cannot see and you made multiple turns to arrive at your current location (strike three).

From this simple scenario it should be apparent that the fictional firefighter should reflect on the amount of time that will be necessary to safely exit the structure! Notice that this scenario does not focus on immediately leaving the structure, but challenges the firefighter to consider the prospect of being able to exit the structure in a safe manner as opposed to exiting the structure with insufficient air and/or being caught in a flashover and becoming a national statistic.

By John Mittendorf

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