By John Morse
Poor communication and weak accountability systems have meant trouble for firefighters for years. Those days of firefighters grabbing a tool and charging into a building by themselves are gone. Off duty firefighters showing up and going to work without checking in at a command post are thankfully gone as well. The Two In Two out rule has helped to put these unsafe practices in the past.
The Two in Two out rule can be simplified to say that when operating at a structure fire there must be a minimum of two firefighters on a crew. The “two in” firefighters must be working together and be able to communicate between each other without the use of a portable radio at all times. For those two firefighters working inside the structure there must be “two out”-side firefighters equally equipped ready to help. Several years ago it was common to see firefighters operating individually, and in some instances without the incident commander knowing what they were doing.The visual incident commander on the outside was not a part of the picture because the highest ranking officer was also operating inside the fire with no one left outside monitoring the building conditions or tracking crews at work.
The first accountability system I was introduced to involved a wooden board that was used to hold a numbered brass tag. Each person would place a tag on the board to show they were present. That board was only intended to be used in the event of an emergency and spent most of its time tucked away in a compartment on a rig. Today accountability starts at the beginning of the shift when a command board is filled out listing each person working and their assignment. As mutual aid apparatus arrive on scene the names and assignments of all of those firefighters are added to the command board. Instead of being stuffed in a compartment this board is prominently displayed and monitored at the command post.
A common short cut used by some departments is to allow firefighters to work alone as long as they are in radio contact. The two in two out rule specifically addresses this issue because firefighters that get in trouble may not be able to use a radio and technical issues with radios might also cause trouble. Firefighters should always work in teams and not ever separate. With decreasing manpower a lot of departments are adopting the practice of combining crews to accomplish a task. I don’t have an issue with combining crews, but a crew should never be split. You should always stay with the crew you arrived with, no exceptions. Nothing good will ever some from splitting up a crew.
I have seen one timid company officers use the two in two out rule to justify not going into a burning building. Other than this instance I think the two in two out rule has made firefighting safer. It is really a very simple concept that should be followed without needing a special rule. It can all be simplified in a few statements. Don’t ever go into a fire without a partner and stay close enough to ensure you don’t get separated. Make sure you are completing the assignment you were given, and only take direction from an authorized officer. Stay together, stay in the plan, and stay safe.