The DEBRiS acronym has been developed by the MFB to as a practical tool that supports decontamination and control of firefighters on the fireground. It has a fundamental role to play in regulating fire scene management and safety practices across a wide spectrum of emergencies, from car to major factory fires.
In recent years the MFB has faced a series of challenges related to the contamination of Firefighters and appliances from the release of friable asbestos at fires. Consequently, a series of measures were introduced which strengthened existing procedures and risk management requirements. But more recently, it became evident that the risk exceeds the boundaries of asbestos contamination. It also includes contamination from any fire that produces off gassing from the products of normal combustibles. The events that create these circumstances can include everything from factory fires to house fires, from car fires to the average dump master fire.
Off gassing from the contaminants created by normal combustion has always been a problem and most fire services have strategies to limit the risk. These might include the creation of hot, warm and cold zones, mandates for BA use during overhaul, down to the use of P2 masks that limit exposure to particulates. But, more recently there is a growing awareness that fire by-product exposure is not limited to the general environment of a fire scene. It can also be generated by the pollutants attached to firefighter PPC. With this in mind, in 2016 a group of MFB Operations Commanders commenced a field trial to measure fire contaminant off gassing from firefighter PPC. The trial also included an onsite decontamination process designed to reduce the risk created by this hazard.
The trial lasted for three months and involved field PID (Photo Ionisation Detector) testing of the PPC of BA wearers after they had exited the fire’s hot zone. Water spray and brush off decontamination was then performed before the PID test was repeated.
There is little doubt that the trial lacked scientific rigour. But the results were nevertheless significant, and very interesting. Most importantly, they pointed to the need to implement a decontamination process at all fires where firefighters are exposed to smoke.
During the trial it also became evident that any solution to PPC contamination could not be mutually exclusive of other scene management processes. The approach taken to decontamination had to be reflected in every activity undertaken on the fireground. This was not about IMT structures. It was about sector management practice and the integration of several fire scene activities into a scalable, coherent and consistent process (see diagram right).
Underlying this was a view about the way that operations are typically conducted on the fireground. Our perspective was that culture, training and psychology influences firefighters to focus their activities through a tactical lens that emphasises controlling a fire and then putting it out. RECEO underpins this lens and it can be argued that historically, incident control training for officers was heavily weighted toward these tactical objectives. Whilst safety was important, the treatment of support tasks was not given the same emphasis or procedural discipline training as activities that focussed on successful fire control outcomes. The decontamination trial revealed this, but it also pointed to the solution.
We postulated that fire attack strategy and tactics usually get established in a structured, methodical manner at most incidents. Meanwhile, support tasks occurring in the Cold Zone are often not set up with the same coordinated intent, lack efficiency or are not set up at all. But, better control of these matters would create exceptional efficiency and safety enhancements. So, while the original intent of the trial revolved around decontamination, that initial focus morphed into the development of a fireground personnel management concept. Thus DEBRiS was born.
DEBRiS is process driven. It’s fundamental tenet is that an Incident Controller needs to concentrate their attention in two equally important directions. An operation can no longer be deemed successful unless both are attended to. For an incident to be managed effectively, there has to be an ongoing flow of personnel around the fireground so that sufficient resources are constantly fed into the Hot Zone (see diagram below). The underpinning philosophy is that fire attack strategy and support mechanisms cannot be mutually exclusive of each other if operational success is to be achieved.
Such an approach however , is not without cost. It must have robust supporting doctrine along with the availability of adequate human and physical resources. In practice, this means more management staff and equipment to ensure that each stage of the DEBRiS workflow is properly resourced and able to achieve its objective.
Having said that, DEBRiS is quite scalable. Depending on the complexity of an incident, zones can be added or dropped off as required. Alternately, these zones can be enlarged and made more complex so as to suit the needs of the incident.
DEBRiS is implemented by and operates in close consultation with the IC and Operations Officer. As incident complexity increases, a DEBRiS Sector Commander will be appointed to oversee the operation of each Zone and ensure that good communication with other Sector Commanders is maintained. The key objective is to ensure that DEBRiS functions properly in the cold zone to suppport the needs of operations occurring in the Warm and Hot Zones. It does this by ensuring that there are sufficient numbers of firefighters ready to be deployed as required. This readiness includes not just fresh firefighters arriving on scene to the Staging Zone, but also recycled firefighters who have previously been working within the Warm Zone. They need to be adequately decontaminated, monitored, and rested so that in terms of safety, they are ready to recommence work.
To achieve these outcomes DEBRiS is established at an incident as a sequential set of stations that firefighters must pass through upon exit from or entry to the hot zone:
This is a strategically located sector at which decontamination by water spray and brushing removes contaminants and embedded gasses from firefighter PPC.
All firefighters passing out of or into the Warm Zone must be logged through this sector. This is crucial location in terms of firefighter accountability.
BA Service is a well understood principle in fire services. Firefighters take their decontaminated BA’s to this location for cylinder replacement, mask washing etc.
At a two pumper car fire, the rehabilitation sector might consist of a shady tree and a bottle of water. At a house fire, the process escalates to include the attendance of Ambulance Victoria and a Rehabilitation Van. At a major fire, a complete rehabilitation habitat may be set up that includes shelters, seating, paramedic teams and possibly the MFB doctor.
Staging is the link between the firefighting Sectors and the firefighter resource capacity captured in the cold zone. The Staging Sector Officer has direct radio communication with the other sectors and feeds in fresh firefighters on an as requested basis. The key to this is to have the resources at hand and ready for tasking.
You might notice that Accountability is out of sync in this discussion of the DEBRiS Acronym. That is because Accountability is not a sector, it is a concept. The process driven approach of DEBRiS has at its heart the idea that as fireground managers, we need to know where personnel are at any given time during an incident. But equally, we need to know that they are actually supposed to be at a particular location. On this basis, one of the key tenets of DEBRiS is that firefighters are logged into and out of every location they attend.
The DEBRiS model does not require a great many new skills to be taught. This is because it primarily involves the integration of several incident activities that are all well understood by firefighters and employed as standard operating procedures. DEBRiS pulls many of these together into a coherent package; a program of process and objectivity has been applied to ensure that they occur consecutively, meet specific criteria and enable progression to each successive stage.
On this basis, the training package is fairly brief and involves instruction and scenario based sessions supported by practical drills. The package is relevant to all rank levels, but is tailored to suit particular roles and responsibilities on the fireground.
DEBRiS has been embraced by the MFB as a significant step forward in fireground safety and scene management. With this in mind, the concept will be trialled across all MFB Platoons and Fire Districts for a twelve month period, with training to commence in January 2019. There is every confidence that within the next 12 months DEBRiS will become standard fireground practice within the MFB. Hopefully it will also be seen as an exemplar of good practice in the Australian Fire service Community.
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