2021 Rescue Survey, Chief Brush, The Cultural Shift for 2022, Chief Isakson

2021: The Year of The Rescue

By Chief Brian Brush

The Firefighter Rescue Survey has collected information on the rescues of civilians on the fireground by firefighters since 2016. Then in 2021 a new mission began for the Firefighter Rescue Survey; find out how many rescues U.S. firefighters make every year.

The strategy for this mission was to mirror the collection process that the United States Fire Administration (USFA) uses to determine the number of civilian home fire fatalities in the United States. The USFA searches and collects news reports from across the country every 24 hours and finds actual stories of residential fires with deaths.

From January 1st, 2021, to March 31st, 2021, the Firefighter Rescue Survey became part of a practicum project known as the “2021 Fireground Civilian Rescue Research Project”. For the remaining nine months of 2021, the Firefighter Rescue Survey team collected reports of civilian rescues performed by firefighters on the fireground from search engine alerts and submissions to the Firefighter Rescue Survey Facebook Group.

The combined efforts of this mission found that firefighters rescued 2,173 civilians in the United States in 2021, and we received 651 completed rescue surveys during the same time, resulting in a 30% rate of detailed data collection. Over the lifetime of the Firefighter Rescue Survey, we have collected 2,402 surveys, with 757 completed in 2021.

Until 2021 the fire service did not have a comprehensively accurate data collection method to represent the truth and capture fire service wins. Our survey and its results are the best tools for quantifying and qualifying the reality of how firefighters are completing civilian rescues on the fireground. Today, with over 2,000 surveys collected and sorted by the Firefighter Rescue Survey team, a solid data set has been developed to help drive training, policy, and procedure regarding locating and removing civilian fire victims.

What is a Civilian Fire Fatality?

Civilian fire fatalities are only deaths, and the survival rate data is 0%. Civilian fire fatality information from the USFA is primarily static, victim location, age, and the presence of smoke detectors.

What is a Rescue?

Firefighter Rescue Survey defines a rescue as removing a civilian from a fire environment by a firefighter that requires firefighting equipment and personal protective equipment. The rescue is the opportunity to remove a civilian from a dangerous environment to another place for evaluation, treatment, or protection by Firefighters.

Rescues, removals, or the assisted evacuations of civilians performed by the police or neighbors do not qualify as a rescue. Therefore those statistics are not used or found within the Firefighter Rescue Survey data set.


Why is this Important?

Context is critical to clarifying and understanding the difference between the civilian fire fatality data from the United States Fire Administration (USFA) and the data collected through the Firefighter Rescue Survey. One key element has been missing throughout fire service statistics and data collection history. There has not been a defined estimate, method, or metric tracking the number of civilians rescued on the fireground by firefighters.

The numbers represented in our survey are rescues; they are not resuscitations. Not all rescued parties are injured, and not all rescued victims survive. For the 651 Firefighter Rescue Surveys completed from incidents in 2021, 449 reported the victim was alive at the time of the report. The survival rate of those rescued victims equaled 69%. By applying the survival rate of 69% to the 2,173 total rescues in 2021, one can conclude that the direct actions of firefighters’ saved 1500 civilian lives.

The information collected from the survey is both static and dynamic. The data points are operational and time-lined; conditions upon arrival, initial assignments, conditions at the victim, removal method, time of removal. Now more than ever, the opportunity to match findings to operations ensures we better prepare firefighters for better civilian outcomes.


2016 - 351, 2017 - 237

2018 - 302, 2019 - 293

2020 - 350, 2021 - 757



2022 Rescue Resolution

The Firefighter Rescue Survey team recorded 2,173 fireground civilian rescues by firefighters in 2021. These rescues represent an average of 6 civilians rescued through the direct actions of firefighters every day. We believe that this number is conservative and that the overall number of rescues is underreported. For example, California has a population of 40 million people, and in 2021 109 fireground civilian rescues were reported in the news.

Ohio has 11.5 million people and had 146 fireground civilian rescues reported in the news. When the tracking source for rescues is news reports, the news cycle limits the numbers. Please ensure your fire departments use their chiefs, public information officers, and social media platforms to report rescues publicly, so the fire service’s successes are not limited to headline time.

The Firefighter Rescue Survey database is growing in-depth and in detail, and this continues to support the likelihood of success in fireground operations. As impressive as 2021 was, 2022 is a fresh opportunity for improvement. Firefighters have their hands on every civilian fireground rescue reported to Firefighter Rescue Survey.com.

The database developed from these surveys is the most accurate and real-time information available on fire operations and victim survivability. Firefighters are not always involved in or even present for every civilian fire fatality. Thus, this limits our ability to understand the causes and effects of operations at these events and highlights the need for surveys to be completed after actual rescues.

The Underwriters Laboratories Fire Safety Research Institute (ULFSRI) studies provide firefighters with some of the most excellent tools the fire service has seen to date. But the complaint from some in our field is that the laboratory is not the streets.

Firefighter Rescue Survey data is firsthand factual information from the streets. ULFSRI information and interventions can be evaluated in the civilian population through the results produced by the Firefighter Rescue Surveys.

Our survey can provide real-world confirmation of scientific research and public education efforts by ULFSRI. For example, one of our data points tracks if a victim is discovered in an open area or behind a closed door. When combined with ULFSRI’s research on closed-door survivability, one could determine a real-world survival rate of victims found and removed from behind closed doors versus open areas.

As the fire service finds more significant value in research and evidence-based decision-making, greater emphasis on contributing information to the Firefighter Rescue Survey is vital to its sustainability. Six hundred fifty-one (651) of the rescues made by firefighters in 2021 had a survey submitted.

For 2022 the goal is to collect data on 1000 rescues for the year, and we need your help to get there—direct firefighters and fire departments in your area that make a fireground rescue to complete the Firefighter Rescue Survey. ⬛


By Chief Curt Isakson

In January 2022, two historically significant loss of life fires occurred in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the Bronx, New York. These tragic fires remind us of the importance of having an adequately staffed fire department for the population and density it is responsible for protecting. The loss of human life in both events was huge, and we must acknowledge that fact. However, we must also admit that the loss of life would have been much more significant if not for the aggressive culture these two sizable urban fire departments have carried on for decades.

2022 is the Time to Update Your Search & Extinguishment Culture

For the remaining months of 2022, the American Fire Service has an opportunity to make a monumental impact in the lives of the civilians we willingly swore to protect. Our 2022 challenge is to reduce civilian fire fatalities across the United States of America below 2000. The keystone to increasing civilian survival is updating or changing cultural norms within and across the fire service.

A little over ten years ago, some in the American Fire Service prioritized their own lives over the lives of civilians, steering a cultural shift away from placing civilians first, a violation of our fundamental beliefs. However, groups of passionate firefighters challenged this belief and challenged the fire service to shift the pendulum towards them, the civilians that always have been and always will be our priority.

One example of a cultural fire service change is our search culture. There was a time when some fire departments did not perform searches or even consider using a tactic known as Vent Enter Search (VES). Now we see fire departments of all sizes, regardless of staffing, from urban to rural, utilizing this tactic. They are now making successful grabs based on a cultural shift towards the citizens being a priority. Many of the grabs documented in the last year would not have happened a decade ago.

With research from groups such as the Firefighter Rescue Survey and Underwriters Laboratories Fire Service Research Institute, the resulting data backs up what our historic, highly experienced urban fire departments have done for years with great success. This success of saving civilian lives from a fire has pushed Philadelphia and the FDNY’s culture to continue as aggressive search organizations.

In 2022 We Shall Place People Before Water

Putting people before water is the next cultural change needed to spread across the fire service to reduce fire deaths below 2000. In 2022 we must commit as a fire service to rapidly placing enough firefighters at the fire scene to begin fire attack and primary search concurrently with separate crews. Water saves lives, and water on the fire does improve victim survivability. However, water cannot physically remove a trapped occupant from an environment filled with superheated gasses and the products of combustion; it requires more firefighters on the scene rapidly for our people.

People before water is all about them, the civilians. There are two ways to achieve the new cultural shift. The preferred method is placing six firefighters on the scene in six minutes or eight firefighters on the scene in eight minutes. Regardless of the specific method chosen by your agency, the goal is to have those firefighters operationally engaged in the shortest amount of time to complete fire attack and search operations in a residential dwelling.

Fire apparatus designed with a booster tank holds the water needed to initiate a rapid attack. Therefore, we must get water on the fire and remove trapped occupants more quickly than ever before based on the heat release rate of modern fuel packages and products of combustion. How long can your engine company operate on the water from their booster tank and the booster tank of the next arriving unit with an onboard water supply when flowing at a residential fire flow rate of 150 GPM or 2.5 Gallons Per Second?

A sustainable continuous water supply is vital for the overall fireground but not more important than a trapped occupant that could be trapped in a survivable location waiting for rescue. We have to be using water to need water from a hydrant.


Video Evidence-Based Decision Making, Two Case Studies Performing People Before Water with Simultaneous Fire Attack and Primary Search.

Escambia County, Florida, Y Street, Thursday, January 28th, 2021

09:53:30 – A 911 call is received from a single caller reporting a house fire; no other 911 calls were received. Dispatch rapidly processed and dispatched a full box alarm with four Engines, one Ladder, and two Chief officers.

09:58:07 – Engine 16 arrives on the scene in less than five minutes from the first and only call and begins to rapidly apply tank water to the fire in the A/B corner.

09:59:50 – Battalion Chief 2 arrives.

10:01:17 – Ladder 12 arrives, provides tank water to the first due engine, and is assigned VES search opposite of the fire location in the rear of the home.

10:02:13 – Ladder 12 notifies command VES C/D window.

10:02:56 – Ladder 12 notifies command victim found.

10:04:08 – Ladder 12, Engine 11, Squad 3 remove the
victim, provide EMS care.

Total Time 00:10:38 – Initial 911 call to victim removal.

Total Time 00:04:37 – First engine arrival to victim removal.

The second suppression unit to arrive was a Ladder/Quint; however, the standard operating guideline for fires in private dwellings directs the first two companies to report straight to scene so there are enough firefighters to initiate fire attack supported by a simultaneous search.

Escambia County, Florida, Rio Grande Cir, Exact Date Unknown

00:00:10 – Battalion Chief 2 arrives.

00:00:50 – Ladder 12 arrives.

00:02:05 – Ladder 12 makes entry to attack the fire. Engine 3 arrives on the scene.

00:02:35 – Engine 3 makes entry to search

00:03:15 – Engine 3 locates the victim

00:04:10 – Engine 3 removes victim, provides EMS care

Total Time 00:03:20 – First engine arrival to victim removal.

The second suppression unit to arrive was an Engine; however, the standard operating guideline for fires in private dwellings directs the first two companies to report straight to the scene so enough firefighters can initiate a fire attack and a simultaneous search.

Evidence-Based Decision Making Training Materials from UL FSRI, NIST, and Firefighter Rescue Survey.