By Jawan Clark
If you were to ask the players on any great sports team what qualities they possessed that led to their team’s achievement, it would come as no surprise that the players would say that they all carried similar characteristics like being confident, skilled, having clearly defined positions, a desire to become better, and complete trust in one another. The same could be said for any group of members that successfully work together to achieve a common goal.
The fire service operates under the same framework. Great engine companies nail the hose stretch, advance in unison, and overcome nozzle reaction with technique. The best ladder companies perfect the art of forcible entry, show confidence deploying 40-foot ground ladders, and take on the mindset that no one can do it better. But let’s be clear: these qualities are the results of individuals who took ownership to master their trade.
As firefighters, we have an obligation to fulfill, not only to the public, but to each other. If one member of the company is lacking in performance, then the entire operation can falter. Unlike sports teams, the magnitude of our failures on the fireground can result in death. As an officer, one who routinely gets assigned the rapid intervention team (RIT), there is no greater motivation. I must train each member of my company to master his skill set and work within the realm of his position. Obviously this is no easy task, but for the sake of each member, and our members on the fireground, it’s one that absolutely must be met.
RITs are proactive in every sense. From the moment they step off the rig, they have to be situationally aware, knowing the locations of interior crews and providing them with a safer means of egress. With multiple operations taking place, they must formulate a plan of action within seconds. Add to this rapidly deteriorating fire conditions, zero visibility, high heat, and a Mayday transmission and you begin to see why having a crew that’s confident and highly skilled is so important. When everything on the fireground becomes chaotic, RITs should be unflustered. Why? Because they intentionally and realistically train for the Mayday; they know their responsibilities within the team, and they know exactly how to carry out their assignment with total proficiency.
Part of being proficient involves knowing the tools and equipment that support your operation. Ask yourself the following questions:
• How will this tool be used to support the operation?
• Did I visually inspect this tool to be operationally ready before using it?
• What are my alternatives if this tool fails before or during the operation?
• How can I modify or customize this tool to make my job easier?
• Have I trained with this tool enough so that it doesn’t hinder me or the operation?
These questions prompt each member to be self-reliant and mentally prepared regarding his duties within the team. With that in mind, I’ll move toward applying this process to the real world by taking a closer look at the RIT pack (photos 1, 2), its uses, and how you can be operationally ready as the member in charge of air supply.
(1, 2) Photos by author.
Regardless of manufacturer, RIT packs primarily serve as the backup air supply when a distressed firefighter is either low on air or his breathing apparatus has been compromised. Depending on the crew or your department’s operating procedures, the pack may contain an assortment of tools. But at minimum, a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) with face piece (photo 3), low-pressure hose with regulator (photos 4, 5), and a universal air connection (UAC) (photo 6).
Again, these are the essentials, but outfitting the pack with wire cutters, webbing, small hand lights, and door wedges can be just as valuable. The important thing to remember here is to refrain from over packing. Keeping the equipment to a minimum reduces the pack’s weight and profile, which in turn improves your mobility during deployment. Like any other operation on the fireground, time is critical, so take every preventive measure to identify areas of the pack. Following Photo 5, isolate the equipment to specific compartments with the low-pressure system to one side and the high-pressure system to another:
• Air cylinder.
• Low-pressure supply hose with emergency breathing support system (EBSS).
• Regulator (photo 7).
• Face piece.
• High-pressure supply hose with UAC.
• Small hand tools (knife, wire cutters, and so on).
I recommend keeping the face piece connected to the 20-foot length of low-pressure hose (photo 8) because of time.
Having the low-pressure system preconnected as one unit is much easier and quicker to deploy from the pack when visibility is diminished. Once you’ve located the downed firefighter and the air status has been confirmed, work your way starting at the face piece, which is our initial reference point, back to the low-pressure EBSS adapter. You’re essentially going through a process of elimination based on the firefighter’s condition. I refer to this process as the “if/then procedure,” which I use in the following scenarios:
The firefighter is breathing, but the face piece is compromised.
Remove the face piece.
Disconnect the RIT face piece from regulator.
Apply RIT face piece to firefighter.
Reconnect firefighter SCBA regulator and cinch face piece straps to ensure seal is tight.
The firefighter is breathing but regulator is compromised.
Open firefighter’s purge valve first to see that it works.
If it doesn’t, then remove firefighter’s regulator.
Apply RIT regulator to firefighter’s face piece.
Open purge valve slightly for positive pressure and ensure the changeover worked.
Remove firefighter’s SCBA.
Since the RIT pack is now dedicated to the down firefighter, we must securely attach it to our victim before the extraction process begins. If we had chosen to connect the RIT regulator back to the firefighter’s original SCBA, we might have encountered additional parts of the SCBA that were compromised such as the hansen fitting or the pressure reducer assembly. Remember, the regulator is just one out of many parts on the supply side. There’s no guarantee that swapping regulators will fix the problem, so err on the side of safety by supplying the firefighter with breathing equipment that you know to be operational.
The firefighter is breathing but low on air supply.
Open firefighter’s purge valve first to see that it works. If it does…
Connect the UAC to firefighter.
Check to ensure firefighter’s air cylinder is in the “open” position.
Turn on RIT air cylinder.
Wait five seconds to ensure cylinders equalized.
The biggest advantage to the UAC is that it’s a quick transfill solution and doesn’t dedicate the entire system to the down firefighter, so if you or any team member gets low on air you have the ability to use it. It’s important to note that once the connection is made to the down firefighter, the UAC must stay connected for at least five seconds. Afterward, secure the high-pressure supply hose back into the bag, and turn the RIT pack air supply off. Keeping the air supply off ensures that no air leaks occur prior to us reaching the firefighter or during the extraction process. If we had chosen to turn the air supply on before entering, the regulator’s purge valve could have accidentally been left open or we may have a small air leak that’s gone unnoticed on the low-pressure side. As trivial as it may seem, little issues such as these can jeopardize our operation.
The firefighter is low on air supply, but UAC is compromised…
Open firefighter’s purge valve first to see that it works.
If it does, disconnect the RIT regulator from dual EBSS or “Buddy Breather” connection.
Locate firefighter’s EBSS and connect it to the dual EBSS male coupling.
Turn on RIT air cylinder on.
Secure RIT pack to firefighter.
If you’re assigned the role of air supply or any position within RIT, make it your goal to train realistically. Know the tools and equipment on your rig and learn to use them with total proficiency. That’s good firemanship. That’s what makes you an asset to your company.
Jawan Clark is a seven-year career veteran with the Salisbury (NC) Fire Department. He is a captain of Rescue 1, A shift. Clark has a bachelor’s degree in sociology and is working toward an associate degree in fire science. He is certified as a level I/II fire officer, level I/II fire instructor and a rescue technician. Clark was also a student at the NC Breathing Equipment School at Gaston College and the advanced rapid intervention school at the South Carolina Fire Academy.