The RIT Tarp


Firefighters continuously learn, teach, and improve on techniques through the ideas, practices, and experiences of other firefighters. With information gathered from the Internet and other media, new fire service techniques are updated daily. These sources regularly show how designated rapid intervention teams (RITs) and survival training significantly improve many outcomes at Maydays. In addition, they allow RIT instructors to learn from real-life incidents and incorporate the lessons into their training programs.

Our and our colleagues’ RIT program has aided the Rockford (IL) Fire Department’s RIT training over the past 10 years; we continually expand it as new information becomes available. In the article “Rapid Intervention: Keeping Your Tools Together” (Innovations: Homegrown, August 2002), author Rick Lasky discussed using a yellow tarp to stage tools for a RIT. On reading the article, we immediately made the changes you will see in this article and incorporated them into our training program. This program is now used to train many types of fire departments and mutual-aid divisions in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Canada.

The following is an enhanced version of a RIT tarp (photos 1, 2) that we have implemented into our RIT program.

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(1) Photos by authors.
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Tools in the tarp’s first group are usually found on every rig; the RIT can carry them to the scene. During a Mayday, the RIT has the basic tools to go to work. The entire tarp is designed and used as a “mind jogger” for all on-scene personnel and lists these necessary on-scene tools in three-inch-high letters (Figures 1, 2) so crews do not need to remember which tools to bring. When the RIT assembles the second tool group, it should perform a 360° scene size-up as soon as possible. If the RIT is deployed before the tarp is filled, on-scene personnel or the next RIT can complete the tool assembly.

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On arrival, the RIT officer should report to incident command (IC), receive input on the tool tarp placement, and then perform a 360° size-up.

As the RIT officer completes his 360° size-up, the remaining RIT members should gather tools and place them on the tarp. When the RIT completes this, the RIT officer will report back to the IC, and the remaining RIT members can perform their own size-up.




The three tool groups listed on the tarp give the RIT a timeline as to how long they have been on-scene. The RIT can assemble the tools listed in the left column immediately from its rig. The RIT then proceeds to the tools listed in the middle column. The right-column tools are more specialized. As the incident progresses or becomes more complex, add these tools because of the incident’s size or the type of building construction.




The tarp is a 10- × 12-foot piece of yellow, high-visibility vinyl plastic with weighted corners. The benefits of its use for designated tool staging include the following:

  • It will contain RIT tools only.
  • It is great for use in high grass and snow.
  • It ensures tool availability. In the city, tools come from the second-due ladder company. The first ladder company uses the tools for the fire. Also, mutual-aid teams respond with four to five trained personnel on apparatus who can carry their own RIT tools.


Our hazmat team has used the hazmat decon tarp (photo 3) for more than 12 years. For easy setup and reminders on which tools we need, the decon layout is drawn on the tarp. The use of the RIT tarp and decon tarps led to the development of the orange technical rescue tool tarp (photo 4).

DENNY CAVANAGH is a 30-year fire service veteran, a captain of the Rockford (IL) Fire Department (RFD), and an instructor of hazmat and rapid intervention team (RIT) operations for the Illinois Fire Service Institute. He is a member of the Illinois Task Force 1 USAR team and co-lead instructor and creator of the “Saving Our Own” and RIT programs, which have been instituted in many mutual-aid box alarm system divisions in Illinois and Wisconsin, including the RFD.

CHRIS SCOTTis a 23-year fire service veteran; a lieutenant in the Rockford (IL) Fire Department (RFD); and an instructor of auto extrication, rapid intervention team (RIT) operations, and technical rescue for the Illinois Fire Service Institute. He is a member of the Illinois Task Force 1 USAR team and chairman of the regional technical rescue committee for six mutual-aid box alarm system (MABAS) divisions. He also serves on the state fire marshal’s training committee and is a co-lead instructor and creator of the “Saving Our Own” and RIT programs, which have been instituted in many MABAS divisions in Illinois and Wisconsin.


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