ENGINE COMPANY SUPPORT OF RIT/FAST OPERATIONS
BY ANDREW A. FREDERICKS
The search for, rescue of, and removal of injured, lost, and trapped firefighters have developed into formalized disciplines with the creation of rapid intervention and firefighter assist and search teams (RIT/FAST). These teams, trained and equipped with a variety of hand tools, power tools, and search ropes, have been instrumental in saving firefighter lives around the country. Although the RIT/FAST may at times employ protective fire streams, specific procedures covering the emergency use of handlines and master stream devices rarely exist. The fact remains that, especially when rapid fire spread or collapse occurs, the prompt application of water may be the only means of saving trapped firefighters and protecting members of the RIT/FAST during rescue and removal efforts.
ENGINE COMPANIES SAVE LIVES
We know that the first handline stretched at a structure fire saves more lives than any other action performed on the fireground. Since fire control goes hand in hand with life safety, it makes absolute sense that engine company operations should be an integral part of any firefighter rescue and removal protocol. The following selected examples dramatically illustrate that many firefighter rescue efforts, even those that are ultimately unsuccessful, depend heavily on the engine company.
At the tragic 23rd Street collapse in Manhattan on October 17, 1966, that claimed the lives of 12 firefighters and officers, only the Herculean efforts of the firefighters pushing back the fire with 212- inch handlines allowed rescue teams to reach the trapped members. The following is a description of the rescue attempt taken from an official report on the fire:
After the collapse of the drugstore floor, Chief Hay organized the personnel in front of the drugstore and directed them to pull the two hoselines from the store in order to use them to drive the fire back and reach the men in the store. Both lines were inextricably trapped and could not be withdrawn. Another hoseline was connected, and a rescuing party entered the store and fought their way toward the rear in the face of almost unendurable physical conditions. At one point in their battle to reach the twelve men, fire appeared behind them at the front of the store, which would have cut off any chance of escape. This fire was controlled by another hoseline which had been brought into operation, and the men continued to advance the original line.1
On March 12, 1987, the Detroit (MI) Fire Department lost three firefighters at a commercial building fire. In an odd set of circumstances, an officer and firefighter were killed by the collapse of a fire wall; another officer was killed in a fall from a third-floor window after being trapped by rapid fire spread. The tragedy would have been greater still had it not been for the alertness and initiative of the chauffeur from Engine Company 10. Noting that a firefighter was trapped at another third-floor window, he quickly trained a deckpipe stream into the window opening and was able to keep the flames away from this firefighter until a portable ladder could be raised for his rescue.2
At the World Trade Center bombing in New York City on February 26, 1993, firefighter Kevin Shea of Fire Department of New York (FDNY) Rescue Co. 1 fell into the crater created by the blast and suffered severe injuries. Firefighter Shea, communicating over his portable radio, was able to direct hose streams through the dense smoke and drive the encroaching fire from his location. He later said: “I knew they could hear me: Streams were crisscrossing from different floors to hit the fire around me and protect me …. These engine operations really helped save my life.”3 There are, of course, many more examples, but space limitations preclude mentioning them here.
FROM “FAT” ENGINES TO “FAST” TRUCKS
Although many fire departments use ladder companies as RIT/FAST units, in some departments, engine companies assume this important role. Considering that there are more engine companies than ladder companies in the majority of fire departments, the choice of an engine company as the RIT/FAST should not be surprising. The drawback, however, is that most engine companies lack the training and equipment to function as an efficient RIT/FAST. About seven years ago, FDNY adopted a policy whereby an engine company would be designated as the “Firefighter Assist Team” or “FAT” engine (no pun intended) and assigned to every working fire. Like other departments, engine companies were available in greater numbers than ladder companies, so the policy on its face appeared to make sense. It soon became evident, however, that engine companies were ill-equipped to fulfill this vital function. Shortly thereafter, ladder companies were given this responsibility and were designated as “FAST” trucks.
THE RAPID INTERVENTION ENGINE COMPANY
An effective RIT/FAST requires personnel experienced in forcible entry, laddering, search, and other “traditional” truck company duties. Although all firefighters should be competent in both engine and ladder work, the fact remains that members of truck, rescue, and squad companies perform these tasks routinely and are usually more proficient in them. In addition, they carry the tools and equipment necessary for freeing and removing entrapped firefighters. But this in no way, shape, or form diminishes the role of the engine company. Quite the contrary. Since many times firefighter rescue efforts can`t even be attempted without protective fire streams, the engine company`s role in RIT/FAST operations assumes major significance. For this reason, a prudent incident commander (IC) will ensure a means of quickly deploying a firefighter rescue handline by requesting a RIT/FAST engine company (hereafter simply called the “rapid intervention company–engine” or RICE) in addition to the normally assigned RIT/ FAST unit. Very large or complex buildings may warrant a second or even a third RICE to ensure prompt handline placement when firefighters become trapped or endangered. Staffing levels may be another consideration in special-calling another RICE. When staffing is light, it may take two engine companies together to deploy a single rescue handline.
TRAINING AN EFFECTIVE RICE
Training continuously and realistically in both “routine” and not-so-routine fireground operations is essential for an effective RICE and should encompass three critical areas: skill-specific training in stretching and advancing handlines of various sizes; physical strength and endurance training to help firefighters withstand the punishment of firefighter rescue operations; and developing mental toughness so that they can withstand the emotional rigors of firefighter rescue efforts–especially when they are unsuccessful.
The primary skill required by the RICE is the ability to deploy and advance a handline as quickly and efficiently as possible. Although this is a basic engine company function, in firefighter rescue, the difficulties faced when performing this task may be considerable. Engine company members should practice stretching handlines over a variety of stair configurations, over fire escapes, on the outside of buildings using utility ropes, and over both portable and aerial ladders. Both medium-diameter (134- and two-inch) and large-diameter (212-inch) hand-lines should be stretched. In addition to stretching dry handlines, firefighter rescue may necessitate moving charged handlines from one level to another. Drills should include moving charged lines up different types of stairways, over fire escapes, over both portable and aerial ladders, and through window openings of different sizes and shapes. Operating handlines from ladders should also be practiced.
Being able to advance a handline with the nozzle fully open is a requisite for successful firefighter rescue. Depending on the nozzle discharge pressure and volume of flow, nozzle reaction forces may be significant. Using hose straps, hose rope tools, or nylon webbing to maintain control of the line, especially 212-inch line, may be required. Another consideration is the use of two or more lines simultaneously to drive back a heavy volume of fire or to overcome the tremendous heat often encountered in hallways of fire resistive “project” buildings. Drills in advancing handlines also go a long way in increasing physical endurance.
Another interesting drill that develops skill in advancing handlines under difficult conditions while improving physical endurance and mental toughness uses an SCBA confidence course. SCBA confidence courses (sometimes called “mazes”) are designed to teach firefighters how to overcome various SCBA emergencies, to develop breathing control for extended time on air, and to cope with feelings of anxiety often experienced while wearing an SCBA facepiece in zero visibility. Preparing an effective RICE, however, requires adding another dimension to this training–advancing a charged handline through the course with obscured visibility. Either covered face- pieces or training “smoke” can be used. Advancing both 134- inch (or two-inch) and 212-inch hose should be practiced. In addition to promoting SCBA confidence, it develops the teamwork and discipline necessary for successful firefighter rescue. And it represents many of the difficulties that will be encountered when advancing a hand-line through breached wall openings, over piles of collapse rubble, and through void spaces–all of which may be required to save firefighter lives.
If your department does not have an SCBA confidence course at its disposal, other options exist. One is to construct a temporary course in a parking lot, on the apparatus floor, or in the fire station basement using a few easily constructed portable props in conjunction with three or four sections of metal or plastic drainage pipe. Wooden props representing window openings, restricted passageways, and floor/roof joists can be constructed inexpensively and quickly. Drainage pipe of two different diameters (24 inches and 18 inches) can be used to simulate voids and can even be angled up or down slightly for an increased challenge. Sturdy tables turned on their sides can be used to simulate hallways with bends and turns. Bags of floor absorbent or drums filled with water can be used to anchor the props and prevent movement. Chairs and other furniture can be placed in the path of the advancing handline for still more difficulty. The course configuration is easily changed, keeping it fresh; and by adding simulated fireground noises (yelling, extensive portable radio traffic, sirens, running power saws, glass breaking), the experience takes on a whole new dimension as the firefighters try to get their jobs done while contending with reduced communications and increased emotional stress.
Another option is to use local playground equipment. I learned of this highly creative technique from my good friend Dave McGrail, a captain in the Denver (CO) Fire Department. Many playgrounds today feature equipment consisting of various interconnected tubes, tunnels, slides, platforms, bridges, and so on. Captain McGrail notes that this equipment makes an excellent substitute for a dedicated SCBA confidence course and also provides experience in negotiating confined spaces. Due to the damage potential posed by SCBA cylinders, it may be necessary to dispense with them and simply use covered face pieces. Training at night helps to ensure that the playground will be available and adds the element of diminished visibility. It is probably wise to gain permission from the local parks authority or school board before commandeering the equipment. You never know what additional benefits a good working relationship may accrue.
Training in standpipe operations should also be conducted, particularly in alternative augmentation tactics and the use of 212-inch handlines for fire attack. As mentioned above, advancing two handlines (specifically 212-inch handlines) side by side in a narrow hallway may be needed for firefighter rescue and must be practiced. Other drills and training should concentrate on solving water-supply problems, including providing an emergency water relay and replacing burst lengths of hose. All members of the RICE should know how to position the engine apparatus at a hydrant, properly test and flush the hydrant, place the apparatus into “pump,” prime the pump, supply booster tank water, and perform a smooth changeover from booster tank water to hydrant water.
In addition to being skilled in all aspects of engine company operations, members of the RICE should be proficient in the use of portable ladders and forcible entry tools. Drills should also be conducted in search techniques, the use of search/guide ropes, elevator emergencies, and operating ladder company apparatus. The RICE chauffeur in particular should know how to operate various types of aerial devices should it becomes necessary to rescue a firefighter trapped in an untenable position. Lastly, all members of the RICE should be equipped with portable radios and be well versed in emergency communications. The importance of listening to the radio for indications of water supply problems, requests for additional assistance, reports on fire extension, MAYDAY messages from lost or trapped firefighters, warnings about collapse hazards, and other fireground developments cannot be overstated.
TOOLS AND EQUIPMENT
The tools of the RICE are very basic: hose, nozzles, and large-caliber (master) stream devices. On occasion, the RICE may need portable ladders, forcible entry tools, and search/guide ropes to complete its assignment. If portable ladders haven`t been placed in strategic locations by the RIT/FAST, the RICE may have to do it. Usually, search/guide ropes will have been previously deployed, and the RICE will simply follow them as necessary. Particularly when elevators are used, the RICE should bring a set of forcible entry tools (flathead ax and halligan or sledgehammer) should self-rescue from a stalled elevator car be necessary. A compact hydraulic forcible entry tool can also be of great benefit. It goes without saying that members of the RICE must wear all assigned personal protective equipment, including hoods and SCBA. Each member should also carry a personal handlight and three or four door chocks. At high-rise operations, each member should bring a spare SCBA cylinder.
Supply Lines and Handlines
The RICE may be required to deploy emergency supply lines and handlines. Large-diameter supply hose should be used if possible, but the effectiveness of emergency water supply tactics will be limited by the size of hose carried on the RICE apparatus and other engines operating at the fire. In situations where large-diameter hose (LDH–312 inches and larger) is mixed with smaller supply hose, fittings and/or adapters will be necessary. This is an important consideration when it becomes necessary to establish immediately an emergency water supply using LDH and the engine being supplied is not equipped for it.
Handline availability may also pose problems. Many en-gines carry only three or four hundred feet of 134-inch (or two-inch) hose. As an example, an engine apparatus is operating near the fire building. It is equipped with two crosslay hosebeds, each containing a 150-foot, 134-inch preconnected handline. Both lines are in operation, and there is no additional 134-inch hose and no 212-inch hose available for emergency use. Although the solution seems straightforward–simply stretch a line from another engine–it may not always be possible to do. Other nearby engines may also be stripped of hose. There may not be another engine close by because of street conditions, snow piles, frozen hydrants, and the like. Likewise, stretching from the dedicated RICE apparatus may be impractical because of the distance involved.
It may be necessary for the RICE to bring folded lengths of hose to a point close to the fire building for connection to an engine operating nearby. It is vitally important to contact the chauffeur of this apparatus to ensure that he has sufficient water available to supply the line and is aware of its length, diameter, and the type of nozzle in use. Squad companies in Chicago, although not equipped with engine apparatus, carry folded 134-inch hose for deployment in emergency situations. In New York City, each engine and ladder company is required to carry three folded lengths of 134-inch hose and three folded lengths of 212-inch hose. Many departments use 134-inch and two-inch hose bundled or carried in bags for use from manifold or wye-type appliances. This hose can also be used during emergencies involving trapped firefighters. Handlines carried by the RICE should be compatible with other handlines in use on the fireground. In other words, couplings should be the same thread type and size, or fittings and adapters must be readily available. This can be an important consideration when the RICE is from another fire department responding on mutual aid. Additional thoughts and considerations on emergency handline use are provided below in the section entitled “Fireground Operations.”
Solid-stream nozzles are recommended because of their low operating pressures; hard-hitting streams; reduced nozzle reaction; and the fact they do not clog, freeze, or damage easily. This does not rule out the use of fog tips under certain conditions, however. Fog nozzles, for example, may be required for gas and vapor dispersal or where energized electrical equipment is in proximity to firefighter rescue efforts. If fog nozzles are required, low-pressure types may be best–particularly when used in conjunction with a breakaway nozzle system that also incorporates a solid-stream tip. A sound policy for the RICE is to use its own nozzles whenever possible. This permits the team to employ the nozzle size and type best suited for the situation. In addition, the RICE will be intimately familiar with its own equipment, and there should be no question about the mechanical condition of any nozzle used in firefighter rescue. The use of large-caliber streams in firefighter rescue is discussed below.
Size-up for the RICE varies in scope and focus from that of earlier-arriving companies. Since the objective of the RICE is to safeguard firefighter lives, specific attention should be given to the following seven critical areas: construction, occupancy, height and area, exposures, location and extent of fire, water supply, and auxiliary (installed) fire protection systems or features. Let`s examine each in more detail by listing some of the many questions that must be answered during the rapid intervention engine size-up.
Construction. What is the construction of the fire building? How old is it? Is it “lightweight” with early collapse potential? Are there void spaces? Is rapid fire spread to be anticipated? Has it been renovated?
Occupancy. What is the type of occupancy? Is it a single or mixed occupancy? What are the hazards posed by the occupancy–storage hazards, process hazards, for example? Should large, open areas be anticipated? Should heavy fire loads be anticipated?
Area/height. How large is the fire building? Are standpipe operations needed? Is elevator usage needed? Is the fire area within reach of aerial ladders or elevating platforms? Are long, complex hand stretches involved? Are there multiple access points to the fire area? Are there roof setbacks that will aid in or interfere with operations? Will the building`s size necessitate additional rapid intervention engine companies?
Exposures. Is extension of fire possible or even likely? What are the construction and occupancy of each exposure? Are the exposure buildings adjacent to the fire building, or are they separated by streets, alleys, or shafts? Are the exposure buildings the same height as the fire building? Do the exposures provide vantage points for streams or access points for firefighter rescue?
Location and extent of fire. Has the main body of fire been located? What did first-alarm companies report regarding fire location and severity? What fire conditions are observed on arrival? Based on the construction, what are the potential avenues of fire spread? Is autoexposure a problem? Is collapse likely?
Water supply. What type of water supply is in use–booster tank, hydrant, static source? Is a relay operation in progress? What size supply hose/hydrant connection is in use? Has water supply redundancy been provided (at least two separate water sources)? Do vandalized hydrants present a problem? Are hydrants frozen? Have apparatus tires, outriggers, or tormentors been inadvertently placed on hoselines? Do radio reports indicate problems with hydrants or poor pressures?
Auxiliary fire protection systems. If the fire building is protected by sprinklers, is the siamese connection supplied? If a standpipe system is present, is the siamese connection supplied? Are alternative augmentation tactics needed? If a lower-floor hose outlet is being used for supply, is the valve fully open? Are pressure-regulating devices (PRDs) installed on the standpipe or sprinkler system? Can the PRDs be removed, defeated, or readjusted? Do radio reports indicate poor nozzle pressures or weak sprinkler performance in the main fire area? Do exposure buildings have standpipe or sprinkler systems that may need to be supplied?
Although size-up is usually thought to begin with the receipt of the alarm, it actually starts much earlier–with prefire planning. Since the RICE will rarely have the same level of knowledge about the fire building as the first-due companies, obtaining prefire planning information is vital. FDNY uses the Critical Information Dispatch System (CIDS). Fire companies are encouraged to submit CIDS information on any building or occupancy that poses unusual hazards or potential operational problems. When a fire is reported in a building or occupancy included in the CIDS, the computer-assisted dispatch system automatically provides the most recent information available. In addition, if a fire is reported in any building within three street numbers on either side of a building included in the CIDS program, the CIDS information is automatically provided. Information in hard copy form is printed on dispatch from quarters and is also received by way of the mobile printers on each apparatus. The first-due battalion chief also can request that the dispatcher broadcast CIDS information.
While responding to an alarm, it is imperative that all members of the RICE monitor the radio, listening for special instructions and reports on the progress of firefighting efforts (or lack thereof). Indications that the fire situation is deteriorating include transmitting additional alarms, placing a recall in effect, and requesting mutual aid. If a separate fireground frequency is used, it must be continuously monitored for indications of problems that might require RIT/FAST intervention. RICE team members must remain constantly alert for MAYDAY and URGENT messages and any other call for help, regardless of its form or source. Once on the scene, a RICE member may have to move away from the cacophony of the fireground to hear radio transmissions more clearly. When monitoring the radio, be attentive; fear and anxiety are easily detectable in the human voice and may be indicative of a very serious predicament.
Prevention Is the Goal
The goal should be to prevent firefighter injuries by identifying and solving fireground problems before firefighters become distressed and rescue efforts are needed. With this in mind, the RICE should pay particular attention to the following key items and include them as part of its ongoing size-up.
On arrival at the scene, the RICE should obtain up-to-date information on the firefighting strategy employed, the location of companies within the fire building (and exposures, if applicable), and any tactical problems experienced by the operating forces. Consult with the FAST company officer regarding his size-up. Problems involving the water supply must be handled first, and a water supply survey should be conducted. Often, the RICE chauffeur can evaluate the water supply situation and help solve any pressing problems at the same time the RICE officer is being briefed by the IC.
Helping to establish an emergency water supply caused by a mechanical breakdown or burst supply hose may be the single most important act the RICE performs. If the water supply situation appears well in hand, the RICE chauffeur (or another designated RICE member) should walk around the fire building (if possible) and gather additional size-up information to aid the RICE should emergency handline deployment be needed. This information should include the following: the location of unused hydrants; alternate building entrances providing access to the fire area; placement of portable, aerial, and tower ladders; locations of fire escapes; changes in building height; and observed fire conditions. Remaining RICE members should stage near the command post or at another strategic location as determined by the RICE officer. In high-rise building fires, the RICE should stage one or two floors below the fire. Ideally, the RIT/FAST will be staged at the same location so both units can be deployed together when an emergency arises.
Members of the RICE should also note the size of handlines in operation and if they are compatible with fire conditions. Al-though many fire departments fail to use 212-inch hose, some fire situations demand its use. If 134- or two-inch handlines are having difficulty, the RICE should be prepared to stretch 212-inch hose if a firefighter rescue is required. Kinks observed should be straightened, and any handline that appears to be struggling should be “lightened up.”
Another key size-up issue for the RICE is to determine how much hose will be needed to reach various areas of the fire building should firefighters get into trouble and protective streams be required. If the first-due engine company “stretched short,” adding hose will solve the problem. If too much hose is stretched, determine if the line can be shut down and the excess lengths removed. At standpipe operations, check the supply hose feeding the siamese connection. Verify that the intended siamese is being supplied and is functioning properly. Even when the RICE uses an elevator to reach an upper-floor fire, one member should be assigned to walk up the stairs and note if pressure-regulating devices are installed and to ensure that the sectional control (zone) valves are fully open. It is also important for members of the RICE to note the floor, stairway, and apartment numbering system in use and to be aware of changes in occupancy or floor layout from one story to another.
Use of Handlines
When deploying a handline for firefighter rescue, four possible scenarios exist.
Scenario 1. The RICE uses a handline that is already stretched and charged. This may be necessary to save time or when the firefighters operating the line become injured or deplete their breathing air supplies.
Scenario 2. A handline is stretched from an engine apparatus operating near the fire building. Communication with the chauffeur/pump operator is vital to ensure that this engine can supply the line properly and there is sufficient hose remaining to reach the point of operation.
Scenario 3. Folded or bundled hose is carried from the RICE apparatus and connected to an engine closer to the fire building. Once again, communication with the engine company chauffeur is essential.
Scenario 4. If the other options are not feasible, a line may be stretched directly from the RICE apparatus. If this need is anticipated, the RICE chauffeur should secure a reliable water source and position his apparatus with the rear or main hosebed facing the fire building. This will expedite deployment of an emergency supply line or long handline should it be needed.
For additional considerations and a different point of view on this and other specific fireground operations, see “The RIT/FAST Engine: Operational Guidelines” by Larry Cohen on page 86.
As mentioned earlier, a Detroit firefighter who had become trapped at a third-floor window was saved by a large-caliber (master) stream directed into the window from an engine mounted deckpipe. An outside stream, be it from a handline or large-caliber stream (LCS) appliance, may be a trapped firefighter`s last chance. Following are some important recommendations for ensuring the safe and effective use of outside streams–particularly LCS–in firefighter rescue operations. Although most of this section is devoted to engine-mounted LCS, it may be necessary for the RICE to quickly deploy a portable LCS; for this reason, preconnected, lightweight models are recommended.
Not long ago, almost all engine apparatus were equipped with 34- or one-inch booster hose. It was relatively easy for an engine company chauffeur, alone, to quickly charge the booster line and direct the stream as needed for lifesaving purposes. A fire on the first floor of a five-story tenement in the Bronx caused numerous occupants to flee their apartments. Unable to use the interior stairs because of heavy smoke, they began descending the fire escape but were blocked by heavy fire venting from two first-floor windows. The fast-thinking chauffeur from Engine Company 43 protected them by keeping the fire at bay with his booster line until a portable ladder could be raised to effect their removal. Without his efforts, the fire escape would have grown overcrowded with both smoke-inhalation injuries and burns inevitable as the fire escape turned into a giant barbecue grill. Today, with booster lines installed on fewer and fewer engines, this option is rarely available. The time delay involved with flaking out a length or two of “trash” line (usually 134-inch hose stored in a trough at the front or side of the apparatus) may be too great when a civilian or firefighter is faced with burning to death or jumping. The solution is to use a prepiped (or otherwise preconnected) engine-mounted LCS, thus providing much higher flows and greater stream reach than any handline.
Most prepiped LCS (sometimes referred to as deckpipes or wagon pipes) are controlled solely from the pump operator`s panel. If the chauffeur charges the deckpipe without another firefighter available to direct the stream, its effectiveness as a lifesaving tool is lost. Should a deckpipe operation commence using booster tank water, the tank will be depleted in a very short time and most, if not all, the water will be wasted as the chauffeur scrambles atop the apparatus to control the appliance. The solution is to fit the deckpipe with a shutoff valve, allowing the chauffeur (or another firefighter) to charge the deckpipe at any time; he can then climb atop the apparatus to accurately direct and control the stream. While a ball-type nozzle shutoff can be used, it is better to install a 212-inch gate valve on the appliance side of the stream shaper. This facilitates easier opening and closing under the high operating pressures typical of LCS and reduces the potential for a destructive water hammer should a ball-type shutoff be closed too abruptly. Whenever an outside stream–particularly an LCS with its tremendous air movement and hydraulic force–is employed in rescue operations, a radio message must warn firefighters inside the fire building so they can seek an area of refuge.
MAKE A RICE POLICY
A rapid intervention engine company should be incorporated into every RIT/ FAST policy. Successful firefighter rescue requires the ability to quickly place lifesaving fire streams into service, and a company (or companies) must be dedicated to this task. Especially in this era of bare-bones staffing, we must ensure resources are available to “save our own.” When a fellow firefighter is trapped, the risk/benefit calculation must be modified, and the risks taken may be greater than usual. The presence of a well-trained RICE helps lessen these risks and may allow an otherwise impossible rescue attempt to succeed. Our trapped brothers and sisters deserve nothing less.
1. “The 23rd Street Collapse,” Official Report, Fire Department of New York, 1966.
2. Klem, Thomas J., “Triple Tragedy in Detroit,” Fire Command, July 1987, 24-29.
3. Shea, Kevin, “At the Bottom of the Crater,” Fire Engineering, Dec. 1993, 57-59.
Firefighters on Chicago`s West Side are trying to reach a trapped colleague at a multiple-alarm church fire. Large-caliber (master) streams were used to drive back the flames so a rescue attempt could be mounted. Unfortunately, the firefighter succumbed to his injuries. When firefighters are trapped by collapse or rapid fire spread, rescue efforts often depend on the prompt placement of protective streams. To ensure that resources are immediately available to place these streams into service, the response of a rapid intervention engine company should be part of every RIT/FAST policy. (Photo by Jim Regan.)
The effectiveness of a rapid intervention engine company is directly related to how quickly and efficiently it can stretch and advance a rescue handline. Here, firefighters are advancing a charged 134-inch handline during an SCBA confidence course. Although this is challenging enough, the difficulty can be compounded by obscuring the visibility of the participants using covered facepieces or training “smoke.” Not only do such exercises develop skill and teamwork in advancing handlines under adverse conditions, but they also promote physical stamina and mental toughness. (Photo by author.)
Not only should the rapid intervention company–engine (RICE) be capable of stretching a rescue handline over various types of ladders, members of the RICE should also be proficient in raising portable ladders, performing forcible entry, and conducting searches. In addition, RICE members–particularly the chauffeur–should be able to operate each of the aerial ladder, tower ladder, or ladder apparatus they encounter should a firefighter need to be rescued from an untenable position. (Photo by Matthew P. Daly.)
Size-up is essential for the RICE. Critical size-up points include the following: construction, occupancy, area and height, exposures, location and extent of fire, water supply, and installed fire protections systems (sprinklers and standpipes). Additional information should be gathered on the firefighting strategy employed, locations of companies operating in the fire building (and exposure buildings), alternate means of access to the fire building (note the window bars in the photo), the availability of emergency handlines from nearby engine apparatus, the locations of fire escapes, portable/aerial/tower ladder placement, and observed smoke/fire conditions. An effective size-up will help identify and correct fireground problems before firefighters get hurt and is one of the most important functions of any rapid intervention company. (Photo by Matthew P. Daly.)
Large or complex fire buildings may require several rapid intervention engine companies staged at various strategic locations. At high-rise building fires, the appropriate staging area for the RICE is one or two floors below the fire. Regardless of the fire building`s size and complexity, when staffing levels are compromised, the incident commander should request an additional RICE to ensure prompt placement of a rescue handline wherever it is needed. (Photo by Matthew P. Daly.)
One of the most important functions of the RICE after arrival on the scene is to conduct a water supply survey. Perhaps best performed by the RICE chauffeur, the objective is to gather as much information as possible about the adequacy of the fireground water supply. (Photo by Jim Regan.)
Pictured are three lengths of 134-inch hose and a preconnected nozzle carried by the second “piece” of Chicago`s Squad 5. Although not equipped with engine apparatus, squad companies in Chicago can still place an emergency handline into service by connecting folded lengths of hose to a nearby engine. When handline availability is limited and stretching a rescue line directly from the RICE apparatus is impractical because of the time and distance involved, one solution is for the RICE to maintain folded or bundled lengths of hose at the staging area. These lengths can then be connected to an engine apparatus operating close to the fire building. Always ensure that the engine selected to supply the rescue line is connected to a continuous source of water and the chauffeur of this apparatus verifies that he can supply the rescue line properly. (Photo by author.)
ANDREW A. FREDERICKS, a 19-year veteran of the fire service, is a firefighter with Squad 18 in the Fire Department of New York (FDNY). He is a New York State-certified fire instructor at the Rockland County Fire Training Center in Pomona, New York, and an adjunct instructor at the New York State Academy of Fire Science. He has two bachelor`s degrees, one in political science and the other in public safety, with a specialization in fire science, and a master`s degree in fire protection management from John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He developed the Fire Engineering “Bread and Butter” Operations videos Advancing the Initial Attack Handline (1997), Stretching the Initial Attack Handline (1998), and Methods of Structure Fire Attack (1999).