Rapid intervention is mostly attitude
Darien-Woodridge Fire District
Companies respond to a chemical release in a warehouse with reports that a missing employee may still be the building. On arrival, control zones are set. At the same time, the haz-mat team is requested; technicians respond. On assembling all of the necessary players, a plan is devised. But before any of the entry personnel are allowed in, a backup team is set in place so that if something goes wrong, the backup team can assist or possibly rescue the entry team.
A dive team responds to a reported drowning in a retention pond. Members arrive, finish getting ready, and begin to deploy, but before they can enter the water, backup or safety divers are placed on the shoreline, again so they can assist or possibly rescue the first diver or dive team if something goes wrong.
A technical rescue team response is requested for a window washer in difficulty and suspended on the 10th floor of a hotel. Rescuers arrive, but before the first rescuer deploys, backup members with safety lines are set in place–once again just so they can assist or possibly rescue the “rescuer” if something goes wrong.
This policy is the same for almost all of the specialty teams and is enforced by SOPs; SOGs; policies and procedures; and, in some cases, is required by OSHA. So why is the idea of using a backup team for fire suppression met with so much resistance? We would never think of sending anyone into one of the previously mentioned situations without a backup team, so why is it so hard to convince somebody of the importance of having a backup team, aka rapid intervention team, at the ready during our fight at a structure fire?
NFPA statistics show that the vast majority of firerighter deaths occur on the fireground. This number is second only to the firefighters lost each year to heart attack and stress. During 1995 we lost 88 firefighters in the line of duty. This figure was lower than the previous year`s figure, but we still lost 88! During 1995 there were more than 94,000 injuries in the line of duty; 50,640 were on the fireground. With these facts, there is no argument that this job is and always will be dangerous.
Rapid intervention and the RIT concept is mostly attitude. We can and should be trained to recognize the warning signs and traps that can get us into trouble. We should also be training in how to assist and–when necessary–rescue one of our own.
The attitude needs to be positive. Think of what the incident commander just placed in your hands by assigning you as RIT. He is saying, “If something happens to any of my people, I`m counting on you to be the primary team to go get them.” So let us make you the firefighter in distress. Think of the one time you got yourself turned around in a smoke-filled room. Was there ever a time that you almost or did need help? Now, while this is going on and you`re getting more scared by the minute, think about what type of crew is outside, if any, and whether they are ready to come and get you. Are they upset or complaining because they didn`t get to “crash and bang” on this one? Do they have their tools? Are they prepared? Do they have the proper attitude?
We have a responsibility to instill this positive attitude about RIT in our people. When someone asks you, “How do I justify taking a company and making them stand there while the rest of the firefight goes on?” give that person a copy of the NFPA statistics regarding firefighter deaths and injuries. Discuss the impact that a line-of-duty death or serious injury has on the fire service and members` families. How about on the community? Then see if that person still has that question. We all hope and pray that every time a rapid intervention team is assigned, it won`t be needed; that every time it assembles its tools, it won`t have to use them. But just in case something goes wrong, why not have the team ready? Remember, it`s more than just gathering tools and being assigned rapid intervention. It`s mostly having the right attitude!