By Michael A. Clark
We all know the functions and responsibilities of the assigned rapid intervention team (RIT) at an uncontrolled fire event. The RIT officer must report to the incident commander (IC) and position team members (photo 1), stage required/anticipated equipment and hand tools for the event, perform a 360° walkaround, and complete his own size-up. He must then station himself at the incident command post (ICP) until the team is ordered to work or released. Right?
In many departments and mutual-aid organizations, a RIT is required at all working incidents. Their response is either automatic, or they decide in tandem on arrival of the IC and the establishment of his incident action plan (IAP). All firefighters working at an uncontrolled fire event must be assured that the IC always “has their back” and that RIT response should be included at all working incidents; it makes it easier on the department and command staff if it is done on an automatic basis! (See National Fire Protection Association 1710, Standard for the Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations, and Special Operations to the Public by Career Fire Departments, and 1720, Standard for the Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations and Special Operations to the Public by Volunteer Fire Departments.)
Time is our greatest enemy, and any delays when deploying the RIT on scene could prove catastrophic. It is better to be “proactive” as opposed to “reactive” when considering rapid access and firefighter welfare.
(1) The RIT must be dressed, equipped, and ready at all times. (Photos by Dennis Walus unless otherwise noted.)
The IC wants the best trained and most experienced individuals providing coverage at his fire incident. Many departments categorize and require these individuals to be at a master firefighter certification level or the equivalent to qualify. In practice, this is often not the case, but at the very least, we want members who can operate with a high degree of efficiency and have the training and capacity that allow them to rise to the occasion when faced with extraordinary circumstances.
This group should consist of a minimum of four members and, if required by the situational intensity, be supported by a dedicated truck and engine company. The RIT must be disciplined and dedicated to the role. The RIT officer should be aware of his responsibility and importance to on-scene firefighter safety.
RELATED: Jim McCormack on RIT Positions and Assignments ‖ Ron Terriaco on Basic RIT Tools on the Apparatus ‖ Joe Pulvermacher on Regional RIT
On arriving at the scene, the RIT officer’s face-to-face with the IC (and the safety officer, if activated) is an important factor for gaining information relative to the event’s progress, receiving orders, fire location, operational intensity, identifying where interior firefighters are operating, and orchestrating the team’s strategy and actions required to support them (photo 2).
(2) Members of the RIT receiving updated information on the fire incident.
Many departments don’t look forward to being assigned the RIT position. And if requested, they will do almost anything to exclude themselves. This is related to the “always a bridesmaid, never a bride” syndrome that often accompanies the role. Firefighters are action figures and expect to be put to work inside the building where the fire has taken up residence. When this doesn’t happen, they can become frustrated. Dedication to duty and disciplined focus must be brought to the forefront when you’re assigned as the “firefighter’s saviors.” This role should never be viewed as anything less than a priority assignment. I addressed some of the considerations that a good RIT must ponder in this article’s first paragraph. This was just the “tip of the iceberg.”
(3) RIT completing secondary access/egress routes for the 2nd floor of a building.
The RIT commander, after completing his mandatory 360° walkaround or a briefing from a member assigned that duty, might receive a briefing from the IC and not want to delay the 360° walkaround, so that task will be assigned to the most seasoned and trusted member of the team.
At the conclusion of the fire size-up, we will have a much better idea on strategic and tactical progress, reading fire/smoke conditions, and potential structural integrity issues involved. These are the signs and symptoms that show at every building that is being systematically assaulted by fire. All one has to do is observe them through a pair of experienced eyes and start putting a plan together.
Use of acronym AWARE to streamline these thoughts and create a priority list for rescue, which follows:
- Air supply for downed firefighter.
- Water a hoseline to ensure a defendable position.
- A radio dedicated to the victim set on the appropriate emergency frequency.
- Extrication tools and equipment needed to free the downed firefighter.
The tools and equipment required at an incident must be adequate for the type of building construction and conditions encountered. Thermal imaging cameras, including spare batteries, are a priority item. Large area search ropes may also be required. And don’t forget the RIT pack; check it at the start of each shift to ensure its functionality and that it has a full air cylinder. Place secondary egress/exit ground ladders on all sides at all upper floors where interior members are operating. Any barriers to immediate access of the building’s interior for fighter rescue must be removed (door/window bars, shutters, and so on). Staging a 14- or 16-foot roof ladder at your location ensures a rapid platform for removing a “downed firefighter” from a basement or first floor (e.g., the teeter-totter method).
(4, 5) The Teeter-Totter Ladder Extrication. (Photos by Megan Ciampo.)
These ladders can also provide an entry/exit point where stair systems have been damaged and will no longer provide a safe path. Remember, indiscriminate, uncoordinated ventilation creates flow paths and potential accelerated fire growth, so be careful. A charged hoseline manned by a supporting engine company and dedicated to the RIT could be the make-or-break option when holding the fire in check while removing the downed firefighter. The irons (halligan/flathead-ax combo) and the fix-foot hook are always a priority.
Consider powered saws to enhance rapid access and extrication. Consider electrically-(battery or land line) powered saws for certain types of material that will be involved in the cut and because of the lack of operational efficiency of internal combustion engines within an immediately dangerous to life and health atmosphere. If the trapped firefighter is pinned in a structural collapse, can you use a high-pressure air bag system for his release? Does the RIT include this equipment during training sessions in limited visibility conditions? Any member functioning in the role of interior firefighter would certainly hope so! Do we typically use a stokes litter as an equipment transport platform? It is “firefighter friendly” and can be deployed as a rescue removal device if the need arises.
(6) Stokes basket tools and equipment transport platform.
For most incidents, the ideal location for staging the RIT is adjacent to the ICP (warm/host zone interface). This allows the officer to monitor traffic on all radio frequencies and stay abreast of the command staff’s strategic and tactical direction as the incident progresses. It also allows for viewing the “big side exterior” picture of the fire building. All working fires are dynamic, and the ICP is the clearing house for all information cycling between the IC and the operational forces inside the building. This information is vital for decision making, and any changes that might be required for fire control and member safety.
At locations where the building’s geographic footprint is large, are multiple RIT groups required? This may start with a dedicated RIT at the Alpha and Charlie sides of the building. When RITs encounter larger buildings, they might be assigned to all four sides. In these cases, a chief officer dedicated to RIT operations will prove invaluable. Located at the ICP, this individual will coordinate the RIT activities and ensure that it is adequately supported if activated. During high-rise operations, the staging area should be located two floors below the fire area. The required RIT tools and equipment must be brought to this location ensuring that all items are present. The sheer size of this type of building might require multiple RIT groups and their associated equipment needs. Again, transporting the necessary personnel and their hardware will take time!
The RIT officer and the division chief at this location must evaluate the operational strategic/tactical circumstances, fire intensity, suppression efforts, and the safety of the operational firefighters. The accurate accountability of all members is mandatory throughout the incident. Enact personal accountability reports (PAR) (the average working life of a half-hour SCBA cylinder is 12 minutes) and on a regularly-timed sequence. It’s about opportunity and spontaneity; time can often be the RIT’s greatest friend and ally. Deploying the minimum required equipment by a well-trained and aggressive group can often be the key to a successful culmination of the operation!
(7) RIT staging area.
RIT operational safety starts with the group’s mission statement! All team members should be “craftsmen” in their chosen field—suppression and rescue technicians that have the ability to foster multiple plans when faced with the difficult task of assisting or rescuing firefighters in distress. Remember, the RIT is often called into action during an unstable event that has suddenly turned chaotic. Rapid, timely, and accurate decision making is critical under these circumstances. The extreme danger that might be encountered has been addressed and documented by the Phoenix (AZ) and Seattle (WA) Fire Departments, stating, “During RIT activation, one or more of the team’s members could or might call a Mayday for themselves.” This is further proof of the dangers the RIT could face at every working incident.
(8) The RIT is often activated during dangerous and unstable conditions.
Fredricks, Andrew A. “Engine Company Support of RIT/FAST Operations.” Fire Engineering, April 1999.
McCormack, Jim. “Firefighter Rescue & Rapid Intervention Teams.” Fire Department Training Network, 2003, revised 2009.
Crawford, Jim. “RIT Lifting Operations.” Fire Engineering Training Minutes, August 2009.
Ciampo, Michael N. “See-Saw Technique: Rescue Maneuver with a Portable Ladder.” Fire Engineering, March 2015.
MICHAEL A. CLARK retired as a captain from the Hanover (NH) Fire Department in 2009. He now serves as a senior staff instructor with the New Hampshire Fire Academy, as an adjunct instructor for the National Fire Academy, and as a structural collapse technician instructor II with the National Homeland Security FEMA/USAR response system. He has an associate degree in fire protection and is an NFPA Level 4 instructor.