BY JIM McCORMACK
HOW MANY FIREFIGHTERS ARE there in a rapid intervention team (RIT)? The answer identifies the difference between theory and reality. In an ideal setting, where staffing is not an issue, the ideal RIT size is four members, with multiple RITs available on the fireground. This allows one team to stand by for deployment while additional teams perform proactive fireground tasks. Where staffing is not ideal (which is in most departments), there should be a four-person RIT in place to deploy. The bottom line: You must have a team ready to deploy immediately, or you really don’t have a RIT in place.
During actual fireground rapid intervention operations, multiple RITs are needed. Any time a RIT is deployed, additional RITs must be established for their relief and safety. Rapid intervention operations take two or more teams to remove a downed firefighter. If everything falls into place, the first RIT may locate, package, and remove the downed firefighter. More likely, however, is that the first team will work to locate the firefighter and secure his air supply while additional teams will work to extricate him.
RIT members must perform many individual tasks. Remember, if you do not have a RIT immediately ready to deploy, you don’t have a RITyou have a team doing support functions. RIT tasks can be broken down into proactive tasks before and while responding to a Mayday. Although it would be great to assign all of these tasks ahead of time, it is not realistic. Some of the proactive fireground tasks are found at every incident (size-up, 360° survey of structure, tool staging, etc.), but many are dependent on the fireground and structure (laddering, forcible entry/egress challenges, etc.). It would be impossible to preassign all of these tasks, but you can train all members to perform each task and then assign them based on the incident.
The tasks performed when responding to a Mayday (once the RIT is activated on the fireground) are much more specific. Assign these tasks at the start of the shift. RIT members should proficiently perform all of these tasks as well.
Preassigned positions and assignments are critical to the success of any fireground team, and the RIT is no exception. Although it doesn’t matter what you call the actual positionscompetency is what’s really importanta name that reflects the basic function helps make things easier to remember.
The positions that must be in place when a RIT deploys to a Mayday are as follows:
- RIT officer.
- Navigation/Air Supply firefighter.
- Search firefighters.
Once the victim is located, the Navigation and Search firefighter assumes the role of packaging and removal, directed by the RIT officer. The RIT members must always maintain voice contact during interior operations.
The RIT Officer
The RIT’s most important position is the RIT officer. RIT leadership prior to and during an actual fireground emergency is crucial to the RIT’s overall success. The RIT officer must be proactive regarding RIT operations at the start of the shift by making individual assignments, if the company is dispatched as the RIT.
The RIT officer must have a strong presence on the fireground. Discipline is a must during all fireground operations, especially RIT operations, and the RIT officer must practice it and demand it from all team members.
When preparing the fireground and performing proactive tasks, the RIT officer must ensure that the team is ready to deploy immediately, that RIT members are performing all needed tasks, and that Command is kept informed of the current situation. Knowing and anticipating current and future fireground conditions (initial and ongoing size-up of the fire, the building, and the companies) are essential to the RIT officer’s duties.
If the RIT is deployed to locate and assist a firefighter, the RIT officer must coordinate and direct the RIT’s interior actions. Before entry, the RIT officer must ensure that the needed equipment is assembled, that a RIT tag line is secured outside the structure, that all members’ assignments are clear, and that the RIT has a plan.
When entering to rescue a firefighter, the RIT officer must have a plan and make sure that all team members understand it. It’s too late to create a plan once the Mayday is declared and the team has been deployed!
If available, the RIT officer should have a thermal imaging camera (TIC) to assist with navigation, movement, and possible location of the firefighter. The TIC should increase speed and efficiency during the operation, but it should never be relied on 100 percent. You will still need all of your fireground senses to search for and locate the firefighter, as well as keep track of your way out of the structure.
In addition, the officer must also ensure that the Navigation/Air Supply firefighter has secured the tag line to the outside and is ready to deploy it during the operation. The tag line is critical for two reasons. First, the tag line provides a direct exit out of the structure; second, it provides a direct avenue to the RIT/victim for additional RITs. Since it’s unlikely that one team will be able to locate and remove the firefighter, the tag line is vital to the success of the overall operation.
The RIT officer must coordinate and direct the actual search for the missing firefighter, conducted by the RIT members assigned the Search position. Ideally, two search firefighters (with a four-person team) perform the actual search. The RIT officer should direct these firefighters based on information gathered from the TIC, the surroundings, radio reports, and prior fireground experience.
When the victim is found, the RIT officer must take control of the tag line from the Navigation/Air Supply firefighter and securely tie it off near the victim’s location (but never to the actual victim). At this point, the RIT officer maintains contact with the tag line and guides the other members out during the removal.
The RIT officer is also responsible for communicating information to Command or the Rescue Sector during the deployment. Where is the RIT? What are the conditions? What problems are being encountered? What additional resources are needed? What is the team’s air supply status? All of this information, and more, must be communicated while conducting the interior operation.
The RIT officer should be the most experienced member of the team. Many critical tasks must be performed simultaneously for a mission’s success. Missing any one of the tasks may result in mission failure.
The second RIT position involves navigation and air supply. The Navigation/Air Supply firefighter deploys the tag line after securing it to the outside prior to entry. During the search, this team member deploys and manages the tag line (to keep the shortest, straightest route from the outside to the RIT).
In addition, this member brings in the emergency air supply (additional SCBA or RIT pack) and secures the downed firefighter’s air supply when he is located (with aid from a search firefighter). Securing the air may be as simple as swapping a regulator or as complicated as removing and replacing an entire SCBA face piece. Depending on the difficulty, additional help may be needed. Practice and prepare finding comfortable and secure means of transporting the emergency air supply while deploying and managing the RIT tag line ahead of time. Although it’s not a complicated set of tasks, each is vital to the success of the RIT.
Once the firefighter is located, the RIT officer takes control of the tag line from the Navigation/Air Supply firefighter and secures the air supply to the downed firefighter.
If the first RIT cannot locate the firefighter, the RIT officer and Navigation/Air Supply firefighter secure the tag line together at the current location before exiting. Ideally, a second or additional RIT will arrive before the first team leaves, requiring the RIT officer and Command and the Rescue Sector to be proactive.
Although the emergency air supply is intended for the downed firefighter, the RIT may also use it. If RIT members run low on air or get into trouble, they can use the emergency air supply when exiting the building. For this reason, each incoming RIT should bring its own emergency air supply. If it’s not used during the rescue, bring it for the same reason.
Along with the RIT officer and the Navigation/Air Supply firefighter, the RIT should assign members for the search. Remember, before the RIT can help the downed firefighter, it must find him! RIT members can be so overloaded with tools and assignments before entry that the actual search effort is all but forgotten. A four-person RIT allows two members to be assigned to search. A search firefighter’s main function is to SEARCH! He follows the RIT officer’s direction and aggressively searches for the missing firefighter, using any and all means. RIT members should always stay in voice contact with each other. Aggressive searching requires awareness of your locationthat’s why voice contact and the RIT tag line are important to the operation.
A breakdown in discipline at this stage of the operation will only prolong the search and potentially cause mission failure. During a firefighter search, follow the RIT officer’s lead.
PACKAGING AND REMOVAL
Once the firefighter is located, several tasks must be performed simultaneously. Although these tasks should be assigned at the start of the shift, the RIT officer must account for all tasks by confirming the assignments once the firefighter has been located.
The RIT officer must notify Command or the Rescue Sector that the firefighter has been located and that assessment and packaging are underway (benchmark). He must also take control of the tag line from the Navigation/Air Supply firefighter and secure it somewhere near the victim’s location. The RIT officer must maintain contact with the tag line for the duration of the interior operation.
The RIT officer should also confirm that the RIT members are performing their packaging and removal assignments. Additionally, he must quickly evaluate and give an update on the interior fire conditions, the building, the downed firefighter, and the RIT members (including air supply). An additional RIT should also assist with the rescue if it hasn’t already been requested or deployed automatically per the standard operating procedure. Finally, the RIT officer needs to review and communicate the rescue/removal plan, as well as have a backup planor twoready for all RIT members and Command or the Rescue Sector.
The first search firefighter who finds the victim must immediately inform all members that he has done so. Before getting involved with any other tasks, the firefighter must confirm that the other team members are moving to his location. The next step is to reset the victim’s PASS device and check the immediate condition of the victim (breathing, entanglement, etc.). The search firefighter should then convert the victim’s SCBA waist strap to an improvised drag harness by loosening the waist strap, disconnecting it, and reconnecting it between the legs (crotch) of the downed firefighter. This action is of great benefit during the removal process; the SCBA stays on the downed firefighter and can be used to drag the victim.
The second search firefighter, after converging on the victim’s location, performs a quick sweep around the immediate area, looking for an alternate exit (door or window). This simple sweep prevents the time-consuming removal of the tag line from all the way back out of the building. If an exit is found, he moves back to the RIT officer and extends the tag line from the tie-off location to the new exit location and secures it there. This provides a direct exit route for additional RITs and for removal.
Once the tag line is passed off to the RIT officer, the Navigation/Air Supply firefighter moves to the victim’s location, secures the air supply, and attaches the RIT air pack to the victim.
It’s very important to note that the above packaging and removal steps all occur simultaneously and rapidly. There isn’t a lot of time to stop and thinkthis is where prior training really pays off.
The RIT officer must maintain control and order as the rescue proceeds. This portion of the removal operation rescue effort is intense and physically exhausting. The RIT officer should rotate RIT members through the various rescue positions to avoid exhaustion.
There may be additional tasks that must be performed as part of the interior RIT operation, but the above tasks are an integral part of all RIT training and preparation.
JIM McCORMACK, a 19-year veteran of the fire service, is a lieutenant with the Indianapolis (IN) Fire Department. He is the founder of the Fire Department Training Network and the author of >Firefighter Survival and Firefighter Rescue and Rapid Intervention Teams.