SAVING OUR OWN: THE RAPID INTERVENTION TEAM CHECKLIST
BY RICK KOLOMAY AND BOB HOFF
The officer of the rapid intervention team, or RIT (see “The Rapid Intervention Team Officer, July 1997), should be “in touch” with the behavior of the building and the fire until released from the scene. This will require the officer to physically size up the building often. Even after extinguishment, many firefighters have fallen victim to injury and death during overhaul due to building collapse, injury from tools, falls, and many other causes. Although the RIT officer may be on the opposite side of the building–also opposite of the remainder of the team–doing a size-up, the officer can still be reached by radio should the team be needed, and it can respond immediately. Training and discipline during size-up are the key characteristics of an effective rapid intervention team.
Building dimensions (length 2 width 2 height). On arrival, the RIT officer should access the area that must be dealt with in terms of the fire building`s dimensions. The anticipation that attack companies will commit deep into a building to a “point of no return” then becomes great. There is an increased chance that the RIT will have to be activated because firefighters used their SCBA air before turning around in time or became disoriented and lost in a large-area building. Additional concerns of the RIT are that firefighters operating in a large-area building can fall victim to heat exhaustion, fatigue, or a medical emergency requiring a rescue.
Building occupancy. The RIT officer should immediately determine how the building occupancy will affect the firefighting operations and potential problems. If the occupancy is a hotel or apartment building, the RIT should anticipate the risks search teams may be taking. Operating above the fire floor without hoselines and laddered windows often occurs. The RIT will have to be very aware of where the search teams are located, know how many personnel are searching, and listen constantly to the fireground radio communications.
If the building occupancy is industrial, although the civilian occupancy may be minimal, the business occupancy may harbor dangerous chemicals and various “mantraps,” again requiring the RIT to constantly size up and anticipate the dangers. The RIT may find some assistance with the building`s layout by checking a building preplan at the command post.
Building construction type. While sizing up the building, the building construction type(s) will be most important and will involve the concept of time. Two important questions for the RIT are the following:
–How long will the fire (spread) tolerate the presence of the firefighters inside?
–How long will the construction (while attacked by fire) tolerate the presence of the firefighters inside?
For example, a fire resistive compartmentized apartment building can contain and withstand a great amount of fire for an extended period of time. The consideration that would stand out for a RIT would be the immense amount of heat and the potential for burns that could victimize the attack and search companies. In contrast, a building constructed of lightweight wooden I-beams with composite board decking will withstand only moderate fire conditions for only minutes before structural components disintegrate and collapse. The potential for firefighters to fall through a floor or roof would be great. The ability of the RIT to understand building construction and be experienced in how (how long) it reacts to fire will allow it to anticipate potential problems and react properly if necessary.
Placement of windows, doors, fire escapes, porches, and so on. As the RIT officer completes the initial rapid “walk around” to size up dimensions, occupancy, and construction type(s), points of entrance/exit are noted as well. These various windows and doors are potential points for escape and rescue. In anticipation of a potential rescue, these points of escape may be very important.
Potential danger of high-security doors, barred windows, and building modifications. Such dangers need to be addressed and sometimes dealt with immediately, depending on the situation. If fire is being attacked from the front of a downtown two-story commercial store 35 feet by 60 feet and the rear first-floor access door is heavily secured and not opened, the RIT officer should inform the IC immediately. If a company is not available to open the door, then the RIT should be ordered to open the door. The RIT should then return to its staging area with its equipment.
While en route to the fire, the RIT officer should determine the tactics (offensive, defensive, or defensive-to-offensive attack) being employed.
Offensive attack. The RIT can anticipate that firefighters are operating inside the building and will have to time and determine their progress by radio and observation once on the scene.
Defensive attack. The RIT will have to determine the need for or effectiveness of collapse zones. If collapse zones are not effective on arrival, the RIT could be activated for a collapse. The RIT must also plan for a potential secondary collapse. Although a defensive attack is being mounted on the original fire building, an offensive attack may be initiated in an exposure building as well.
Defensive-to-offensive attack. This attack can pose the greatest risk in that the interior companies will be operating inside the building immediately after a “blitz” master stream of water has been used to confine a fast-spreading fire. Some areas of the building may have been severely weakened by the fire and loaded with water. Being aware of these conditions is especially important to protect the safety of firefighters during overhaul operations. In this type of attack, it is very important that the RIT carefully monitor and consider the structure`s construction type and occupancy.
If the fire goes into extended operations, the RIT can use the incident management system as an important resource to update progress and forecast danger for firefighters. Using the command post tactics sheet or board often provides a quick view of the strategy and tactical positions of the operating companies. The RIT should review the tactics board as it is updated.
Another source of information for the RIT is the personnel accountability system in use at the command post. In anticipation of a catastrophic event such as a collapse, the RIT can maintain an estimated number of firefighters committed to interior operations.
The IC can also personally update the RIT or express various concerns as a source of information. A relationship between the IC and the RIT should be established as early in the operation as possible. In most situations the IC will directly dispatch and communicate with the RIT should a problem arise.
The RIT can also observe the IC`s actions. If the behavior of the IC indicates anxiety, confusion, poor communications, or lack of organization, the RIT officer should be alerted to anticipate being needed. On the other hand, demonstrations of accountability, control, and good communications by the IC would indicate sound fireground strategy and tactics. It is important that all levels of rank be trained on rapid intervention team operations. This is especially true for the IC, with whom the responsibility for the RIT operations will ultimately rest.
LADDERS AND TRUCK OPERATIONS
A critical tactics question that should constantly run through the mind of the RIT officer is, Are there enough truck (support) operations going on at any given time? There must be enough personnel and designated companies to provide the support needed for the interior companies operating. Of course, the greater the interior attack, the more ventilation the better. Also, the more ladders that are raised, the better the chances of escape and rescue.
If for some reason the interior companies are not receiving the needed support, the RIT should suggest to Command the raising of ladders and other truck operations that would assist a RIT operation. If staffing is inadequate at that time, the RIT may have to perform some of the needed support operations. Caution: If the RIT is used too extensively, it can become physically expended and ineffective for rapid intervention if needed.
Within the concept of rapid intervention teams, cross-training in aerial apparatus is important. A RIT may find the need to raise, rotate, and extend a tower ladder, aerial ladder, or aerial platform to effect the rescue of a firefighter in a window.
FIREGROUND TIME VS. PROGRESS
The RIT often will arrive after the initial companies have committed to their fireground operations. The RIT officer can obtain the time of alarm by noting its dispatch before responding, using CAD (computer-aided dispatching), or requesting the time from the command post or the dispatch center. The time of the alarm will have great significance to the RIT throughout the fire in relation to fire behavior (fire spread), building construction (collapse), firefighter endurance, and weather (extreme summer/winter operations). The greater the elapsed time, the greater the chance that a problem may occur and the greater the need for a prepared rapid intervention team.
The amount of equipment deployed by the RIT can be measured against the size of the incident and the amount of time elapsed. The greater the incident and elapsed “on-scene” time, the more equipment the RIT should deploy. For example, a two-room fire in a typical single-family dwelling that was confined quickly may not require additional ground ladders and heavy equipment. In comparison, a four-story ordinary constructed flat-roof apartment building with a deep-seated fire may require such additional tools.
A suggested RIT list can be policy, but the ingenuity of the RIT based on the type of fire and building can also dictate the type of tools assembled. As an example, a basement fire in an old downtown brick building may require that the RIT deploy more search and rescue rope than usual; a high-rise fire will require more “emergency” SCBA air supply equipment than usual.
Check with rehab officer/condition of firefighters. During an extended fireground operation, check with the rehab officer to assess the overall condition of the firefighters.
–What is the average recovery time of the companies?
–Are the companies being rotated to rehab?
–Are the firefighters sick from heat stress?
As we commonly know, as firefighters deteriorate, there is a greater chance of injury. Although the RIT may not be able to correct this problem, the team must be very aware of it and be prepared to address it.
Check with the safety officer/compare information. Many of the concerns of the RIT officer compare with those of the safety officer. Frequent face-to-face meetings between the two officers can help ensure that all bases are covered around, on top of, and inside the building. In many cases, during larger campaign fires, the safety officer can perform updated size-ups for the RIT, allowing the RIT officer to stay close to the IC.
Relocate or add another RIT. In some cases, such as at a large factory 400 feet by 400 feet with fire in the rear, the IC may be located away from the fire in the front of the building. The actual fire operations are being commanded by a sector officer more than 400 feet away from the command post, where the RIT is located. In this situation, if the RIT were needed, it would have to hastily mobilize around a 400-foot-deep building with full turnout gear and whatever equipment could be carried. In addition, how physically able would the RIT be? How effective could it be with such a time delay in getting to the interior firefighters in trouble? The IC can relocate the RIT to the sector officer in the rear or organize a second RIT to report to the rear of the building.
POTENTIAL COLLAPSE AND COLLAPSE AREA
Rapid intervention team personnel need to be aware of areas of collapse during interior overhaul. Interior stairwells, exterior porches, and floors that have been severely damaged could collapse, weakening or collapsing walls as well. If exterior streams were used to knock down heavy fire and interior overhaul is to be performed, the building must be surveyed from top to bottom. Aerial devices should be used to assess structural conditions on the roof, stairwells, and floors through the windows as well as the overall condition of the exterior walls while water is draining from the building. During the assessment of the structural conditions, only chief officers and personnel operating the aerial(s) should to be allowed in the collapse zones until a thorough assessment of the type of operations to be performed has been made.
Knowledge of building construction and the potential for collapse are perhaps the most important areas for rapid intervention training. We must remember that buildings can be replaced; firefighters cannot.
During extended firefighting operations, emergency medical services are in great demand. Initial demands may involve firefighting/rescue operations, injured civilians, and firefighters. The RIT officer can include a designated EMS company as part of the RIT for rescuing and treating injured firefighters.
Realizing that a RIT operation on the fireground is an additional insurance plan in preventing a fireground mishap or minimizing catastrophic results of a fireground disaster, such a checklist to help remind and organize the team may prove invaluable. n
The RIT officer must perform frequent size-ups around the building and share the information obtained with the other team members. (Photos by James Regan unless otherwise indicated.)
From the perspective of the RIT officer, windows and doors are potential points for escape and rescue.
Inasmuch as companies are operating inside, the RIT must note this exterior rear entrance and immediately inform a sector chief or the incident commander that it must be opened. (Photo by Rick Kolomay.)
The rapid intervention team officer must determine as quickly as possible the tactics being used. The RIT officer must constantly weigh time vs. progress in the firefighting tactics.
If truck operations are not being carried out, the RIT must realize the potential dangers of such tactics.
The incident commander and RIT officer must both consider where a rapid intervention team can best position to serve the firefighters on the scene. Having to respond from a command post that of necessity is a block away may be too far away for a RIT team.
RAPID INTERVENTION TEAM CHECKLIST
o 1. Building dimensions (length 2 width 2 height).
o 2. Building occupancy.
o 3. Building construction type:
o 4. Placement of windows, doors, fire escapes, porches, and so on.
o 5. Potential danger of high-security doors, barred windows, building modifications.
o 6. Offensive, defensive, defensive-to-offensive.
o 7. Command operations:
Check tactics sheet or board.
Check accountability system.
o 8. Ladders and truck operations.
o 9. Fireground time vs. progress.
o 10. Stage equipment based on construction type:
Wood Frame/Heavy Timber/Ordinary Noncombustible/Fire Resistive
o Pickhead axes and pike poles o Halligan bars
o Circular wood-blade saw o Sledgehammers
o Ventilation chain saw o Circular metal-blade saw
o Halligan bar and sledgehammer o Torch
o Search rope o Search ropes
o Emergency air supply or SCBA o Emergency air supply or SCBA
o Charged hoseline o Charged hoseline
o Ground ladder(s) o Ground ladder(s)
o 11. Check with rehab officer/condition of firefighters.
o 12. Check with safety officer/compare information.
o 13. Relocate or add another RIT.
o 14. Potential collapse and collapse area.
o 15. EMS for the RIT.
RICK KOLOMAY, a 20-year veteran of the fire service, is a lieutenant with the Schaumburg (IL) Fire Department and is currently assigned to Heavy Rescue Squad 1. He is an instructor for the Illinois Fire Service Institute (IFSI), the Illinois Fire Chiefs` Association, and the IFSI “Saving Our Own: Techniques for Firefighter Rescues” program.
BOB HOFF, a 21-year veteran of the fire service, is a battalion chief with the Chicago (IL) Fire Department and is assigned citywide. He is an instructor for the Illinois Fire Service Institute, the Illinois Fire Chief`s Association, the Chicago Fire Academy, and the IFSI “Saving Our Own: Techniques for Firefighter Rescues” program.