SAVING OUR OWN: THE RAPID INTERVENTION TEAM OFFICER
BY RICK LASKY
One question relative to the rapid intervention team (RIT) keeps coming up in personal conversations and the classroom: “What is expected of the officer assigned to head the rapid intervention team?” The individual asking the question believes in the concept but isn`t sure about what should be done.
Many departments are implementing policies, procedures, and guidelines pertaining to the RIT but are failing to train their personnel in this area. It`s not uncommon to hear an officer or firefighter say, “We have a rapid intervention team policy, but we`ve never been trained on how to use it.” Even more important is the fact that many departments are overlooking the need to train the officers who may head this team. Departments need to take a closer look at the roles and responsibilities of the RIT officer/team leader.
In some cases, department administrators, chief officers, and some company officers still haven`t accepted the idea of a rapid intervention team and that there is as much of a need for a RIT as there is for specialty teams and that it is important to make this assignment work within their organizations. When it comes to change and new ideas, it`s surprising to see that some of the very same people who consider some senior members of their departments “dinosaurs” in reality are dinosaurs themselves. As an example, a chief I know has become the same type of chief as his predecessor, with whom he disliked working as a firefighter and lieutenant. There`s a big difference between trying to project an image of being proactive and actually being proactive.
THE ROLE OF THE RIT OFFICER
Whether assigned on arrival at the incident or preassigned in accordance with predetermined response or box card, the RIT officer or team leader needs to address several tasks and to be aware that the strength of that team depends on accomplishing those tasks. (Departments should consider establishing a predetermined RIT response.)
On being assigned, the RIT officer must check with the incident commander (IC) and obtain the following information:
The type of building construction and its features: whether it is of lightweight construction; whether there is a truss roof–remembering the critical lessons learned in the past concerning the failure of truss roofs under fire conditions; whether any special hazards are present; and whether hazardous materials are stored in the building.
The extent of the fire and whether companies are making progress with their attacks. Is the operation in an offensive or defensive mode? How long has the operation been underway?
Which companies are on the scene and what their assignments are. Are companies in staging? Is EMS readily available? If responding ambulance personnel are committed to suppression activities, consider replacing them with another ambulance should a firefighter or civilian be injured.
Where does the IC want the RIT and its tools to stage–in the front of the building, the rear, or a specific sector? The IC may feel it would be best for the RIT to position itself at a location near the area in which most of the fireground activity is taking place. Staging the RIT in the front of the building when the vast majority of activities are being carried out in the rear, for example, may cause a delay in the RIT`s deployment for a fireground emergency.
To whom will the RIT report–the IC, an operations chief, a safety officer?
What radio frequency is being used? This question may serve to remind the IC that the working companies may have to be moved to a fireground channel. Time and time again, firefighter death investigation reports reveal a problem relative to some incident commander`s trying to run an incident on the main dispatch channel. In many situations, the trapped firefighter tried to call for help and was not heard because his transmission was covered by other radio traffic.
Is a building preplan available? This could provide valuable information regarding the building`s construction, layout, and hazards.
Observe whether an accountability system seems to be in place or if companies and personnel are passing by the IC without checking in.
If a tactics board is being used, try to take a look at it.
All this information can be obtained quickly and with very little bother to the IC.
There is one more item to consider: Size up the incident commander. Is he excited or extremely anxious? Does he appear to be confused or overwhelmed by the way the incident is playing out? An incident commander finding it difficult to control his emotions will have even more difficulty if a member or company should become trapped and a “MAYDAY” be called. While the RIT officer is investigating these first areas of concern, the other team members can be assembling their tools and equipment.
Next, the RIT officer must size up the incident himself. If the building will allow it, the RIT officer should attempt to walk the perimeter to make the following observations:
Once again, building construction. Take a look. Are there any walk-outs? Many firefighter deaths have occurred because of poor size-up and the failure to notice exposed lower levels such as walk-out basements and cellars. Are energy-efficient windows present? Keep in mind the hazards they present on the fireground.
Where is the fire located? Can the area of the main body of fire or that of most involvement be observed?
What is happening with the smoke and fire behavior? Does it look as though the companies are making progress? Again, how long have they been in operation?
Are there any hazards such as overhead wires that look like they could come down at any time? Any unaddressed utilities? Consider the dangers of “in-ground” pools. Firefighters have been known to walk right into a pool because of poor visibility due to smoke.
Is there a means of egress for the interior operating companies? Do doors appear to be locked, or have they been forced? Are any windows or doors protected with burglar bars or gates? Is there a second way off for the roof team? How about a ladder for companies working on the floor(s) above the fire? If a firefighter should be hanging from a window, would someone have to run for a ladder?
Are hoselines in the building? If so, how many? Consider the expected results when opposing handlines are in operation.
If a positive-pressure ventilation (PPV) fan is being used, is it being operated properly and at the right time?
Which companies appear to be working in, on, or around the building? Do personnel appear to be freelancing?
If overhead doors have been opened, are they secured in the open position so that they will not close behind personnel operating on the inside, trapping them in the burning building?
How do things compare and match up with what was observed on the IC`s tactics board?
Are there signs of collapse, and are collapse zones being observed?
Sometimes RIT team officers overlook other areas of concern while making these observations. They should be listening to their radios for the following types of transmissions:
Messages that sound as if progress is being made or indicate that companies are talking about backing out.
Companies transmitting at the same time–covering each other and allowing some transmissions to go unheard.
Someone sounds as if he is getting overly excited about something.
SCBA low-pressure alarms sounding while members are transmitting.
A personal alert safety system (PASS) device activated. This device does not always sound because a firefighter is having trouble resetting it or it is on a harness that was left lying on the ground. A member could actually be in distress!
All of this checking can be done in a quick and timely manner. If the officer doesn`t attempt to get this information and should a member be in distress or a MAYDAY situation present itself, the officer will waste valuable time playing catch-up and be delayed in getting to the member(s) in trouble.
Another consideration is that the building may be too large to allow the officer to perform a complete walk-around. In this case, the officer should try to make whatever observations he can and use the building preplan information available.
After gathering as much information as possible, the RIT officer will be able to meet backup with the rest of the team. By now, RIT team members should have completed assembling their tools or be pretty close to completion. The RIT officer can now brief the team on the information that was obtained. During the briefing, it may be decided that the size of the building or incident warrants one or more additional rapid intervention teams. As an incident grows in size, the RIT may need help–for example, a team may be needed for the front and the rear of a large building such as a warehouse, factory, or commercial occupancy.
The size-up the RIT officer performs is different from and more comprehensive than the size-up conducted by a company assigned to a single task, such as advancing a hoseline or venting a roof. The RIT size-up must encompass the overall incident.
The RIT officer and team members must have a positive attitude toward their assignment and should understand just how important they are to their fellow firefighters. A positive attitude and the proper size-up better prepare the rapid intervention team to handle a fireground emergency should it present itself. n
After receiving the assignment, the RIT officer reports to the incident commander and begins to gather information. (Photos by author.)
(Left) A view of the front of a building does not provide the whole picture. (Middle) If possible, look at all sides. (Right) A walk-out basement or exposed lower level might go undetected and pose a serious danger to the companies working above the fire.
(Left) A large building or complex may slow the deployment of a RIT team if provisions for additional teams have not been made. (Right) A second team may be needed for the rear of a building or complex.
n RICK LASKY, a 17-year veteran of the fire service, is a battalion chief with the Darien-Woodridge Fire District in Darien, Illinois, and is currently assigned to the Training/Safety Division. He is an instructor for the Illinois Fire Service Institute (IFSI) and the Illinois Fire Chiefs` Association and the creator of the IFSI “Saving Our Own: Techniques for Firefighter Rescues” program.