BY PETER J. LAMB
A great deal of effort, emphasis, training, and funding has been directed toward rapid intervention during the past several years. I strongly believe that we need to have a plan and the resources to ensure that all of our personnel who respond will return safely. These resources should be adequate, valid, and immediately available. By immediately available, I mean that the emphasis on rapid intervention should be shifted: We should teach all firefighter rescue techniques so that nearby fellow crew members can use them to effect a rescue instead of having to wait for a crew to be deployed from the “A” side of the building.
The first principle of this training involves crew integrity, accountability, and training to recognize the emergency and call for help early. To better understand my point, look at the Rapid Intervention Deployment Time Line at right and calculate the time it would take your department, your first alarm, and your resources to accomplish each task.
ARRIVAL OF FIRST COMPANY
The first company will arrive on the scene and begin to take some action. I know all about two-in/two-out and all of the rules that apply, but I would bet that in your department a single engine company would arrive with a minimal staff and begin some work on the problem at hand. This starts the time line.
DEPLOYMENT AND WORK
How much time does it take for the first-arriving engine company to set the brakes and wheel chocks and for an intact crew with full turnout gear and SCBA, tools, and so on to cross the threshold of the structure? Two minutes? Write down the number you come up with. This company can be performing primary search, fire attack, or another needed function.
In your department, how long after the company has gone to work will the designated RIT arrive? Write that time down. In an urban area, this might be the third-due engine, a special engine, the second-due ladder truck, or whatever. Just consider the time it would take for that unit to arrive at a working fire. In a small department that might rely on mutual aid or has long response times, this could be 10 minutes. Whatever that time is, write it under the number for step 2 (going to work).
From the time the RIT arrives, as you described above, how long will it take for it to report to the incident commander (IC) on the “A” side of the building with all of the equipment its members are trained to bring? I hear numbers of approximately three to five minutes, but document it for your department.
RECOGNITION OF A FIREFIGHTER EMERGENCY
When will the IC recognize a firefighter is in danger? Sure, the IC will check after a catastrophic collapse, flashover, or backdraft. But, if you do not have 15-minute Personnel Accountability Reports (PARs) in your department, you may not even know there is a significant event that requires the RIT to be deployed. Fire service history has indicated incidents in which this was not recognized until it was too late. Do not assign a time to this segment just yet; we will add it in as the last number.
Once you have determined that an emergency exists, how long will it take for the RIT to cross the threshold and begin work? Some instructors and departments are training to have the RIT throw ladders and circle the building and do other excellent functions. If two members of the RIT are throwing ladders when the emergency occurs, how does that affect their ability to deploy? Even if they were standing in front of the building, I would guess it would take two to three minutes. Write what you consider to be your department’s time.
LOCATING THE MEMBER
For the purposes of discussion, how long would it take a RIT in your department to locate a missing, lost, or disoriented member on the second floor of a 21/2- or three-story wood-frame building? I understand that there are a million variables involved here, but if the member were unable to provide information, if there were no PASS device sounding, what would it take? Five minutes? Seven minutes? If the member has good solid information, this time can be much less. Choose a realistic amount of time.
EXTRICATION, IF NEEDED
If the member were lightly trapped under plaster and wood lathe from a localized collapse, with no major falling through the floor or catastrophic building failure, how long would it take to get the member free? Two to three minutes? How much longer if the rescue were more complicated, such as a firefighter’s falling through the floor? Write down what you consider to be a realistic amount of time for your department.
RESCUE TO THE EXTERIOR
After locating and extricating the member from a situation as described above, how long would it take for the RIT to get the member back out to the street? Is it the same number of minutes it took to find him? Is it fewer? Has the RIT lost its own orientation? Has the fire intensified? Write down a time, and be very realistic.
OK, let’s look at the results. My guess, based on experience in presenting this scenario to a couple of hundred firefighters of departments of various sizes, is anywhere from 31 to 59 minutes for this time line (cities and municipal career departments are obviously the low end; more rural on-call and volunteer departments are on the high end), excluding the segment about recognizing that there is an emergency.
Subtract 10 minutes from your total, because we will assume the company will operate for 10 minutes before getting in trouble and because our time line started from arrival, so this adjustment is somewhat valid. This now makes the guesstimate 21 minutes or 49 minutes. Remember, we have not even decided a time frame from when you recognize there is an emergency. If we make the assumption that it takes 10 minutes for the crew to get in trouble, then the crew now has about 10 minutes of air remaining in a 30-minute cylinder (20 minutes work time). The math just doesn’t work out.
If we look at a number of case histories and read some National Institute for Occu-pational Safety and Health reports, we would find that the times given are 39 minutes, 50-plus minutes, 45 minutes, and other numbers in that range.
APPLYING THIS INFORMATION
So what do we do about this information? Our current methods of training have focused on wide-area rope searches, carries, drags, and retrieval methods, but I am suggesting that this is quite a way down the RIT time line.
Our emphasis should shift a little bit. I am suggesting that we take a different path.
- Spend serious, dedicated time in applying, enforcing, and managing personnel accountability systems in place in your departments. This would be time well spent. Knowing where the member was operating could save valuable time in deploying the RIT to the correct area.
- Maintain crew integrity at all costs, and reemphasize this every chance you get. If you have a four-person crew and one member is down, the other three members should know and have practiced techniques they can use to remove and retrieve the member even before the RIT is deployed. Certainly, they should call for help immediately. I am not suggesting that you do not have a RIT. I am suggesting that an intact crew can do as much as anyone else to save another member because these members are in the immediate area and will take the shortest time to respond.
- Use 15-minute PARs on all working fires and major incidents so that when you encounter that difficult problem outlined above, you will be able to recognize that a firefighter is in trouble at the first 15-minute PAR. That gives us about five to six minutes of air left in the member’s bottle so that you may have a chance of making a successful rescue.
- Train and retrain firefighters at all levels not to overextend SCBA air supplies, to stay oriented, and to be able to follow a hoseline out to safety-hopefully, this will minimize the problem. My experience tells me that we will never eliminate firefighters’ getting lost, but every department’s goals should be to enforce taking PAR checks every 15 minutes and maintaining crew integrity at all costs. The survivability of your crew depends on it.
PETER J. LAMB, a 20-plus-year veteran of the fire service, is a staff member at the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy. He began his career with the Harris Fire District in Coventry, Rhode Island, where he had risen through the ranks to become chief of department. He also served as chief of the Tiverton (RI) Fire Department. He has lectured extensively throughout the New England area and is Web master for the http://www.petelamb.com/ fire and emergency training Web site.