BY BRAD SCHAEFER
Washington County, just north of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has instituted a countywide standard operating guideline (SOG) for the rapid intervention team (RIT). (See “Washington County Fire Department Standard Operating Guidelines” on page 26.) The county has 13 fire departments of diverse profiles—some are metropolitan and some are rural; the population of their jurisdictions range from 1,800 to 30,000. There are one full-time career, four combination, and eight paid-on-call or volunteer departments. The chiefs of the departments are members of the Washington County Chiefs Association.
In December 2000, Richfield (WI) Fire Department Chief Terry Kohl recommended to the chiefs’ organization establishing a countywide SOG for the RIT. The chiefs agreed and assigned the Washington County Training Officers Association (WCTOA) to develop the guideline. The WCTOA formed a committee to accomplish the task. The committee members were Captain Shawn Selode of the Jackson (WI) Fire Department; Captain Rob Stuesser of Richfield; and Assistant Chief Chuck Ruetten of the Slinger (WI) Fire Department and I.
The first step was to research information that already existed. Committee members attended numerous classes on rapid intervention and firefighter survival. We traveled across the state of Wisconsin and consulted with firefighters who had attended other training seminars. We read numerous articles from trade magazines and the Internet, reviewed other departments’ SOGs, and watched hours of training videos.
At the request of a firefighter from one of our county departments, we contacted Deputy Chief Bill Rice of the Wawatosa (WI) Fire Department, who had assisted Ozaukee County in developing a county SOG. Ozaukee County is adjacent to Washington County and has a similar department profile. Rice gave the committee a copy of the Ozaukee County SOG and recommended that we create two categories of directives: those that should be covered at the local level and those mandated at the county level. For example, a county-level standard should not tell a department to respond in a specific type of vehicle. Some departments may prefer to roll an engine, a ladder, a squad, or maybe even a van. On the county level, on the other hand, it should not matter how the RIT members get to the scene, just that they get there.
The thing to keep in mind is that the ultimate goal is to develop a guideline that will work for all departments in the county. Rapid intervention is dynamic. The RIT SOG should be constantly reviewed and improved.
The committee liked the Ozaukee County guideline and considered it important that there be consistency within the two county SOGs, especially since some of our county departments work with Ozaukee County departments.
All Washington County fire departments were invited to attend a meeting to review the SOG. We wanted to make sure everyone had an opportunity to see the guideline and that it would be feasible for all the departments. All departments approved the guideline. We adapted the Ozaukee County guideline to fit Washington County but did not change the general principles.
PRESENTING THE SOG TO THE COUNTY CHIEFS ASSOCIATION
Rice introduced the guideline to the Washington County Chiefs Association, using a Power PointT presentation. Members of our RIT committee were there to answer any questions. The SOG was voted on and accepted. The committee breathed a sigh of relief.
We held a training session on the theory of rapid intervention because some of our members were not sold on the importance of rapid intervention. Keeping in mind the needs of each department, we offered the theory class five times. One of the five classes was held during the day for the second- and third-shift volunteers and the full-time department. We videotaped the program to show to new firefighters or those not able to attend one of the five classes. During those five classes, we trained 262 members.
The committee realized the importance of training the county firefighters in the practical application of the newly accepted RIT SOG. Some firefighters had never received any formal rapid intervention or firefighter survival training. Our goal was to give the firefighters a taste of rapid intervention, hoping they would accept what we were teaching, expand on it, and modify it to match their needs. The county SOG stated what was expected of each department if called for RIT service, but it did not say how to apply the SOG.
Each department sent four members (one RIT team) to attend a train-the-trainer class. We grouped the departments into three sessions, four departments in each session. That covered 12 of the 13 departments. The 13th department was Slinger. Quite a few of the instructors were from Slinger, so we did the same training on the normal drill night. One disadvantage of this was that Slinger missed the interaction with the other departments.
The class was held in a house donated by the Slinger school system. It had been modified with reusable props to facilitate the training. The reusable props allowed us to safely and efficiently train the firefighters.
We started the class with a Power PointT presentation, which introduced the instructors, the RIT committee members, the personnel who set up the house, and the victims used. We then discussed when and how to request a RIT, what the RIT should do after arriving at the scene, and the steps to follow if the RIT is needed.
After we went through RIT setup, we introduced a technique to organize the RIT members. We introduced the T.E.A.R. principle—Team leader, Extrication, Air, and Rope (see “The T.E.A.R. Principle” below). The program concluded with a demonstration in which the RIT entered the classroom to assist a downed firefighter. The RIT members explained the steps of the process as they performed them.
One of our goals was to give each member a taste of rapid intervention. After the demonstration, the teams were divided into groups and assigned to one of four technique stations—firefighter drags, wall breach, window enlargement, and air bottle switchover. Each RIT spent 45 minutes at each station.
After all the stations were completed, the teams were given a chance to apply what they had learned in various scenarios.
(3) Two RIT members, most likely Air and Extrication, drag a downed firefighter. (Photo by author.)
The RIT committee had compiled a three-ring binder containing the lesson plans used for each of the techniques taught in the class as well as lesson plans for numerous other practical techniques. Among these techniques were air mask familiarization, firefighter drags, three different air bottle switchovers, three techniques for removing a firefighter who had fallen through the floor, three techniques for removing a downed firefighter from a second-floor window, a method for removing a firefighter from a roof, and two methods for self-evacuating from an upper floor. These are only a few of the techniques available today. The binder makes it easy to add to and modify the information as new techniques become available or current ones change.
The house has props for performing all of the techniques. A member of one of the departments in the county is trained to instruct in each of the techniques in the binder.
Fire departments also were provided with a laminated reference sheet to post in their responding vehicles. It lists the steps to follow when arriving on-scene, the procedures to follow if a RIT is needed, as well as the minimum equipment needed and the crew members’ assignments. The committee felt it was important to provide a resource to the responding team. When requested as a RIT for another department, there is some travel time; this time can be used to review the reference sheet. The sheet also can be used while establishing the staging area, while performing a size-up, and when approaching the incident commander. It is a great reference because we do not respond as a RIT on a daily basis.
The information used for the training was also put on a CD-ROM, which contains also the lesson plan binder, the county SOG, the reference sheet, and the Power PointT presentation in downloadable files. This information can be downloaded at www.slingerfd. com/rit.
We are in the process of making videos of the training sessions and on the theory of rapid intervention, basic practical techniques, and advanced techniques.
- Do not reinvent the wheel. Contact other departments that have already developed a program. Use other firefighters, the Internet, trade magazines, videos, training seminars, and other departments’ SOGs to your advantage. Check with neighboring counties. Do they have anything in place?
- Approach the program with an open mind. Our county consists of approximately 700 firefighters. Be open to others’ ideas.
- Some items should be handled on a local level and some on a county level. Do not lose your entire program by pushing a local issue through the county mandate.
- Take advantage of the resources outside your county. Sometimes it is better to use an instructor from outside your county when teaching new ideas.
- The techniques you have learned or are teaching are only a small portion of the techniques available. Do not try to force your ideas on others. Present your information as another tool for the student’s toolbox. The techniques you teach may not work well for the attending students’ department. The important thing is that the attending firefighters take the information you present, modify it to meet their needs, and add it to their toolbox. The more tools they have in their toolbox, the better prepared they will be if an emergency arises. One tool or technique might work in one situation but not in another. Have available tools and techniques for handling as many situations as possible.
- Consider the conditions of the structure before a RIT enters. Evaluate your risk vs. gain. Do not enter a hazardous environment if the rescue team members have a high risk of losing their lives.
- Train in context. Require your students to wear SCBAs with activated PASS devices; black out the facepieces. Try to make them comfortable in uncomfortable situations. The more comfortable they become with their equipment, the less likely they will be to panic if an emergency should arise.
- Remember to be safe. Establish a rapid intervention team early. Most accidents happen about 15 to 20 minutes into a scene. n
BRAD SCHAEFER, a 12-year veteran of the fire service, is a lieutenant and a volunteer with the Slinger (WI) Fire Department. He is a member of the Washington County RIT Committee and had done extensive research in the area of rapid intervention.
WASHINGTON COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT STANDARD OPERATING GUIDELINES
Scope: The scope of this policy is to protect department members in case of a structural collapse or other life-threatening incident.
Purpose: The purpose of the rapid intervention team (RIT) is to provide rapid rescue for structural firefighting crews operating at an emergency scene. The incident commander (IC) is responsible for establishing the RIT during the first-alarm assignment of every structural incident. The RIT shall stay as a team until such time as the IC releases the members from their assignment.
RIT – Rapid Intervention Team
PAR – Personnel Accountability Report
MAYDAY – A priority radio message that has absolute priority. All radio traffic must cease until the priority transmission has been given.
Policy: The RIT shall consist of one (1) officer and three (3) firefighters. The officer is responsible for assembling the minimal equipment required. A company assigned as the RIT must report to the IC with the minimal equipment listed below. The RIT cannot be used to relieve another crew unless a replacement team (RIT) has been established. The tools and water supply needed by the RIT are dependent on location, conditions, extent, and involvement of the incident. The RIT officer will constantly evaluate conditions and monitor all radio communications.
- Orange tarp (tool placement)
Based on a size-up by the RIT officer, other equipment needed may be, but not be limited to, a folding ladder, saws, a spanner belt, any additional equipment needed, and a preplan of the building if available.
If command or a sector officer receives a MAYDAY message from a firefighter(s) or loses radio contact with a crew, the IC will immediately request a PAR of all crews operating on the fireground. If a crew cannot be contacted, it is considered “lost.” Command will then do the following:
1. Send the RIT to the last known location of the missing firefighter(s).
2. Request MAYDAY and broadcast that a firefighter(s) is missing, and every effort shall be made to locate and remove the missing member(s).
3. Shift fireground priorities to locating and removing the lost firefighter(s). Firefighting operations that are controlling the fire shall not be compromised.
THE T.E.A.R. PRINCIPLE
The Washington County Rapid Intervention Team (RIT) Committee, with the help of some other firefighters, developed an acronym to organize RIT members. The acronym assigns each RIT crew member a specific task.
T = Team Leader. Aside from the usual team leader duties, the team leader receives orders from command and communicates the team’s progress. The team leader also provides guidance to the firefighters dragging the downed firefighter out of the structure. On most RITs, the team leader would be the officer. This member is designated as “team leader” because a volunteer fire department may not have an officer present and a seasoned firefighter may have to fill this role.
- Radio to communicate with Command/Operations.
- Communicates progress and receives orders from Command.
- Provides guidance to team members, including the way out to firefighters dragging the downed firefighter.
E = Extrication. This team member carries basic extrication tools, maybe a set of irons or other basic lightweight extrication equipment, and should make sure a set of wire cutters is available. Numerous wires are found in structures after a fire—clothes dryer venting, tubing from heat ducting, cable TV and telephone wires, Internet cables, and drop-ceiling hangers are a few. All these wires can easily entangle a firefighter. Extrication also assists Air with locating and disarming the PASS device, switching over the air supply, and removing the downed firefighter from the structure.
- Irons and/or other tools that may be needed.
- Wire cutters.
- Frees the downed firefighter from obstructions and restrictions.
- Assists with air bottle switchover and firefighter removal.
A = Air. This member may carry in an extra air rack or other type of air supply, depending on the department. Some departments use a RIT bag to keep their equipment together. The downed firefighter’s air is switched over to the new air supply if the downed firefighter is breathing off a damaged air rack, has less than 50 percent left in the original air tank, or is breathing on his own, and in the following situations:
—the switchover can be done safely, given the hazardous conditions;
—.the location of the downed firefighter is in far enough to justify the time spent to accomplish the switchover; and a
—a prolonged extrication is expected.
Air also locates and disarms the PASS device and assists with firefighter removal.
- Extra air supply, rack or RIT bag depending on availability.
- Ensures the downed firefighter has an adequate air supply and switches the air supply to the carried-in supply when needed.
- Helps remove the downed firefighter.
R = Rope. This team member carries the search rope, which is deployed on the way in and picked up on the way out. Rope is the tether to the outside. Without Rope, the crew inside has no contact with the security of the outside of the building. Rope needs to make sure the rope is attached to something solid; it should not be anchored to anything that could move. If a three-member RIT is used, the team leader could also carry in the rope.
This acronym gives each member an opportunity to prepare for the assignment. For example, Air can become familiar with the air racks on scene, obtain the air supply to be taken in, as well as become familiar with it. Air also can make sure the bottle is turned on (if the system used requires this) and ready to go. Each team member can prepare in this manner.
It also presents an organized approach to entering the building: Team Leader enters first, Extrication second, Air third, and Rope fourth. The team listens for an activated PASS device. If heard, the team may head directly toward the sound. If it is not heard, a right- or left-hand search needs to be conducted.
Team Leader identifies the room in which the downed firefighter is. Team Leader and Rope then “hold the door.” They evaluate the crew’s exit path and the fire conditions and keep the fireground commander informed of the progress being made inside. Air and Extrication continue on into the room of the downed firefighter. They locate and disarm the PASS device; work together to free the downed firefighter of restrictions; and, if the criteria above are met, convert the downed firefighter to the newly supplied air system. They also work together to drag the firefighter out of the structure.
As the team removes the downed firefighter, Rope is the first person out, keeping the rope out of the way. Team Leader is next, keeping in contact with Rope and guiding Air and Extrication to the exit. Air and Extrication drag the downed firefighter out of the structure.
- Search rope.
- Deploys the search rope on the way in.
- Picks up the search rope on the way out.
If only three members are available for the team, the team leader could perform Rope’s duties.
The first RIT into the structure may only be able to locate and provide the downed firefighter with a new air supply. A second RIT may have to remove the downed firefighter.