Extrication of a Downed Firefighter Using An Attic Ladder

By Matt Rarick and Rob Tieche

On December 17, 2003, crews from the Cardinal Joint Fire District in Canfield, Ohio, were dispatched to a basement fire in a two-story structure. During the initial attack, the incident commander (IC) was informed that a firefighter had become trapped in the basement. A Mayday was issued, and the downed firefighter’s PASS alarm was activated.

The IC deployed a rapid intervention team (RIT) to the downed firefighter’s last know location. Two RIT members were able to locate, package, and extricate the downed firefighter using only their RIT pack and an attic ladder before the situation escalated to dangerous proportions.

If this scenario were to happen to your department, would your personnel be able to quickly and successfully resolve the situation without placing additional firefighters at risk? Through the chaos and excitement of any Mayday issued, a simple and straightforward solution needs to be employed to quickly resolve the situation. With the introduction of RIT in the firefighting industry, new and comprehensive extrication methods are being developed to more successfully and safely remove downed firefighters from hostile environments. Speed, personnel, and communication are essential to any extrication activity, but often complex and impractical methods are employed to retrieve fallen firefighters, leading—in most cases—to lost time and additional personnel becoming victims themselves.

In 2003, a study involving RIT teams and the extrication of downed firefighters revealed that it would take 45 minutes and 15 firefighters to successfully retrieve one trapped firefighter from a hostile situation.1 In addition, during the extrication, the study found that, on average, two additional firefighters would need to be rescued as a result of the extrication effort. Clearly, more practical methods need to be established to resolve these types of occurrences.

In some cases, a simple and basic retrieval method can result in the greatest success. Using just three firefighters and an attic ladder, fire crews can better coordinate their efforts and ultimately save a civilian victim or a downed firefighter without unnecessary risk to the additional personnel involved.

1 Photos by Matt Rarick.













Step 1: When the exterior crew members have determined the approximate location of the downed firefighter, they determine the best wall to use to extricate the downed firefighter (photo 1). The exterior fire crew then makes an opening in one of the walls by completely clearing a basement window frame or using a sledgehammer to create an opening large enough in the concrete block to adequately accommodate the downed firefighter, his SCBA, and the RIT pack, if being used (photo 2). Note: In high-heat or fire conditions, place a backup hoseline at the window to protect the rescuers and victim.

Step 2: The interior RIT crew locates the victim and moves him as close to the basement opening as possible (photo 3), clearing obstacles in the way (washer, dryer, clutter).

Step 3: The exterior fire crew passes an attic ladder through the basement opening, making sure both RIT firefighters have a handle on the ladder and are able to control it once it fully enters the basement (photo 4).

Step 4: The two RIT members place the ladder on the floor next to the downed firefighter (photo 5), whose arms and legs should be positioned approximately within the ladder’s ends. This allows for a more secure placement of the downed firefighter on the ladder for extrication.

Step 5: The two RIT firefighters place the downed firefighter face down on the ladder (photo 6), ensuring his arms and legs are centered atop the ladder to keep the center of gravity in the middle of the ladder.

Step 6: The two RIT firefighters lift the ladder’s front end (the end closest to the basement opening wall) and place the two beam ends at the base of the opening, keeping the beam ends approximately three inches above the opening’s bottom surface (photo 7).

Step 7: The two RIT firefighters elevate the bottom of the ladder’s rungs (near the feet of the downed firefighter) until they are level with the bottom surface of the opening (photo 8).

Step 8: The RIT (with the help of an additional firefighter outside the structure) slides the ladder out of the basement opening, ensuring that the downed firefighter’s body and SCBA are adequately clearing the opening (photos 9, 10).

Step 9: The firefighter outside the structure drags the ladder a safe distance from the structure to begin EMS care (photo 11).

This procedure offers firefighters a basic and simple extrication method that requires minimal personnel; minimal equipment; and simple, straightforward communication.











As RIT technology and strategy develop to become more complex and intrinsic, it sometimes is necessary to resort to the basics of extrication to successfully and quickly remove downed firefighters from hostile situations. Don’t waste time debating numerous extrication strategies when a simple, pretrained method is more adequate. Time is a commodity you can’t afford to waste.

Remember, we have all the tools necessary to overcome these types of obstacles. The means we use and how we employ them determine the number of minutes and personnel we will need to save one of our own from the situation all of us wish to avoid.


1. Kreis, Steve, “Rapid Intervention Isn’t Rapid,” Fire Engineering, December 2003.

MATT RARICK is a 10-year veteran of the fire service and a firefighter/EMT-P with the Cardinal Joint Fire District in Canfield, Ohio. He also co-heads the department’s RIT training program.

ROB TIECHE, a firefighter/EMT-P, is a 10-year veteran of the fire service and the Cardinal Joint Fire District’s EMS director. He co-heads the department’s RIT training program.

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