Rapid intervention teams (RIT), rapid intervention companies (RIC), firefighter assist and search teams (FAST), or whatever you call them—all serve the same purpose. They are there to help their brothers and sisters who become lost, trapped, or injured.
Although such a team is not a new concept for some departments, other departments are just starting to implement them. For those departments that are hesitant about instituting a RIT, staffing seems to be the main obstacle. If staffing is the deterrent, then what is the alternative?
Some departments, as you will see, send a full engine crew to serve as a RIT to all incidents, even the initial response to a fire. Some send truck companies. Some departments wait until it has been determined that there is a “working” fire. Some more progressive departments with limited staffing use automatic-aid companies as their RIT unit to ensure that this safety mechanism is available at every incident.
In Toledo, we have trained every company in RIT operations. In its incipiency in Toledo, we trained heavy rescue squads (four-person units with no hose or ladders but a lot of guts and experience) and the engine company stations with these squads as our RIT crews. After several years, we decided that it would be best to train all companies. Now, we send a fourth engine company to all reports of structure fires to serve as RIT. This system seems to work well.
—John “Skip” Coleman, deputy chief of fire prevention, Toledo (OH) Department of Fire and Rescue, is author of Incident Management for the Street-Smart Fire Officer (Fire Engineering, 1997) and Managing Major Fires (Fire Engineering, 2000), a technical editor of Fire Engineering, and a member of the FDIC Educational Advisory Board.
Question: More and more departments are using rapid intervention teams. Does your department have a RIT/RIC/FAST? If so, how is it dispatched—automatic response, mutual aid, internally (from within your department)? If not, what contingencies, if any, have been made for RIT?
John Salka, battalion chief, Fire Department of New York
Response: FDNY has employed a firefighter assist and search team (FAST) for several years now, and it has developed and evolved over the years. It is generally a ladder company duty. The FAST truck is assigned (as the third truck) to an incident on transmission of a 10-75 signal—usually transmitted for fires or emergencies where the incident commander (IC) requires the response of four engines, three ladders, a squad and/or rescue company, and a second battalion chief.
The third ladder company is assigned as the FAST truck and is informed by radio while en route of that designation. The IC, usually a battalion chief at that point, is also notified of the unit identity of the FAST truck. These two notifications eliminate any confusion regarding which unit has the FAST assignment.
On arrival, the FAST truck officer reports to the IC at the command post and remains there unless otherwise directed by the IC. The other members of the unit take a position near but not at the command post. One of those members is assigned a FAST unit radio, which is carried by every battalion. It has an LCD screen that displays the identity of the unit transmitting. This is done so that if a Mayday transmission is received, this FAST member can identify the member in distress and inform the IC and FAST truck officer. The FAST truck reports to the command post with the following equipment: life saving rope (150 feet), a life belt, search rope (300 feet), a stokes basket, an extra SCBA, and a battalion FAST radio. The FAST is not released until the fire is declared under control, at which time its members can be reassigned to other duties at the scene.
Rick Lasky, chief, Lewisville (TX) Fire Department
Response: We implemented our rapid intervention team policy years ago. Since that time a couple of changes have been made, but the goal always has been to provide the safest fireground possible for our firefighters. When first implemented in Lewisville, the RIT, or initial rapid intervention crew (IRIC) as it is referred to now, was often assigned to an ambulance crew. However, this policy presented a problem because of the following factors:
- We assign two firefighter paramedics to each of our ambulances—in some cases, the newest department members. Even though they are dedicated and proficient at their job, having to respond to a Mayday as the RIT may subject them to a great deal of stress.
- There is no officer assigned to the ambulance, which sort of leaves the pair without someone who operates in the supervisory role regularly.
- Aside from a small select amount of tools, our ambulances don’t carry the equipment often used by the RIT. These members would have to go to other apparatus on the scene and grab their tools and equipment. These tools may be needed by that apparatus’ crew to complete their assigned tasks.
- Again, only two people are assigned to the ambulance. I understand that NFPA 1500, Section 6-5, states that the IRIC can be made up of two firefighters, but lessons learned as of late and what has actually been preached for some time now is that two firefighters most often are not sufficient to rescue a firefighter. They can set a ladder and initiate a search, but it would be difficult for just two firefighters to remove a downed firefighter in most circumstances. I also understand that some fire departments are lucky if they can assign even two firefighters to RIT, but the possibility that two members may not be enough needs to be considered. In my travels, I have found that there are still some departments that have chiefs who do not understand the RIT concept at all.
Several years ago, we revised our policy so that RIT duties would be assigned to the third-due engine or quint on every first-alarm assignment at a reported structure fire. This third-due engine/quint knows ahead of time that if it is third due, it would be the RIT. We don’t wait to see if we have a fire or until the IC has declared it a working fire: We assign it right from the get go.
Considering that most firefighter serious injuries or deaths on the fireground occur within the first 24 minutes of an incident, we don’t want to waste precious minutes by allowing that window of time to close on us. About the only time we deviate from this policy is when the third-due engine/quint may have to assist the first-due truck company with rescue when there are multiple victims. However, in most of these cases, the first-arriving unit or battalion chief has elevated the incident to a second alarm, bringing in more help. Therefore, about the only time the third-due engine/quint does not take RIT is when the incident is a second alarm right off the bat. Then the fourth-due engine assumes RIT duties.
Bob Zoldos, captain, Fairfax County (VA) Fire and Rescue Department
Response: We instituted the rapid deployment team (RDT) concept as a standard practice in February 1996. Since then, the term has been changed to rapid intervention team (RIT) for mutual-aid/automatic-aid uniformity with the surrounding jurisdictions in Northern Virginia. Three tiers or levels of RIT response are used in Fairfax County.
- The initial RIT capability, Level 1, is immediately achieved by assigning the fourth-due engine company (four members) on all box alarms to the RIT function. The only exception to this policy is the use of the first-due rescue company as the RIT on high-rise fires, because of the unique difficulties these incidents pose. The automatic assignment of the RIT function gives the IC the immediate ability to deal with firefighter emergencies at all scenes. During a Mayday event, this engine company is tasked with searching and locating the trapped firefighter, protecting the firefighter or removing him to a safe location, and communicating to command the resources needed.
- Level 2 is known as the RIT Task Force, which consists of an additional engine company, a truck company, a rescue company, an advanced life support unit, and a battalion chief. This response for complex incidents or deteriorating scene conditions is dispatched to the scene at the request of the IC.
Once on-scene, the Level 2 RIT assignment is to assist and supplement the Level 1 RIT. This assemblage, known as the RIT Group, is tasked with firefighter rescue and planning for the rescue operation. This response places on-scene 17 members whose sole job is to immediately aid a firefighter in trouble.
- Level 3 RIT, the Collapse Rescue Task Force, is used when a building has collapsed with firefighters inside. This response entails two rescue companies (with structural collapse capabilities) and two technical rescue support units. This brings an additional 14 members to the scene.
Katherine T. Ridenhour, captain, Aurora (CO) Fire Department
Response: Since 1997, our department has met the requirements of NFPA 1500 regarding rapid intervention for rescue of members. Depending on the complexity, type, and size of the incident, specific members are designated and dedicated as a rapid intervention crew/company (RIC). Currently, the RIC assignment is the second-in truck company to any structure fire, special operation, or significant alarm. It is the IC’s responsibility to evaluate each situation and provide one or more RICs to meet the situation’s needs.
A minimum of four members is assigned to each engine and truck. All four members serve as the RIC staff.
The following departmental guidelines are employed by RIC:
- All confirmed structure fires require a hot response by RIC with the initial alarm assignment. RIC responds routinely to possible structure fires and upgrades if fire is confirmed.
- Once on-scene, RIC members stage any equipment they may need in the most advantageous position. This includes, but is not limited to, extra SCBA, search rope kits, forcible entry tools, saws, lights, thermal imaging cameras, atmospheric monitors, and so on.
- RIC then responds to the command post (unless directed otherwise) and receives an update on the situation status and personnel accountability from the IC. RIC monitors all radio talk groups used on the incident.
- The RIC company officer uses the department’s RIC Tactical Worksheet.
- RIC performs a 360° survey of the incident, looking specifically for entry/egress options and safety concerns. Building utilities may be secured at this time, at the direction of the IC.
- RIC will ensure a secondary egress route is available for members operating on upper floors. This may mean placing a ladder or ladders to provide an entry/escape route to upper floors or the roof area where department members are operating.
- RIC will ensure a backup hoseline is in proper position for deployment if necessary.
- RIC will not perform any function that would prevent it from fulfilling its mission of firefighter rescue.
- Prior to being released by command, RIC will ensure that a PAR (Personnel Accountability Report) has been completed.
Companies responding to mutual- or automatic-aid alarms ensure this standard is being used and that a RIC is in place. Any crew responding outside the city limits to assist another agency also will have an accompanying battalion chief, who is responsible for ensuring that RIC procedures are in place for our department members.
If the on-scene RIC is activated for firefighter(s) in distress, the following procedures apply:
- The IC shall establish a RIC Group/Branch with the officer of the assigned crew assuming responsibilities for the Group/Branch until such time that a battalion chief can assume that position.
- The IC will request a second-alarm assignment, and the first responding company will be assigned as RIC. The additional alarm assignment will be used at the discretion of the IC.
- The Technical Rescue Team, if needed, may be requested to support rescue operations with the equipment needed for firefighter rescue.
- The Rescue Group/Branch and the firefighter(s) in distress shall remain on the initial radio channel (if possible) during the rescue operation; all uninvolved units will move to a different radio channel.
- A safety officer should be assigned to the rescue operation if staffing permits.
Fire departments need to address firefighter safety at any incident that justifies a RIC. However, just having a RIC on-scene is not a good enough insurance policy: The RIC must be well trained, equipped, and focused to successfully perform “saving our own.”
Peter Sells, district chief, Toronto (ON) Fire Services
Response: Our procedures call for establishing an IRIT as early as practicable in the development of an incident. The IRIT, with a minimum of two firefighters, will remain at a designated place close to the command post or entry point to the controlled area of the incident until deployed or relieved. We have provided specialized RIT equipment and training to personnel on rescue pumpers across the city. A RIT rescue pumper is added to a dispatch under the following conditions: a reported working fire, a Level 3 haz-mat call, and a structural collapse, as deemed necessary by dispatch personnel or as requested by an IC.
On arrival, the crew of a RIT rescue pumper relieves the IRIT firefighters (who are then reassigned as needed). The IC deploys the RIT under any of the following conditions:
- When Toronto Fire Communications, on activation of an emergency button, is unable to establish radio contact with the crew(s).
- On receiving a Mayday indicating that a firefighter is trapped, is missing, or has sustained a life-threatening injury.
- As the result of a PAR that indicates that a firefighter or crew is trapped, missing, or has sustained life-threatening injuries.
- Any time there is doubt about the safety of personnel in the controlled area.
The IC/RIT sector officer (RSO) briefs the RIT prior to deployment, giving the team any information known relative to the identity of the missing personnel, their last location, general operations in the vicinity, and any known hazards. On deployment of a RIT, the IC or RSO establishes a new RIT. Once a RIT is deployed, or on receiving a Mayday, Toronto Fire Communications automatically dispatches to the base location an additional alarm level that includes another RIT rescue pumper. Whenever a RIT is deployed, a member of the command post staff and Toronto Fire Communications are assigned to monitor the channel of the rescue.
Thomas Dunne, deputy chief, Fire Department of New York
Response: FDNY mandates the response of a FAST to every confirmed fire or major emergency. The dispatcher automatically sends a ladder company specifically assigned as the FAST to the scene. All of our ladder units have five firefighters and an officer.
On arrival, the FAST reports to the IC and remains near the command post. At a high-rise fire, the IC may choose to place the FAST on the floor below the fire to allow the members quick access to the operation. At a large or complex incident, the IC may also call for an additional FAST if he feels a different sector should be covered.
The FAST is instructed to survey the area for the location of portable, aerial, or tower ladders in anticipation of their need for rescuing a firefighter in distress. FAST members are also required to monitor fireground radio messages to ensure that the IC is aware of any emergency transmissions that may be broadcast.
My department greatly emphasizes maintaining the readiness of the FAST to assist a firefighter. Our FAST unit cannot be used for routine firefighting duties and cannot relieve another fire company until the operation has been placed “under control.”
If the FAST is used to assist a firefighter, any available company at the scene is immediately designated to be a new standby FAST. The IC then requests that an additional ladder respond to the incident to replace the originally designated FAST truck.
A department as large as ours has the resources to dedicate an entire unit for firefighter safety. This is a tremendous asset. Areas of the country that do not have the same level of resources could benefit greatly from having a mutual-aid system that provides a RIT. Some fire service professionals have suggested that personnel requirements double in a fire situation that involves the need to assist a firefighter in distress.
Leigh Hollins, battalion chief, Cedar Hammock (FL) Fire Rescue
Response: To avoid confusion, I will first explain how we arrived at the way we initiate and provide rapid intervention at an emergency scene.
Manatee County has eight fire districts and two municipal fire departments that differ substantially with regard to type, size of protected area, staffing, and equipment used. These factors must be considered when establishing a RIT policy. Issues such as SCBA compatibility, staffing availability, distance between stations, accountability systems, training, and others all have a bearing on policy and procedures.
Therefore, Cedar Hammock (a three-station career department) chooses to provide its own RIT, even though doing so greatly taxes our resources—the general theory being “protect our own.”
For about six years, our department had a stand-alone RIT Recommended Operation Guideline (ROG). Recently, the Manatee County Fire Chief’s Association appointed a committee to draft a set of “unified” countywide ROGs. For the most part, the Cedar Hammock RIT ROG was adopted countywide.
So yes, Cedar Hammock provides a RIT on incidents that justify implementing a RIT. The RIT is dispatched “internally”: The duty battalion chief, at his discretion, calls for a fourth engine for RIT duties based on the information received from dispatch, the type of building occupancy, the size of the building, the thermal smoke column, conditions on arrival, and so on. Other factors include extended interior operations and high-risk jobs.
The countywide RIT ROG is very specific about RIT duties and that the RIT members are not to be assigned other tasks. For identification purposes, our RIT members exchange their helmets for orange fire helmets and are issued a large orange tarp. These items are carried in the battalion chief’s command vehicle as part of a RIT kit. The orange helmets indicate that these firefighters have been assigned RIT and are not to be used for other firefighting duties; the orange tarp is to send a message to other firefighters on-scene that all equipment staged on that tarp is “Hands Off”; it is for RIT use only. Other items included in the RIT kit include SCBA airline extensions (all our SCBAs have an emergency breathing support system), a RIT tagline kit, and RIT check sheets, which take the guesswork out of being assigned to RIT and assist RIT members with their duties and in assembling equipment.
We do not have many incidents that justify the full implementation of a RIT. However, we train hard on this subject and feel that being prepared offers the best chance of survival should such an emergency occur.
Freddie Fernandez, battalion chief, Miami-Dade (FL) Fire Rescue
Response: We have made great strides with RITs since we first adopted the concept in the mid-1990s. At that time we were staffing two-person EMS transport units we called squads. Since a two-person unit did not fit in well with fire scene strategy and tactics, it became the de-facto RIT.
We began with a novel concept of being there to help our members who may become trapped or lost or otherwise be endangered by an environment that could be immediately dangerous to life or health. We had no formal training to offer our members, but we told them to gather some tools, an SCBA, a rope, and anything else that might be considered necessary and to go to the command post and stand by in case you are needed. The crews often would look for ways to get out of this duty because they could not do the fun stuff and deemed it an unpleasant assignment. Today, I am proud to say, we have embraced the RIT concept, provided proper departmentwide training, and outfitted all suppression crews with the necessary tools and equipment to carry out this vital function.
Presently, a four-person suppression unit is automatically dispatched to a working fire. This ensures that the IC will have the staffing and resources to get the RIT in place early and with enough personnel and tools to carry out a mission. Every fire suppression unit has been issued a RIT bag and a thermal imaging camera (TIC). More importantly, the line personnel now understand the gravity of the situation when a firefighter calls for Mayday. Our crews are ready, willing, and able to carry out the RIT duties proficiently and safely and are aware of the importance of not placing themselves in danger.
The RIT bags are self-contained and carry 200 feet of 6.8 mm search line, two 20-foot 6.8 mm tag lines, a one-hour air bottle with a spare mask and regulator, and hand tools for forcing entry and cutting wires to free entangled firefighters. Carabiners are attached to the end of the rope to assist with attachment. Small strobe lights are included to help identify turn points when the line of sight is lost. The kits are used in conjunction with a TIC, carried by the officer.
Our basic evolution calls for the team members, in full gear and SCBA, to set up near the command post a tarp on which to lay out all the equipment, while being in full gear and SCBA. The RIT officer then performs a quick 360° survey of the building to ascertain egress points, building characteristics, and other reconnaissance information that may be useful. The team then closely monitors the tactical channel to maintain an awareness of the crews’ progress and their last known functions and locations.
When a RIT is deployed, the other units on-scene not involved in the rescue change radio channels and continue fighting the fire. The RIT seeks an entry point closest to the last known location of the missing crew member(s). The RIT can follow a hoseline or attach a 200-foot line with a carabiner to the entry point. The team, led by the officer holding the TIC, advances together. The officer is followed by the “mule,” who carries the RIT bag and bottle. Once a datum point is reached, the crew can fan out to both sides by using the 20-foot tag lines attached to the bag with the carabiners, while being guided by the officer holding the TIC.
On finding the downed firefighter, the RIT assesses his condition, the fire, and other hazardous conditions. The RIT rapidly relays location and pertinent information to Command. A rescue plan can then be devised.
We have trained departmentwide on how to use the RIT bag and associated equipment and have conducted drills to prepare us to meet the challenges of the RIT at the stations, at the drill college, and in live structures. Ongoing training and education on how to prevent needing a RIT in the first place are required. Our firefighters have embraced the rapid intervention concept and have been given the necessary tools and training. We have come a long way from the two-person RIT no one wanted to be a part of.
Craig H. Shelley, fire protection advisor, Saudi Aramco Ras Tanura Division
Response: Our department is currently not prepared for RIT response because we are primarily an industrial department (with residential and commercial response also). Efforts, however, are underway to develop such policies. This does not mean that a RIT should not be in place, even at an industrial fire.
I will speak regarding my former department, however. This department responded with only eight persons on the initial response, but a rapid intervention policy was in place. Two of the eight responders acted as the RIT. The RIT policy outlined the only times that the RIT could be bypassed (life hazard) and specifically addressed when a life hazard could be presumed if not definitely known. Every fire situation could not automatically be assumed to be a life hazard so that the RIT policy could be bypassed. Specific criteria were highlighted.
I am a firm believer in the RIT concept and do not buy into the position that says departments cannot comply with RIT because of staffing shortages. In these instances, a mutual-aid or an automatic-aid policy should be in place. There is no reason to forgo putting a RIT in place (other than known or suspected life hazard) before entry is made into a fire structure. Chief and company officers must take responsibility and insist on maintaining the RIT principles. Too many NIOSH reports list “lack of a rapid intervention team” as a contributing factor in a firefighter death. Of course, accountability systems also need to be in place.
Ron Hiraki, assistant chief, Gig Harbor (WA) Fire & Medic One
Response: We have trained every member in basic RIT operations. We will continue to have “hands-on” scenario-based drills to practice the use of the RIT. We have purchased equipment that has been dedicated for the RIT operation so that the essential equipment will be properly packaged for rapid accessibility and deployment.
We do not have an automatic or dedicated response for the RIT. However, each one of our ICs understands the necessity for a RIT and will ensure that adequate and appropriate resources are at the incident scene for the RIT operation based on the size and scope of the incident. Given the smaller size of our fire department, it was essential that we ensured that our neighboring fire departments had similar training and that they could be called to assist us.
Battalion Chief Mike Miller has been our leader in developing our RIT program. In the training and practical drills he conducted, he clearly demonstrated the importance of a RIT operation and that it is a permanent change in the way we do business. More importantly, the classroom portion of the training includes case studies from other fire departments and a discussion on how to avoid the need to activate the RIT.
Michael Allora, lieutenant,Clifton (NJ) Fire Department
Response: Our department does not have one dedicated company that specializes in rapid intervention. All of our firefighters were trained in the basics of rapid intervention. We currently dispatch an additional truck company on the response to a working fire as the RIC. Should a truck company not be available, the next-due engine company is the RIC.
We are updating our rapid intervention procedure. We are implementing an updated RIC training program we were able to create with assistance from the federal FIRE Act Grant. We sent eight members through a train-the-trainer program at Barnstable County Fire Academy in Massachusetts. It was during this training that we realized, among other things, the importance of committing more firefighters to rapid intervention. We are incorporating the staging method contained in the U.S. Fire Administration Technical Report 123, “Rapid Intervention Teams and How to Avoid Needing Them” (March 2003). At first-alarm incidents, the RIC will be one company. If the incident should grow to a second alarm or greater, that would automatically trigger the response of additional RICs.
We encountered numerous issues while creating the program. Once we strike a second alarm, we have exhausted our available companies and must rely on mutual aid. Also, there will be a need to commit a chief officer to staff the Rescue Branch should the incident escalate and exceed the IC’s span-of-control capabilities. Our intention is to share our RIC training program with our mutual-aid cities, thereby increasing our interoperability capabilities.
For a trapped firefighter to be rescued in the worst-case scenario, all department members must be committed to training and education. Firefighter survival is not rapid intervention. Rapid intervention is not managing the Mayday. These are all separate and equally important training topics that need to be addressed. The survivability of firefighters trapped inside will depend on the training and experience of those charged with performing and managing the rescue efforts.
Steve Kreis, assistant chief, Phoenix (AZ) Fire Department
Response: Currently, our department uses RICs on structural fires and other types of hazardous incidents. Our RICs are dispatched as a secondary resource in a follow-up dispatch based on a working fire declaration. Shortly after the Southwest Supermarket event in which we lost a firefighter, we increased the numbers of units sent as the rapid intervention component. Currently, we send an additional engine and a rescue (a two-person transport unit staffed with firefighters) as the rapid intervention component on a residential fire. On commercial structures, we send two engines, one ladder, one rescue, and a battalion chief to fill out the needs for rapid intervention.
Several fallacies are built into the myths about rapid intervention. In my article published in Fire Engineering in December 2003, I discuss many of these myths in more detail. My contention is that “rapid intervention isn’t rapid.”
Recently, we met with some folks who developed a system used to locate lost skiers in an avalanche. Their comments or studies indicate that the ski patrol typically doesn’t find live skiers after an avalanche and that, normally, if your skiing buddies don’t get you out, you typically don’t survive. In “fire” terms, you could liken a RIT to the ski patrol.
That being the case, we are developing a new method for saving our own. It is called “on deck.” In essence, we are front loading tactical positions (sectors) with additional units (our skiing buddies) to replace active firefighting companies or perform the role of rapid intervention if a problem occurs. If this new concept proves successful, somebody could argue that increasing the number of units sent for rapid intervention is “doing the wrong thing harder.” More information on this concept will be made available in the future.
Bobby Halton, deputy chief, Albuquerque (NM) Fire Department
Response: Our department is currently sending a four-person standing RIT to every first alarm. We follow the two-in/two-out rule and upgrade our RIT capabilities automatically with the arrival of the fourth engine. We routinely make additional assignments for commercial and complicated residential fires. We are working on how to upgrade our capabilities; some of our best people have started to review different approaches.
We think there are three primary ways of losing firefighters other than heart attacks, driving, and other nonfirefighting causes. First, the building falls down on us. When this happens, we have a very short time to do quick surface rescues and then we need our heavy rescue folks to get on-scene to begin looking for members who might be in voids. The second is a hostile fire event, flashover, or backdraft. When firefighters are caught in either of these, they are killed or are blown out a door or an opening and survive with severe injuries.
We are focusing our RIT capabilities on the third cause: A firefighter becomes lost and disoriented by poor visibility and loses contact with the line and the crew. The firefighter runs out of air and is killed by the toxic gases in the building. We think we can save these firefighters by good accountability, staying together. We also want our firefighters to never leave the line. We can survive only as long as we have air. We are also finishing our RIT hands-on commercial buildings drill. Assistant Chief Steve Kreis and Battalion Chief Todd Harms of the Phoenix (AZ) Fire Department assisted us.
We were interested in finding out how our crews would do in a drill very similar to Phoenix’s. We quickly found out we were running out of air faster than the crews in Phoenix. We have a different cylinder than Phoenix uses, so our work time is shorter. We have about 16 minutes of air (to get in, get out, and survive the event). We have decided to try to limit our work cycles to 10 minutes.
Unfortunately, bad things can still happen to firefighters. We are trying to have better command, we are working the command team concept, and we are training with one another so command-level people have good working relationships before they need them. We believe in crew resource management, for which you need a crew, at least a partner. We know from experience that having a team with clearly defined roles and responsibilities makes for a better managed fireground. We also know that having a preestablished team on-scene adds to the efficiency of managing a Mayday.
As for our technology, we have already decided to upgrade our SCBA to the next generation so we can monitor our interior crew’s air supplies. The next generation has a unit for our command vehicles, which gives our support officer the ability to see how much air is left in the SCBAs of those operating in the interior. It also gives the IC a way to activate an abandon-the-building signal if necessary. In terms of RIT and the two-in/two-out rule and how we set up to rescue disoriented firefighters, the interesting thing to remember is when, where, and how we die. Generally, we are a short time on-scene (usually within the first 30 minutes); not far from the street, about 75 feet from the door; and usually with only a first alarm (25 firefighters) on-scene. The RIT is important if things go south; we must have a plan, a team, and an approach. Some are saying RIT is not necessary or not an option, but we are still going to give our members every possible chance every time. We are sure the best RIT is the one you don’t need. By focusing on firefighter situation awareness, we are hoping to reduce the chances that a RIT team will be needed.
Christopher K. Switala, lieutenant, Mt. Lebanon (PA) Fire Department
Response: A RIT from a mutual-aid department is dispatched on all working structural fires within our jurisdiction. We are one of 12 departments in southern Allegheny County that participates in the South Hills Regional Go-Team, a mutual-aid association designed specifically to provide for RIT responses. The regional approach facilitates commonality in procedures and communications when faced with a firefighter rescue.
All member departments have adopted standard Mayday protocols and operating guidelines for RIT training, response, and deployment. A minimum of four firefighters, with a specified equipment cache, responds on Go-Team requests. Each member department selects a primary and a secondary Go-Team from the participating mutual-aid companies for response into their community. How the Go-Team is dispatched varies by department. Some departments automatically dispatch a Go-Team to any reported structural fire. Others dispatch a Go-Team only at the request of the IC or on confirmation of a working fire. Since the regional association was formed in 1999, one Go-Team deployment has occurred: A firefighter who fell through a floor into a basement was rescued.
Chris Murtha, firefighter, Wilmington (DE) Fire Department
Response: Our department has an established standard operating procedure for the use of RITs on the fireground. All personnel have been trained to act as a member of the RIT team. When the policy was initially developed, the RIT team was not dispatched until another company arrived on the scene to announce that a working fire was in progress. The RIT team would then be dispatched to the scene.
After more research on the issue and an incident in which one of our captains was rescued from a house fire in the initial stages, it was decided that the RIT team should be sent as a part of the initial dispatch on all structure fires. The chances of the team’s being needed during the fire’s initial stages are great, and the team should be standing by and ready to go.
Our incident and several others across the country have shown that it’s beneficial to have the team respond on the initial dispatch instead of waiting for a working fire to be confirmed by a unit on the scene. The incident is at its most volatile and dangerous point as the first-arriving units deploy and try to bring it under control. Travel and setup time can be considerable for a team responding from a distance.
Our RIT consists of personnel assigned to one of our four-person engine companies. The third-due engine company acts as the RIT. We do not rely on mutual aid for the team within our district, but we offer to respond as a RIT on a mutual-aid basis to the county surrounding the city.
The SOP further addresses the duties of the RIT while on the fire scene and the tools and equipment that it should have immediately available to them.
Mitch Brooks, lieutenant, Columbus (OH) Division of Fire
Response: We have a RIC policy that automatically assigns an additional engine company on all working fires. The engine company is the next closest engine, which could be a mutual-aid company or an automatic-response company. In addition to the RIC engine, the division’s safety officer, an EMS supervisor, and an additional medic company are also sent as part of the RIC assignment.
Keith Bierwisch, firefighter, Irvington (NJ) Fire Department
Response: In our department an additional engine was added to the run cards on all box alarms. At the county level, they standardized the alert tones for evacuation. Although several different frequencies are used, the IC has the ability to change the portable frequency to interface if the mutual-aid department is not able to do so.
The mutual-aid department has at times been enlisted to be the RIT/ FAST. We have been conducting interdepartmental training but, from what I see, there is not enough training time. We have a lot to do in a short time.
The Essex County deputy chiefs have tried to standardize the basic tools necessary. The project has been stalled for about a year; some newer innovations are now being added. I have been fortunate to be asked to advise on several points of the setup and was given the task of filling our first two RIT bags.
Bag 1 is the search rope bag with main line (200 feet), four tag lines (75 feet each), and door chocks. Bag 2, labeled “Rescue RIT,” contains 200 feet of 3/8-inch static kernmantle rope for rescue, preset to handle a 50-foot four point lift; a sling RIT harness with mask (in process of improving); cutters and a knife; light sticks; rescue webbing; 26 feet of continuous loop one-inch webbing; a large ladder belt carabiner; and 26 feet of utility rope with carabiner. We are planning to add a strobe light and are looking at the new heat-resistant rope for a search line.
One of my fears is that in our area, FAST has not been standardized enough. The smart firefighters working on the side are getting creative with these new ideas. This is taking time and money from departments or leading to false security. National RIT standards that cover staffing minimum, the command post, search techniques, extra teams, and toolboxes are needed.
Robert DiPietro, captain, planning and research,New Britain (CT) Fire Department
Response: When our fire companies are dispatched to a reported structure fire, our ICs are automatically thinking about firefighter safety. A normal response to a structure fire is three engines, one ladder, and one heavy rescue company. Each engine and ladder company is staffed with one officer and three firefighters. This staffing allows for immediate entry and an aggressive fire attack.
When the first-due fire company reports a working fire, the IC has the fire dispatcher respond an additional engine company, which serves as the RIT. Firefighters are trained in the techniques of rapid intervention. On arrival, the RIT reports to the IC and stands by prepared in case it is needed.
Carl Mack, lieutenant, Elyria (OH) Fire Department
Response: We dispatch a minimum of 16 members (including the IC) to structure fires and have one additional member staff the dispatch operations center. Our apparatus complement for structure fires consists of four engines and one ladder truck. We do not have a dedicated rescue company or RIT. RIT duties are assigned to an engine company at the fire scene.
In preparation for meeting the requirements of the two-in/two-out rule and NFPA 1710, we sent several members to rapid intervention-type programs. They subsequently brought back information for departmental shift-level training and drills. Additionally, we have introduced, updated, and adopted SOGs in the areas of fireground safety, accountability, risk management, incident command, Mayday operations, and rapid intervention operations.
By having all personnel trained in RIT techniques and using an engine company for the assignment of RIT duties, the IC has flexibility in passing out assignments based on the needs and priorities of each incident. Each engine company is equipped with a RIT bag, which contains a one-hour air bottle with a seven-foot airline pigtail and a mask with regulator, a 150-foot search rope, carabiners, three 10-foot webbing straps, a flashlight, tin snips, cable cutters, and wood door chocks. In addition, the RIT is to have a set of irons (halligan and flathead ax) and a flashlight as minimum equipment for initial deployment.
The IC assigns a RIT at all working fires, rescues, and other operations involving significant risk. RIT members are required to be in a ready state, wearing full protective turnout gear and SCBA (mask donning is not required), and to report to the command post. The RIT is responsible for conducting a 360° size-up and a survey of the structure to determine building construction features; monitor fire conditions; identify secondary means of egress; confirm ground ladder placement; and remove obstacles such as doors, gates, and windows that may be locked or blocked by wood or bars.
If RIT deployment or activation is required, dispatch automatically initiates an additional alarm for personnel recall and use of the mutual-aid system. At a minimum, an additional command officer, two engines, one aerial apparatus, and one ambulance are dispatched to the scene.
The rescue sector officer develops and organizes the RIT rescue plan. These rescue operations are carried out on the main fire radio frequency; firefighting operations are switched over to our fireground (secondary) operating channel or a state band frequency, depending on the size of the operation and the interoperability capacity of equipment to communicate with mutual-aid companies on the scene and those engaged in the rapid intervention rescue operation.
Fire departments that don’t have enough personnel to dedicate a company to RIT duties should institute a contingency plan that includes training and guidelines for RIT operations.
Gary L. Weiss, chief, Mulberry (FL) Fire Department
Response: The State of Florida through the Florida State Fire Marshal’s Office, Florida State Fire College, has adopted a section of a state statute that covers firefighter workplace safety. All departments in the state had to submit to the Fire College’s safety manager a copy of its two-in/two-out and RIT/FAST policy.
Even though Florida has tragically lost some firefighters in the past few years during training accidents, the Fire Marshal’s Office is working diligently to correct problems. Specifically, in my department we do not have enough firefighters to establish a RIT team on arrival, so until additional aid comes from automatic or mutual aid, my firefighters might fight the fire from outside or through the front door. This may hold the fire in check until the aid arrives.
All our members fully understand the rule and the department’s policy. Our firefighters know and understand my feeling on firefighter safety. Our SOG has a provision that says if the policy is violated, even for a known life hazard, a complete safety investigation with post-incident review will automatically be instituted.
Russ Chapman, firefighter, Milford (CT) Fire Department
Response: Our policy is that the first-due officer requests an additional engine on confirmation of a structure fire. The IC then designates which company he wants to act as a RIT. The problem is that we run three-person engines, a two-person truck, and a two-person rescue. A three-firefighter RIT is not sufficient for our 16-person first-alarm assignment. Usually, the RIT has to be put to work, and after the initial stages of a fire, the RIT is an afterthought. Mutual-aid companies come into our city as the RITs, but their SCBA are not compatible with ours, and we do not train with them regularly. I teach RIT and firefighter safety and survival for my state’s fire academy. We stress that to be successful, a RIT must have sufficient personnel. We advise the students not to doom their RIT company to failure before the team has a chance to conduct an operation. I think the Phoenix Fire Department did a huge favor to the fire service with its RIT study; all fire service leaders should read the results.
I also think that in most departments, RIT is an afterthought to satisfy OSHA mandates. At many fires I see the IC point to two firefighters loaded down with 100 pounds of equipment and standing near the command post and say, “There is my RIT,” to satisfy an agency’s mandate. Agency regulations should be researched thoroughly before they are arbitrarily mandated without considering the number of personnel on a fireground. This handcuffs our chiefs and may subject them to litigation if they cannot fulfill the mandate. Even a four-member company cannot come close to pulling out a downed firefighter, never mind what some city fathers consider “adequate” personnel on an engine/truck company.
The answer is to call for a lot of help early in an incident. Automatic-aid agreements, instead of mutual-aid agreements, can be the answer to this problem. This way, there will be no lapse in responses or delays in waiting for a decision to call outside help.
Ed Herrmann, lieutenant, Boynton Beach (FL) Fire Rescue
Response: The national focus on RIT and the two-in/two-out rule came about at the same time that our department purchased, equipped, and staffed a heavy rescue/special operations unit. Since this unit carries equipment for confined space and elevated rope rescues, structural and trench collapse, vehicle extrication, and concrete breaching, as well as air and scene lighting, it seemed natural to add RIT to this list. The only piece of equipment that was assembled specifically for this assignment was a bag containing a stripped-down SCBA (bottle, regulators, mask) and several hand tools that could prove useful in freeing a trapped firefighter.
The special operations members who staff the unit have been trained in what is expected of a RIT. This includes scene and structure evaluation; tool selection for staging; tasks that can be handled by a team staging for RIT deployment; and methods of firefighter location, evaluation, and extrication.
With all of that said, this unit is dispatched by our department’s dispatch center when there is a report of a structure fire. If, for whatever reason, the unit was not dispatched with the initial alarm, the IC can call for it at any time.
So we do not “put all of our eggs in one basket,” all of our personnel have been trained in the basics of RIT. If our special operations unit is unavailable, the IC assigns one of the other responding units as RIT. These members may not have all of the equipment available to the special operations unit, but they have the tools needed to effect firefighter rescues in most scenarios.
Jim Mason, lieutenant, Chicago (IL) Fire Department
Response: We have an automatic response of a four-five member RIT when the first companies on the scene have reported a fire. This RIT response consists of a truck company and a battalion chief, who will be in charge of the rescue operation. An engine company may also be used for the RIT if no truck is available. This engine company gathers any needed equipment from on-scene truck and squad companies. The RIT stages with the designated equipment in sector one alongside the command post and is ready to deploy if there is a need.
If the RIT is deployed for a Mayday/firefighter rescue, the IC is to request another RIT without delay. The IC has the option to use the RIT for rescue of civilians endangered by quickly changing fire conditions, but, again, he is trained to immediately request another RIT. If the incident is so large that a second RIT is needed, the IC will request another RIT. The IC also has the option to terminate the response of the RIT to the scene if the scope of the incident does not require a RIT.
Danny Kistner, battalion chief, Garland (TX) Fire Department
Response: We refer to these units as RICs. One additional engine company is dispatched to all full-alarm assignments. This extra engine is pulled from one of two stations strategically located within the city, but any engine or truck company can draw this duty based on the IC’s needs.
All personnel are trained to fill this role and are updated on current methodologies at least once a year. Company officers are charged with drilling their own crews and maintaining a minimum proficiency level.
Training is based in part on the “Saving Our Own” program, articles in fire magazines, conference presentations, various RIC Web sites, and replicating aspects of other fire department training programs.
Consistent with current training rationale, firefighters are taught that there will probably be scenarios where intervention is anything but rapid. In those circumstances, rescuers are taught to (1) locate the victim, (2) ensure an adequate air supply, and (3) protect the victim from fire.
Firefighters are taught policy and procedures regarding Mayday, including when to call for help, the radio procedure following a Mayday transmission, and activities for those not intimately involved with the Mayday.
After the didactic and individual skills segments of training, we hold evolutions based on plausible scenarios. All activity is done on air and in full personal protective equipment—and most often without the benefit of light. We ensure that scenarios are based on actual possibilities and not no-win situations.
RIC is established as soon as possible on the fireground. Officers in charge of companies with RIC assignments are responsible for staging this company appropriately, usually in an area that gives it the best access into the building and in close proximity to where interior units are operating.
Officers are given discretion to place ground ladders, remove burglar bars, take locks, or perform other activities that may make egress easier. Officers are required to monitor all radio traffic and to check in with the rehab and safety sectors. Tool assignments are at the discretion of the RIC officer as well.
Traditionally, companies of no fewer than three comprise a RIC. Discretion is given to the IC and the RIC officer to request more personnel as the situation dictates.
The RIC assignment is probably the toughest on the fireground. Firefighters are aggressive and want to take an active role in the firefight. Only the most disciplined individuals can fulfill this role of preparing for an event you don’t want to take place.
Lance C. Peeples, instructor, St. Louis County (MO) Fire Academy
Response: In the old days, wise chiefs made it their business to hold in reserve an engine and truck so they could be prepared for any contingency on the fireground. Today, the concept has been reinvented. RIT, RIC, and FAST are the new names for the old concept of holding one and one in reserve. Unfortunately, what I see occurring is designating this tactical reserve before crucial fireground tactics like stretching the first line (much less a second line), forcible entry, the primary search, and venting are underway. It is simply fiction to believe that designating a three-person ladder company as a RIT to stand in the front yard waiting for a possible emergency to develop while the building remains charged with boiling hot smoke that needs to be vented makes us safer.
Because we must be prepared to stretch at least two lines—each requiring the services of a fully staffed (five- or six-member) engine company—and conduct vent, enter, search operations (at least one five- or six-person ladder company) at an ordinary house fire, dispatch procedures should ensure that at least three fully staffed engines and two fully staffed ladders are dispatched to a reported house fire.
Obviously, fires in multiple dwellings or commercial occupancies demand a greater assignment. The goal of the IC should be to ensure that at least one engine and one ladder are held in reserve as quickly as possible after all critical functions are underway. Designating a tactical reserve before these critical operations are undertaken ensures that the building will be a far more dangerous place than it needs to be for firefighters and civilians.
Mark Antozzeski, chief, Hamilton Township (NJ) Fire District #9
Response: Our department operates a FAST, and we respond to our neighboring fire districts in that capacity. We are dispatched automatically through the Mercer County Dispatch Center. A countywide protocol has been established to automatically dispatch the FAST to any incident in which the dispatcher receives information that would indicate a working fire or the potential for a working fire—for example, when the caller says there is fire, smoke, or a smell of smoke within the dwelling or structure. The dispatcher sends the first-alarm companies and then automatically dispatches the FAST. When the protocol was established, its intent was to get the apparatus and personnel on the road as soon as possible because of the distance between stations, thus reducing response times. In many cases, the FAST is recalled while en route. But I feel the protocol is effective: When we have several companies at the working fire, the FAST is quick to arrive and set up, affording the fireground personnel with a trained, equipped, and capable FAST in the first few minutes of the incident. As an IC, I know I feel better knowing my staff is protected … just in case.
R.J. Stine, firefighter, Xenia Township (OH) Fire Department
Response: We use RITs at all structural fires. Generally, it is an automatic mutual-aid response. The dispatcher doesn’t announce who the RIT team for that specified incident is; that task is usually left to the IC, who makes that determination based on his preferences, which resources arrive, what needs to be done, and the status of the fire.
Steven Gillespie, captain, Pembroke Pines (FL) Fire Department
Response: We employ a RIT on all hazardous incidents where the members are operating inside a structure or a hot zone. Although there is no “set” policy regarding the use or establishment of RIT teams (SOGs regarding RIT operations are under development), company and chief officers understand their importance. The use of RIT has been adopted into the department’s organizational philosophy.
On the receipt of a call for a structure fire, the communications center dispatches three engines, one truck, one EMS unit (crossed-trained firefighter/paramedics), one EMS supervisor, and one battalion chief—all of these units would be from one of our six fire stations. On arrival, the battalion chief would assume command responsibilities and delegate all fireground tasks not yet assigned. The remaining personnel would be assigned to the RIT (which should consist of one officer and two firefighters, minimum). If the incident dictated that all the personnel were needed for direct fireground operations (hose advance, ventilation, etc.) the IC would special call for a unit(s) to establish a RIT team.
Fortunately, our members have the opportunity to receive excellent RIT training at the operational and command level through the Broward Fire Academy’s 40-hour STAR program (Survival Techniques and Rescue Situations). This program addresses many of the situations a RIT might encounter.
Ron Terriaco, lieutenant/training officer, Concord Township (OH) Fire Department
Response: Our department is trained in rapid intervention. When it was recognized that there was a need to become trained and have a functioning RIC on our fireground, our department made that move. We establish a RIC from within our own personnel on the fireground and are successful most of the time. But, as we participate more with surrounding communities and automatic aid, we use our automatic-aid engine company or truck company as the RIC.
If it is a major fire and the automatic aid is used for fire attack and other important operations (remember the need to get water on the fire quickly), we use our county MABAS system to fill the positions of RIC. And each RIC is supplemented with an ALS squad per department and county SOGs.
Our department trains on rapid intervention monthly. We train very hard on survival tactics so the firefighters can perform self-rescue if the need should arise. There is also training on proper fireground tactics so the firefighters can read the building, fire, and smoke conditions and make a risk analysis of the incident. We started the basic RIC training, following other leaders in the field. Now, we send members to outside schools for train-the-trainer programs in rapid intervention; they bring back new and improved ideas for training our personnel and those in other departments.
Our response to a building fire is two engines (three engines to certain target hazards), a medic squad, a chief officer, a shift officer, and an automatic-aid truck company and engine company. This gives us 16 to 18 personnel on-scene.