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The first four installments of this series described preliminary items that must be understood to have a successful rapid intervention team (RIT) on the fireground. Posing the question “What is the true rapid intervention capability for your fire department?” and using National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1407, Standard for Training Fire Service Rapid Intervention Crews, as a guide, 18 points have been identified that can be used as minimum benchmarks in evaluating your department’s capabilities. The first 11 points were discussed in previous installments. The remaining seven points further deal with specific skills that should be essential for all firefighters functioning in the role of the RIT on the fireground.
Point 12 – Our department members have practiced and are skilled at moving firefighters over and around obstacles, including stairs.
Rescuing a downed firefighter can become extensive and may involve multiple decisions and choices as related to techniques that will be necessary in removing the firefighter from the hazard area. Often, these operations will take place under severe conditions that can include the inability to stand up due to high heat, limited or zero visibility and working in restricted or confined areas. The conditions present as well as the weight of the downed firefighter will dictate the methods used in removal. A 180-pound firefighter may weigh well over 300 pounds with turnout gear, self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and water from firefighting operations absorbed into the gear.
Many of the difficulties experienced in moving a downed firefighter result from the gear that we wear. Limited “grab points,” bulkiness and entanglement points are just a few. Moving a downed firefighter is different from trying to move a civilian. We will not know how to mitigate these issues unless we have been exposed to them and have trained on overcoming them.
Point 13 – The members of our fire department have trained on and are proficient at enlarging existing openings in structures as well as forcible-entry techniques.
Conventional methods of removal may not be the quickest or easiest in all circumstances. Enlarging openings can create an entry or egress point to retrieve a downed firefighter. Making windows into doors is a simple procedure on wood-frame structures and can be accomplished in less than 30 seconds with three cuts, provided firefighters are familiar with the technique and skilled in using basic tools (Figure 1). Enlarging openings also equals forcible entry – removal of objects such as doors, burglar bars, plywood covering windows or anything else that impedes the egress of firefighters must be able to be performed by RIT members.
Point 14 – Our firefighters are trained to remove trapped firefighters from constricted spaces and out windows.
When it comes to removing a downed firefighter, the most appropriate action to take due to conditions may be to use a window in the immediate area. A task such as this can prove to be very challenging if not trained on or practiced regularly. It is important to remember that the safest way to remove a downed firefighter from an upper level of a building is by using a staircase, if at all feasible, but firefighters may be forced to use windows for removal for a variety of reasons. The route taken into the structure may have been altered or changed during the course of operations by collapse; deteriorating fire conditions, an SCBA malfunction, air-supply issue and disorientation can all be factors that will dictate the need.
Can your department members successfully get a downed firefighter up and over a windowsill to facilitate removal? Numerous techniques have been developed to accomplish this. Extreme circumstances such as being faced with a 22-inch window 42 inches off the floor with only a 28-inch width of space to work within such as faced by Denver, CO, firefighters when Mark Langvardt was trapped is an example of what unbelievable challenges can surface (Figure 2). If we train and can function under those types of circumstances, then we can apply the same principles or methods to be successful when all of those extreme conditions are not present.