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Rapid Intervention: Removing a Firefighter from the Basement

Dispatch has assigned your company as the Rapid Intervention Team (RIT). While en route you gain a mental picture of the scene: size and type of construction of the building; occupancy; what tasks the company may be required to perform. As you report to command, your crew gathers their tools, which include forcible entry, a thermal imaging camera, RIT bag (air cylinder, high-pressure hose, low-pressure hose with regulator, facepiece), saws, search ropes and a nozzle (we’ll get to this).

Being the RIT means much more than standing near command. While walking up to command, you size up the building(s) involved. The rest of the company stages the equipment. They continually monitor the radio for progress reports, place additional ground ladders (departments are short staffed, it’s not getting done), and open up any needed doors/windows, especially those that are boarded up or have bars. Acquire an uncharged hoseline. Remember the nozzle? At larger incidents, we may not find a nozzle on the base engine. But we will likely find a dead load. Just need to attach our nozzle.

At the command post, you gather information that lets you know what companies are on the fireground, and where they are operating. Knowing these details will give your company a sense of where they may be needed.

Then across the radio you hear, “Mayday Mayday, firefighter trapped in the basement.” Have you trained for this?

Gaining Access to the Basement

How will your company access the basement? Your best answer may be the interior stairs, if they’re intact. What if there was a collapse of the first floor? Other options are an exterior door, such as Bilco doors, or a walkout basement. You will know if these are present because you and/or your crew did a 360-degree walk around the building.

We need to establish where the firefighter is and where they were last operating. Do we have any communication with him/her? If so, determine injuries, air supply and entrapment. We have to gain access and remove the firefighter. Our first choice will be any exterior doors, or interior stairs. If these are not available, we will need another way. Think outside the box.

Utilizing the Basement Window

Basement windows can provide a rapid exit. After the window is removed, take out the frame to enlarge the opening. Then place a straight or roof ladder into the opening (see Photo 1). A 16-foot ladder works well.

This will be determined by the depth of the basement, the width of the foundation, and by the sizes of ladders your department carries. If the firefighter calling Mayday is unable to move to the ladder, some of the RIT members will have to enter the basement. The rescue team will place the firefighter on the ladder while trying not to further any injuries, and maintaining an axial position during movement (see Photo 2). The objective is to extricate the firefighter quickly. In an IDLH (immediately dangerous to life or health) atmosphere the firefighter will not be secured to the ladder with straps. RIT members in the basement will guide the ladder. Members outside will use the ladder as a lever and remove the firefighter. The basement window may not be large enough for the firefighter to come out with his SCBA on. If this is the case, the SCBA harness and bottle can be placed on the ladder in front of the firefighter (see Photo 3).

Enlarging a First Floor Window

If more room is required for the rescue, we can enlarge the first floor window above the basement window if present. First remove the first floor window and basement window below. Utilizing a chainsaw, cut from the window sill to the foundation. A word of caution: there is the possibility of electric wires running through the studs. If equipped, set the saws depth gauge to cut only through the siding to expose the stud cavities and potential electric (see Photo 4).

The floor may need to be cut to gain better access. This will be the case if there is no basement window. Cutting the outside ribbon board and one floor joist in will result in a 32-inch depth for floors with joists that are 16 inches on center. If the joists are perpendicular, cut in far enough to place the ladder and remove the firefighter. Use caution if members must operate on the floor after it is cut (see Photo 5).

Cutting the floor may also be necessary if the basement window has bars set in the foundation or if it has been replaced with glass blocks, concrete blocks or bricks. A foundation made of cinder block may be broken out with a maul to increase the working area. This will be difficult if the wall has been cored (filling the block openings with concrete).

Place a straight ladder into the opening to gain access and remove the downed firefighter (see Photo 6). Follow the same steps as discussed in using a basement window to remove the firefighter. Using this method should not require removal of the SCBA (see Photo 7).

Area Restrictions

Many times in an urban setting, there may be an exposure limiting the area you have to work in, thus not allowing the use of a ladder as a lever in the horizontal position. This obstacle can be overcome by using a simple 2:1 mechanical advantage attached to a ladder in the vertical position (see Photo 8).

Attach the carabiner to the firefighter’s SCBA harness or Drag Rescue Device (DRD), or the webbing you have secured to the firefighter (see Photo 9). Remember, this is a rapid removal, we do not have the time nor is this the environment to place a harness on the firefighter. As the crew outside pulls on the rope, the firefighter being raised may need some assistance coming out of the opening you created (see Photo 10).

Being assigned to the RIT is not a mundane assignment. Everyone on the fireground is relying on the team to rescue them if needed. You and your company may never perform a rescue as the RIT, but you must be prepared.

The methods for removing a firefighter with a ladder are not limited to exterior access. It can be adapted to an interior operation. The space you have to work in will determine what size ladder can be utilized. For one- and two-family occupancies and those with shallow basements, a folding ladder or Stokes basket may be your best choice. Using a Stokes basket may require the firefighter to be secured prior to raising, while the 16-foot ladder may be suited for a commercial property with a deep basement.

After any incident or training that required you to cut holes in the floor, always remember to paint “holes in floor” on the exterior of the building. This will make other companies and shifts aware of the hazard.

Special thanks to the members of Truck 10 and Engine 13 (Group 4) for their assistance with this article.

  • See Tom Live! Tom Rogan will be presenting “Peaked Roof Ventilation” at Firehouse Expo, July 19 - 23, in Baltimore.

TOM ROGAN is a lieutenant on Rochester, NY, Fire Department Truck 10. He has an Associates of Science in fire science, and a Bachelors of Science in both business administration and fire administration. He is a nationally certified fire instructor I, New York State fire instructor, and is an adjunct instructor for the New York State Fire Academy.