The sound of "Mayday, Mayday" heard over the radio on the fireground will bring a sense of uneasiness and urgency to every fireground commander, no matter what the commander's level of experience or expertise. One of our own is in trouble. Are we prepared at all levels of our...
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The sound of "Mayday, Mayday" heard over the radio on the fireground will bring a sense of uneasiness and urgency to every fireground commander, no matter what the commander's level of experience or expertise. One of our own is in trouble. Are we prepared at all levels of our organization to bring that member home safely? (Figure 1.)
Let's begin by reflecting on why we need rapid intervention teams (RITs). Sadly, there are many misnomers when it comes to the true answer to this question. But let's begin with the obvious.
As a fire service, we are bound by various regulations and standards, one of the most relevant being the Respiratory Protection Standard developed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which was revised in 1998 to include a provision known as the "two-in/two-out" rule. Basically, the rule states that if personnel are to enter a hazardous atmosphere, at least two individuals are to remain outside the atmosphere while maintaining visual or voice contact. One of the two individuals must not be assigned any additional duties that would be vital to the safety of the firefighters in the immediately dangerous to life or health (IDLH) environment and the other individual may be assigned to other firefighting activities as long as they do not interfere with that person's ability to perform an immediate rescue if needed. An example of the latter would be a pump operator.
In 2001, the National Fire Protection Association published its NFPA 1710, Standard for the Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations, and Special Operations to the Public by Career Fire Departments, and NFPA 1720, Standard for the Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations and Special Operations to the Public by Volunteer Fire Departments. In these standards, the term "Initial Rapid Intervention Crew (IRIC)" was referenced. This was a valiant attempt at getting the rapid intervention concept recognized and implemented on the fireground. Unfortunately, these standards did not address the skills and performance requirements needed by the individuals filling this role on the fireground.
In 2006, a committee began working on setting a standard for the basic skills and performance requirements for training firefighters in rapid intervention. The result of this is NFPA 1407, Standard for Training Fire Service Rapid Intervention Crews, which was put into place on Dec. 5, 2009. NFPA 1407 is essentially a compilation of numerous other standards as they apply to rapid intervention. Professional standards for firefighters, fire officers, training reporting, respiratory protection, occupational health and safety, incident management, rope rescue, self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and deployment of resources are all referenced as major portions of the standard. The most important point about this standard is that it was truly designed with firefighter safety being the main issue in all aspects.
Getting away from all of the textbook answers to our question, though, is the number-one reason why we need rapid intervention on the fireground: because we continue to lose, on average, more than 100 firefighters each year in the line of duty. The amount of working fire incidents has decreased by 66% over the last 33 years, but our line-of-duty death numbers remain roughly the same. Looking at firefighter fatalities per 100,000 working incidents provides us a clear picture of where we stand. (Figure 2.)
Fallacies and Roadblocks
It is important, however, that we as a fire service realize that rapid intervention is not the ultimate answer to ensuring our survival on the fireground. We have to take care of ourselves and stay out of situations that will warrant activation of the RIT function. Our job as firefighters will always be dangerous because there are times that we must take calculated risks and sometimes we have no control over what happens. But the more that we know and understand about our job and the mistakes that we consistently make as a fire service can and will make a difference.