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 five most common factors cited in National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) firefighter fatality reports are all things that we can control before we even hit the street to respond to an alarm:
- Breakdowns in the Incident Management System
- Lack of, or inadequate, standard operating procedures (SOPs)
- A breakdown in the accountability of personnel on the fireground
- Breakdowns in communications on the fireground
- Lack of recognition of key aspects related to fire behavior and building construction (Figure 3)
These are areas that we must constantly look at and evaluate ourselves on, no matter what position we fill in our organization.
RIT Studies Cited
The notion that one RIT is adequate to execute a rescue is a fallacy. This fallacy is clearly illustrated by studies conducted by the Phoenix, AZ, Fire Department after the loss of Firefighter Brett Tarver in a supermarket fire in 2001. The studies, conducted by the fire department and Dr. Ronald Perry of Arizona State University, demonstrated several items that must be clearly understood in the realm of rapid intervention:
- One in every five rescuers needed to call their own Mayday
- It took an average of eight to nine minutes for a RIT to reach a downed firefighter
- It took an average of 22 minutes to find, package and secure an alternate air supply
- It took an average of 12 firefighters to rescue one downed firefighter
These results were obtained in conditions not containing high heat and smoke that would be encountered on the real fireground. If these results are not believable to a reader, I would challenge them to keep times and data from their own RIT training exercises and compare them to this data. They will undoubtedly be very similar.
The RIT function on the fireground is often behind the eight-ball before it is ever established because the concept is not used properly. It is sad to say that a lot of chief officers do not have a good understanding of the RIT concept. Statements have actually been made by chief officers stating that they do not put a RIT in place on the fireground because they do not want citizens or political figures asking them why a building is burning down and firefighters are standing around watching.
Statements such as this stem from a misunderstanding of the concept. Chief officers need to be involved with their department's RIT training. They do not need to be involved in intensive hands-on exercises, but they should have an understanding of the function if they are going to manage it. Witnessing the members completing the various exercises as well as practicing in the role of the incident commander managing a training Mayday can and will go a long way.
Another issue is that most firefighters do not like getting assigned to the RIT function because they feel that they are not "part of the action." Let's face it, most of us got into this profession because we want to make a difference, but not assigning a RIT for this reason is invalid. Standing next to the incident commander across the street waiting for the order to "go" or down the block in staging is not effective rapid intervention.
Firefighters making up the rapid intervention function on the fireground have to be allowed the freedom to provide additional safety factors that may be overlooked. It is important that this is done in a manner that does not take the team away from being readily available to be placed into action in the need of a rescue.
Firefighters assigned to the RIT must remain vigilant and focused at all times — their efforts may mean the difference between life and death for a firefighter in trouble. Complacency is very easy to set in if the RIT is not allowed to function in the proper manner.
Many different deployment models for the RIT are available. The most important thing that can be stressed is that the model used must fit and be conducive to your department. Just because a big-city department uses a particular deployment model does not mean that it will work for every department. Once assigned to the RIT function, a company should not be reassigned to provide relief for units involved in suppression. NFPA 1407 specifically mentions this in the sample operating guideline contained in it. Large gaps in the safety of our members take place when this happens. Continuity of rescue plans of action, monitoring of conditions as well as tools, equipment and resources all become issues when this is done.