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Rapid Intervention: The RIT Way

The idea of having the RIT companies available to complete other tasks while on scene is both good and bad.

Rapid intervention is a theory that is no longer a new one to those in the fire service. Rapid Intervention Teams, or RIT as we know it, has evolved and been embraced by departments large and small across the country. RIT is the only means that we currently have available to save our own.

If we can not save our own, who will?

Due to the current approved construction methods, our firefighters are at great risk for injury and or death. It is extremely important that we not only train in RIT but we train in building construction. A great deal of attention must be paid to this. Some of the new truss constructed buildings are now attached with only glue, rather than the gusset plate with several nails in it, which has been failing at an alarming rate. With the knowledge of building construction and the understanding of fire spread we can better protect our firefighters.

When RIT is Needed
If and when the need for RIT arises there are many steps in the process that must be recognized and followed by the incident commander (IC). Upon receiving the transmission of a Mayday, all other units operating at the incident should be placed on another operational channel and a personal accountability report (PAR) conducted.

The IC, the person(s) calling the Mayday and the RIT companies should remain on the original channel. Utilization of units within the area that is immediately dangerous to life and health (IDLH) and in close proximity to those in trouble will decrease the response time. This is definitely a step in a different direction than what we are traditionally taught but these units or individuals have a step ahead of those outside in the initiation of the location and rescue process of those down or in need of assistance.

This is one major area within firefighting that those involved must be able to think outside of the box and use means that may be out of the norm and do not follow necessarily the Standard Operating Guidelines (SOG's) set forth by your department. The IC should consider the utilization of any crews that were operating in the same general vicinity as those requesting the Mayday to assist. These individuals are already in the structure and, in theory, they are not far from the downed person(s). They can gain access and advise what if any other specialized equipment may be needed to assist in the rescue.

The adoption of assigned duties for the individual units in the RIT will eliminate the completion of the same task by multiple units or the failure to complete necessary tasks by others. The idea of having the RIT companies available to complete other tasks while on scene is both good and bad. It will help with the mitigation of the incident with these persons assisting on scene. They may be able to do this as long as they are not involved with operations inside the structure or the hot zone where they are required to be breathing air. If this is the case it will decrease the amount of available air in the need for a rescue. As well as prolong their response to the Mayday request.

The development and implementation of a RIT program within your community is paramount. As time goes by, cheaper and cheaper methods of construction will evolve as well as improved manufacturing of the fire gear that we wear. This gear is allowing us to go further into fires and stay longer. This is a two-fold situation; it is good that we can endure the heat more now than before but adversely it also may be giving us a false sense of security due to the increased collapse potential in residential occupancies.

Training Helps Keep Rapid in RIT
Is rapid intervention really rapid? Due to the tests and training scenarios that have been presented to the fire service community by a great majority of the larger departments across the country we see and hear that it is not rapid at all.

What can we do to decrease the time it takes to complete the process from deployment to location of the downed firefighter(s) and to recovery? There are several things that can be done to streamline this progression including the most important, which is to have a SOP/SOG in place and trained personnel. The need to deploy the RIT is the absolute worst occurrence on the fire scene and should not be the first time for rescuers to be performing these tasks.

The personnel involved must be experienced in building collapse and construction, be well versed in tools and their use, and in extrication methods including self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) change over. Continued training in real life scenarios will help decrease the time needed.

While it is good to do this training in a controlled environment, the exploitation of true life smoke and heat involved scenarios will be more beneficial. RIT is a very dynamic entity in its own and no two scenarios will be the same. For this reason it is important that those involved with the location and rescue of a downed firefighter(s) should be well trained and experienced. There are many classes and programs available for firefighters to attend.

It is paramount that we as departments take advantage of the knowledge of individuals like Tim Sendelbach of TES2 Training or James Crawford of and Battalion Chief John Salka of Fire Command Training. These are three of many individuals that are well versed in rapid intervention training programs and are all three that I have received a great deal of information and training from.

Departments as a whole have come a great distance in accepting and grasping the concepts of RIT but it should not be a one time training and then left on the back burner like many other concepts that we are taught. This is something that should be practiced or covered on a monthly basis so that it constantly stays fresh in our minds. When the bells and buzzers sound at three in the morning we should not be scratching our heads trying to figure out what to do when a Mayday is transmitted over the radio.

Rapid intervention and the fire service are rapidly changing. We all need to be proactive and accepting of these changes. It is for the safety and well being of all of us.

Rapid Intervention Works
Recently I was on an incident where a Mayday was declared just after units arriving on scene were advised over the radio that there was an infant trapped on the second floor of the building. It was declared by the lieutenant whose crew from the engine company as well as a member of the same stations truck company had fallen through a stairwell that was burned out into the basement. Fortunately for the three members that had fallen there was no fire in the basement and the injuries were a fist-sized third degree burn to one member, second degree burns on another and the third had both leg and shoulder injuries sustained from the fall and the others falling on top of him.

Upon the declaration of the Mayday all others were directed to switch to another channel and a PAR was conducted. As a member of an engine company that day neither my lieutenant nor I heard the request to switch to the other channel and we were not polled on the dispatch channel for our PAR. My lieutenant made verbal contact with the downed firefighters to assess their status and all were OK. They were assisted out of the basement through an outside door by members of another engine company and truck company.

This incident all happened within the first few minutes of operations of this incident. This is where it is becoming more prevalent. We do have a RIT program as well as a RIT dispatch on any confirmed working incident. The unfortunate problem at this point is the amount of time it takes for these companies to arrive on the scene. According to policy our fourth-due engine on a structure fire assignment is the rapid intervention company then we dispatch an additional truck and rescue squad on the rapid intervention dispatch as well as an advanced life support EMS unit if one was not dispatched on the initial assignment. The individuals on this incident were assisted out of the structure by crews operating in the area due to the fact that most of the RIT companies had not arrived on scene yet.

As discussed in this article it is obvious that RIT is here to stay as long as we continue to fight fires on the inside of a structure or expose ourselves to IDLH atmospheres. As time goes by more and more changes will come to the topic of RIT, as well the tactics used to complete the necessary tasks. It is imperative that those involved with RIT training, activities and deployment continue to train and learn to streamline their actions incase of a true need for deployment.

It is also important to realize that when a firefighter(s) are down, it is time to think outside the box. Don't be afraid to do this either! Just remember to document these actions as to cover oneself as well as to teach others through experience.


ROBERT J. FAAS Jr., a 17-year veteran of the fire service, is a career firefighter with Montgomery County, MD, Fire Rescue. He served on a committee that was responsible for the development of a RIT program and policy for the state of New Hampshire and a committee for the development of a training program for Montgomery County's RIT program. You can reach Robert by e-mail at