This article looks at one the roles of a four-person engine company assigned as the Rapid Intervention Company for a dwelling fire.
Here's the scenario: your company is the fourth engine company on the scene of a confirmed working residential structure fire. The battalion chief in command gives your crew the assignment of the rapid intervention team (RIT). A collective sigh resonates from inside the cab. Just another crap assignment. Your crew gathers a few tools and meanders up to command and reports in. You now have one firefighter in a shiny white helmet, trying his best to give assignments to a group of firefighters who are trying their best to accomplish these tasks all in an effort to save some strangers house and belongings. Next to this model of dedication (I'm trying not to snicker) is four guys whose faces amazingly resemble a three-year-old who has been told that he cannot get up from the table until he finishes his broccoli.
As this four-person crew is standing in the front yard, using their various tools as leaning posts, the smoke that is issuing out of two side windows, that has been getting blacker and blacker without any notice, suddenly flashes over. Several frantic "Maydays" are issued. Multiple firefighters come staggering out of the residence. Is this RIT crew ready to make entry? Do they have a clue who is inside? What about the assignments of interior crews? What about their possible location?
This scenario plays itself out hundreds of times a day across the United States. Crews are routinely assigned as RIT and report to command with the attitude that they have somehow gotten the raw end of the deal. Why is that? It is more than likely because RIT is not routinely activated. As a matter of fact, RIT is almost never activated. Of course, that is a good thing. Unfortunately, because of that fact, this assignment is generally viewed with considerable disdain by most crews.
My suggested solution to this mind-numbing assignment is to make it, (warning, fire service cliche straight ahead) proactive. Yep, I went there. I want to build a foundation for how we all perform RIT, or RIC, or FAST, or whatever you call it. This is not a step-by-step plan. That would suggest that you do it my way, all the time, no matter what. Most articles on this subject deal with the actual rescue part of the assignment. You know, the sexy, Kurt Russell with a child in one hand and an axe in the other, jacket wide open, coming through the flames part. I want to back the train up a little and see if we can be a little more prepared and actually have a game plan before we are activated. This is a method that we can all start with and revise as we go along, as the situation dictates. And heaven knows fire scenes are constantly changing.
Arriving on the Scene
I am writing this from a four-person crew perspective. I will throw in some three-person variations along the way. Let's begin with the moment that you are assigned as RIT and are going to step off of your rig. I suggest teams of two (with a three-man crew, a team of two and a team of one). The right side (four-person crew) or two-man team (three-person crew) gathers TRT. That stands for thermal imager, rope bag, and tools. The left side (four-person crew) or team of one, normally the driver (three-person crew) gathers ALS. That stands for airpack, ladder, and a saw.
Here is where our first deviation can occur. If you are at a one-story, wood-frame, residential structure, with no vertical ventilation going on, and fire is not blowing out of the roof, you are probably not going to need a ladder. What about the saw, which type should you bring? If there are no bars on the front windows and door, chances are that they are not on the back, so the need for a circular saw is greatly diminished. A chain saw is probably more appropriate. Where do you get the airpack from? The best place is more than likely going to be off of the manifold engine. Hopefully, the manifold pump operator is not currently wearing it inside of the structure, but I bet we have all seen crazier things.
We have gathered our tools. While the driver is finishing bunking out, the officer and right-side firefighter should report to command and that they are going to perform a 360-degree size-up. This two-man team will be looking for burglar bars, additional levels of the house due to a sloping backyard, power lines down, extension and on and on. While performing this reconnaissance, a rear or side exit should be opened. This creates an additional exit point. A lot of time should not be used on this task. If the door has additional security features and remains unopened, include this fact in with your report to command.
Once you are around to the front of the structure, this two-man recon team should connect the rope bag near the entry point of the initial attack team and then throw it out of the way. Next, report to command your findings. By this time the rest of your crew should be waiting next to command. Make sure to share any findings with the rest of the crew. It has been suggested to me that the remainder of the crew should also perform this 360-degree size-up. I don't have a problem with this as long as no one does this walk around by themselves. I'm a big fan of always having a partner with you on the fireground. Personally, I don't have my driver and left-side firefighter do this because they are my initial entry team. But I am jumping ahead of myself.
The specific crews, their assignments and approximate locations should either be shared with the crew or the officer can ask his crew members about this information in the form of questions. Either way works. By asking questions, you are making sure that the rest of your crew is thinking about the situation at hand and not either tunneling in on the pretty fire or letting their thoughts drift off to their to-do list for the first weekend of deer season.
The Initial Entry Team
Here comes the next opportunity to deviate. I have my driver and left-side firefighter mask up, with bottles on, take a knee, and wait for their activation. I hand over the thermal imager and hand tools. It has been suggested to me that the officer should be with the initial entry team. I take no issue with that. It's a personal call. I have a very experienced and capable driver, along with two very skilled firefighters. I have all the faith in the world in them. This may change if I had a couple of guys on vacation and rookies in their place. You must be flexible on the fireground. If you decide as an officer that you must be in on the initial search, by all means, do it.
I need to address why I am suggesting two-man entry teams. Several years ago my department did a city-wide drill in an abandoned warehouse for rescuing a downed firefighter. We used 250 feet of hose. The mannequin was placed about 10 feet off of the nozzle. At the time we had both three-man and four-man crews. They would make entry with a black-out mask in place and try to find the mannequin and then remove it. There were no obstacles other than a few walls, a very loud PPV fan for background noise and hose that was overlapped in several places. What I got from the drill was that three and four crew members tend to get in each others way. Now imagine that many people together inside of a house with furniture everywhere, more walls to deal with and less open space.
The suggestion of two, two-man teams making entry at the same time but going in different directions has been made to me. I don't have a problem with that other than the general location of the member in trouble should, but not necessarily, be known. If this approximate location is known, then sending two additional RIT members in may be unnecessarily exposing more personnel to danger than what is needed. But it is another option for command to consider.
Now that you have a two-man team masked up and ready to go, the two members that are not masked up can begin the removal of burglar bars, setting ladders or any other task that can be completed on the outside of the structure. This two-man team still does not want to get too far from command in case RIT is activated. They would then need to assume a back-up position for the initial RIT entry team.
Once the entry team has been activated, they make entry in the same location as the attack team unless given information during the mayday that indicates a quicker route to the firefighter in trouble. Taking the rope bag with them, along with the thermal imager, fresh airpack and hand tools, their number one goal is to locate the downed firefighter and begin the process of switching over the air supply. If conditions are deteriorating in a rapid manner, locating the downed firefighter and making a quick exit becomes the priority. Once the firefighter is located, place him/her on top of the search rope. This way, if the RIT members need to exit due to a low air supply, the next RIT crew can follow the rope straight to the downed firefighter and the weight of this downed firefighter will keep the rope from coming loose and being pulled away from the location of this downed firefighter.
RIT Activation & Deployment
Once this initial RIT crew is activated, another two-man crew must be assembled in the same manner as the first and ready to make entry to relieve the first crew. Hopefully, the downed firefighter is at least located. The air supply should be transferred next. Assume the downed firefighters air supply is low and in need of a change. Again, if the conditions are deteriorating rapidly, forget the air supply, just find him and go. Next, convert the downed firefighter's waist belt into a crotch belt. If you don't, when you start pulling on the shoulder straps of his SCBA, you will pull that unit right off of the downed firefighters back. Now you have a whole new set of problems.
Once you start this process of removal (if you are the initial RIT crew), chances are that this initial crew is going to run low on air due to adrenaline, conditions and obstacles. Here is one of the hardest parts of RIT, leaving your injured fellow firefighter, inside of this burning house because you or your other RIT member is running low on air. If you do not leave them for the next RIT crew to bring out, chances are good that you and/or your other rescue member are going to run out of air and possibly add to the rescue mission. You are probably going to be a little closer to the exit than the original downed member. Who do you think will get pulled out first? The first member that is found will and that will be you. What has happened to the original downed firefighter who has been in much longer than you? They have to wait for the next set of rescuers. Translation: they are S.O.L. and more than likely DOS. When you start to run low on air, get out and let the next group finish what you have courageously started.
I ran a drill with an old crew of mine with two other crews present. I purposely ran my bottle half way out prior to beginning the drill, unbeknownst to my crew. The two other crews hid the mannequin and walked around as we were searching. These other crews served as a way to duplicate the pressure of a real fire situation. You never want to look bad in front of another crew, never. We found the mannequin and began the SCBA switchover. My vibe alert went off. I had to tell my guys five times that I was low on air and that we had to leave. I kept getting, "I almost have it, I almost have it!" Remember, this was a drill. Imagine the same scenario in real life.
The only thing harder than leaving a downed member inside is writing off the building, along with the missing or downed firefighters and not letting anyone else go inside because to conditions that no one could survive. That is unimaginable. Ask District Chief Mike McNamee of Worcester, MA. That is courage.
Once again, we are talking about residential buildings, not commercial. That is a whole other beast and a different article. This is just one man's suggestion. If you have a better way or a better idea, then do it. That is what this article is about. If your department does not have a solid operating procedure for the way that RIT is performed, then do what you have to do and change it, either with the help of your BC or just the way your individual crew does it. Make it work. Don't be content standing in the front yard waiting for something to happen, be proactive and be ready. These are your brothers and sisters inside, show them some respect and be ready at a moments notice to help them when they need it the most.
For all things RIT, check out Pittsburg Assistant Chief James Crawford's articles. Firefighter Robert Faas has also written a good article on RIT. As a follow up, we will discuss the different methods of removal for a downed firefighter in the next article.
Please send any ideas for future training drills, or suggested improvements and variations on this drill, to my e-mail. You and your department will receive credit for any ideas used in future articles.
LARRY MANASCO, a Firehouse.com Contributing Editor, is a lieutenant with the Fort Worth, TX, Fire Department. He currently works in one of the busiest engine companies in Fort Worth, where he has been for 13 years. He was an assistant instructor for FDNY Battalion Chief Salka's "Get Out Alive" hands-on training class. Larry has presented a webcast titled Company Level Training on Firehouse TrainingLIVE. He has participated in a Training & Tactics Talks podcasts on Radio@Firehouse.com. To read Larry's complete biography and view his archived articles, click here. You can reach Larry by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org..