Rapid Intervention: A Better Way

This article looks at one the roles of a four-person engine company assigned as the Rapid Intervention Company for a dwelling fire.

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.