Evaluating Rapid Intervention Teams

Jim McCormack reviews rapid intervention teams and focuses on prevention so that the teams are not needed.


It’s all a matter of perspective. If an entire fireground incident is being managed under the incident command system (ICS), then when things go wrong on the fireground it must mean that the ICS isn’t working, right? If that’s not the case, then the signals being sent out about the fact that...


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It’s all a matter of perspective. If an entire fireground incident is being managed under the incident command system (ICS), then when things go wrong on the fireground it must mean that the ICS isn’t working, right? If that’s not the case, then the signals being sent out about the fact that rapid intervention is not working – and may not work – must be getting crossed.

There’s been a push recently that indicates rapid intervention isn’t rapid and that it may not work. This is definitely sending the wrong message to firefighters and chiefs.

What’s in a Name?

In a nutshell, the name of the team doesn’t make a bit of difference. Rapid intervention team (RIT), rapid intervention crew (RIC), firefighter assist and search team (FAST) or whatever else you call it in your area simply refers to the trained team of firefighters standing by ready to rescue a firefighter in trouble. The most important issue regarding the team is its competency, not its name. The argument isn’t about “rapid”; it’s about having a trained team ready to go get a firefighter out of trouble.

Many departments are providing “RIT-LS” (that’s rapid intervention team lip service). The reality is that rapid intervention team training begins with prevention. If we can prevent firefighters from getting into trouble, then we won’t have to use a RIT to get them out of trouble. Where does that begin and what does it include?

  • Teaching and continually training on firefighting basics. Beyond a solid foundation in basic self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) skills, this also includes basic engine and truck company operations – stretching hoselines, forcible entry, water supply, ventilation, building construction, size-up, and all those basic skills that allow us to efficiently and safely get the job done on the streets. It also involves basic fireground leadership and company officer skill development, both on the street and in the firehouse.

  • Firefighter survival training that includes training firefighters to call for help and deal with problems that arise. Disorientation training and emergency escape training is a must – in case all else fails. Sure, we need to focus on basic firefighting skills to prevent emergencies, but we must train all firefighters in the skills that can be used to get them out of trouble if it shows up.

  • Firefighter rescue training that includes all those skills associated with rescuing a firefighter or firefighters in trouble on the fireground. Again, teaching prevention is the key, but we can’t ignore the fact that firefighters get in trouble and need to be rescued. Searching for a firefighter – the key to the entire rescue effort – must become a high-priority training topic. Securing a firefighter (air supply, packaging for removal, etc.) and firefighter rescue and removal techniques must be continually practiced to develop speed and efficiency. Teamwork and techniques are essential to successful firefighter rescue and rapid intervention team operations. These concepts must be taught (and learned) during realistic training. The lack of these skills should not be recognized during true fireground emergencies – it’s way too late at that point.

  • Rapid intervention team operations that include a solid foundation of basic firefighting skills, firefighter survival skills and firefighter rescue skills, along with a lot of luck. The critical role of the rapid intervention team officer in managing the team operations must be continually reinforced. Rapid intervention team assignments and the roles and responsibilities of each team member must be spelled out and reinforced during training. Rapid intervention team tools and staging must be identified and addressed well before the incident. Rapid intervention team size-up skills and proactive fireground tasks must be identified and outlined in a solid and functional rapid intervention team SOP. Rapid intervention team deployment must be separated from the overall operation and conducted simultaneously with the other fireground functions.
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