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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  • Structure. The structure used for the training session was a 21¼2-story double residence. The use of the residence was made possible by the Indianapolis Children’s Museum, which had recently purchased the structure as part of its expansion. For training purposes, the structure was converted to a single-family residence, allowing access to all areas through the main entrance. The second entry door was secured shut. Other modifications involved making the structure tight to contain smoke and placing furniture to give a realistic feel during the interior fireground operation.

    A large hole was cut between the first floor and the basement to simulate a floor collapse (a firefighter mannequin was placed beneath the hole, PASS sounding, and under debris as one scenario). The hole was secured by placing collapse debris over the opening, partially obscuring it. This debris prevented firefighters from falling into the hole. Smaller holes were cut into the floors to let smoke travel between the floors, reducing visibility.

    A ceiling collapse prop/obstacle was constructed on the second floor to simulate a collapse that had partially buried and pinned a firefighter. The prop was secured to the structure so that it would not fall or cause harm to the operating RIT personnel.

  • Fireground conditions. The entire structure was charged with smoke during the training session. The smoke was generated in burn barrels (through the use of wet straw and pallets) located in strategic locations. The barrels were slightly elevated on concrete blocks to prevent heat conduction to the flooring and partially covered for maximum smoke production. The barrels were monitored by instructors and maintained with 21¼2-gallon water extinguishers. A safety line was in place for complete extinguishment, if needed. Smoke detectors were sounding throughout the structure.

  • Apparatus. An engine was positioned at the structure to simulate an initial attack. A hoseline was stretched into the building, passing by the hole cut in the first floor, and left unmanned at a predesignated location. The line was initially charged and then bled dry to simulate a loss of water. A battalion chief’s vehicle was at the scene with the chief commanding the incident.

  • The RIT company. Companies were instructed to be in staging, with their radios on the training channel, 30 minutes prior to their scheduled times. The staging location was one block north of the residence. Each scenario began with an arriving radio report and size-up from a first-due engine company. Since this was an evaluation of current readiness, no instructions were given except that the company would be performing a RIT response.

    No restrictions were placed on the responding rapid intervention teams. Teams were free to operate in any fashion and perform any fireground functions in order to locate and remove the missing firefighter.

  • IFD’s current RIT protocol. The Indianapolis Fire Department does not dispatch a rapid intervention team on the report of a fire. Once a reported fire has been confirmed (first-due units on-scene), a rapid intervention team is dispatched to the location. Currently, IFD dispatches the closest available engine or truck as the RIT.

Each battalion chief’s vehicle and the safety officer’s vehicle contains a rapid intervention kit and a RIT airpack. The arriving RIT is supposed to report to Command, retrieve the RIT equipment and receive an assignment. The RIT then stages near the command post awaiting deployment.

The Evaluation

  • The participants. The evaluation was designed to evaluate the ability of both the rapid intervention team and command to handle the fireground emergency.

  • The Mayday situation. The evaluation scenario consisted of a distressed firefighter (PASS activated) who was the victim of an interior collapse. The firefighter had a nearly depleted air supply with the SCBA low- air alarm sounding. The actual “firefighter” was a rescue mannequin dressed in turnout gear with an SCBA on and facepiece in position and operating. The firefighter was partially covered in collapse debris, which potentially lead to entanglement due to the subsequent removal efforts by the RIT.

The two potential evolutions were:

2. A firefighter who had become trapped under a collapsed ceiling (second-floor scenario – truck company member missing)

The Scenario

Individual companies were dispatched as the RIT for a working residence fire. As each company neared the scene, a Mayday was transmitted over the training channel. Command acknowledged the Mayday and immediately deployed the RIT to locate, stabilize and remove the firefighter. From this point, the RIT went to work. This was the basis of the evaluation.

The scenario began with a size-up by a first-arriving engine company. The arrival report was:

“Engine 14 is on the scene of a 21¼2-story residence with heavy smoke showing.”
“Engine 14 establishes Kenwood Command.”
“Engine 14 is attack.”
“Ladder 14 is search.”
“This is a working incident.”

Immediately following the arrival report, the RIT was dispatched from staging by the following transmission:

“TSU 18, 1107, Car 1222, Apparatus X (company in staging) as RIT, 3006 Kenwood Avenue for a working residence fire on OPS 6.”

Following the RIT dispatch, the participating battalion chief (IFD has four battalions and each battalion chief was assigned a block of time to manage the Maydays) would assume command and verify assignments. Once the chief had assumed command – and before the RIT had arrived on scene – the following was transmitted:

“Mayday – Mayday – Mayday. I’m trapped and can’t get out. Mayday – Mayday. Help, I need help.”

For realism, the Mayday was transmitted by a firefighter wearing and using an SCBA with the low-air alarm sounding. The Mayday message was taped and played over the radio so that all companies received the same message. If command acknowledged the Mayday, the following additional message was transmitted:

“Help, help. I’m trapped. Mayday – Mayday. I’m trapped.”

Additional radio support/traffic was handled as follows: any additional resources requested by command were acknowledged and dispatched, but no additional resources arrived on scene during the session. A request for a radio unit ID was handled as follows:

“Command, we show TAC 14 gave the Mayday.”

If requested, the radio unit ID designation given to command was TAC 14. IFD radios are assigned by seat position and transmit a unit identifier when keyed (E14-A, E14-B, etc.). The ID of TAC 14 was used to reinforce the need to tie radios to positions and personnel throughout the shift. Some stations have radios on unmanned apparatus that are sometimes used and could lead to confusion during an actual emergency. In other situations radios are inadvertently switched between assigned positions, potentially leading to confusion about who is actually transmitting a message.

Requests for personnel accountability reports (PARs) from operating companies were handled as follows: