From The Officer’s Seat

Mark J. McLees continues his lesson on using a rapid intervention rope bag to rescue a downed firefighter.


With the inherent dangers to firefighters that are associated with suppression activity, maintaining and improving our rapid intervention skills continues to be a priority. While numerous firefighters have lost their lives in building collapses, there are also cases of firefighter fatalities in...


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In RIT evolutions in which a firefighter is lifted vertically, it is encouraged to re-attach the SCBA waist belt through the crotch of the victim. In this way, the makeshift harness will prevent the firefighter from falling out of the SCBA. Depending on your brand of SCBA and the size of the victim, this may be impossible. Training is the key to identifying your ability to make this simple changeover rapidly.

The concept of rapid intervention is simple: to save firefighters' lives. Just as in firefighter survival techniques, you either pass or fail - there are no extra points for style. Any gimmicks or shortcuts that work are acceptable as long as they are simple and quick. In some cases, we may be forced to use power saws to make the hole bigger. We may need to breech the ceiling above the hole to lift a larger firefighter all the way through the hole. These are time-consuming evolutions and are not conducive to a positive outcome.

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Photo by Mark J. McLees
Remember "Under the Big W" – this will help you rapidly conceptualize how the rope is supposed to lay out.

Remember the worst-case scenario: the building is on fire and an unconscious firefighter needs to be moved as quickly as possible. The ultimate test of your RIT skills will be in your ability to perform these evolutions blind. Pigs, Z-rigs and other mechanical-advantage systems, while useful in a less hostile environment, may only complicate an already difficult situation. Keep it simple!

Safety For Rescuers

The accompanying diagrams and photos illustrate the use of the RIT bag to bring a firefighter through a hole in a floor. While it is easy to train using several RIT members around the hole, the truth of the matter is the floor will not be able to hold the concentrated load of these rescuers. We know the floor is already weakened; a fellow firefighter has fallen through.

Our first efforts when working from above should be to give ourselves a safe working platform. Pull a couple of doors off their hinges and place them on the burned-out floor around the hole. In this way, the weight of the RIT members will be distributed. In a narrow hallway or corner of a room, you may be forced to use only one door.

Method 1. In this most simple evolution, one end of the RIT rope is anchored to wall studs. In photo 1, the wall is breached and the halligan passed through and turned sideways to give a solid anchor. The pulley is then passed down through the hole to the rescuer in the basement to hook up the victim. This gives rescuers a 2:1 mechanical advantage.

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Photo by Mark J. McLees
While all members are standing, someone needs to reach down and grab the victim's SCBA.


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Photo by Mark J. McLees
In zero visibility, the rescuer in the basement needs to be able to hook the victim's SCBA.

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Photo by Mark J. McLees
Method 3

Method 2. In the process of performing these evolutions, it became evident that lifting a good-sized victim would require at least four firefighters. Between wet turnout gear and dead weight, we could be faced with a 300-pound victim. By placing an attic ladder or halligan hook on their shoulders (photos 3 and 4), two members create a high-point anchor. Not only does this tool allow them to stand back from the hole, it permits them to use their legs at the critical point.

The first two rescuers begin the evolution by kneeling as the other two members haul on the line. As the victim approaches the edge, a command is given for coordinating the final lift. All four members then walk the victim out of and away from the hole (photos 5, 6 and 7). Training is critical to insure that the standing maneuver occurs at the right time for fullest benefit.

Method 3. By now, it is apparent that quickly lifting a firefighter out of a hole will require strength and technique. In this final evolution, we use the same four rescuers, but without a mechanical advantage.

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Photo by Mark J. McLees
Four different rescuers with differing strengths do not hamper this evolution. Each pulls at his own capacity. The victim will shoot out the hole like a missile if training in these methods is prioritized.