Firefighter Survival - Part 2

In my July 1997 column, I outlined some of the topics and skills which must be taught to all of our members if we wish to avoid a tragedy. As I mentioned, the focus of survival training should include three main categories: hazard awareness, escape...


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One issue that must be addressed when implementing a RIT policy is the attitude of the assigned RIT members. Every firefighter worth the title wants to get in and slug it out with the devil. That is not the job of the RIT! The RIT members must understand they've been entrusted with the life of every firefighter in the building. They must show up ready for this task properly equipped and then "stand fast," hopefully not being needed. This can create frustration since they are not allowed to "go play" but it is critical that they realize that "they are their brothers' keepers." Besides, they'll get their turn and someone else will be standing outside watching over them. This must be addressed in the RIT policy.

Also essential is having a standard policy that defines the basic duties, assignment, tools and position of the RIT In larger departments this is fairly easily accomplished. But in many cases the RIT will be coming from a neighboring department or some type of mutual aid agreement. Each participating organization must agree to provide the standard minimum crew with appropriate tools and training. The assignment of the RIT should be automatic, usually dispatched immediately upon receipt of a "working fire" signal. As soon as members are placed in harm's way, there should be some way to get them out. The agreement must be reciprocal in that each organization should know that it is just as likely to be the RIT as it is to require the RIT.

An important part of this agreement is a stipulation on when the RIT will be employed, what the chain of command is and when the RIT will be released from its duties. Naturally, firefighter safety is the primary goal of the RIT. That does not necessarily mean the RIT should never budge from the command post until a firefighter is down. Particularly on smaller buildings, the RIT could be employed to open up additional escape routes to help keep firefighters out of trouble in the first place, provided the team remains intact, ready to respond to any emergency. On larger buildings, however, such actions may take the RIT away from its area of responsibilities and could delay its rapid deployment.

Since the main task of the RIT is firefighter safety, the incident commander (IC) must avoid treating the RIT as just another staged unit in case of fire extension. This, however, is a fine line to walk in some cases. The IC must decide if firefighters will be endangered by fire extension while waiting for additional units to be employed. For example, the RIT may have to be deployed to put a vitally needed hoseline in place to protect firefighters' escape. It is better to keep firefighters out of trouble in the first place than to try to get them out after they're down. Put the fire out and everything else gets better!

An RIT should report to and be under the direct control of the IC or the operations officer if it is "forward deployed," as will be the case in a high-rise building, for example. It must be understood that RIT members are committed to their assignment and cannot be "picked up" by other officers for other tasks. That is a problem, particularly since the RIT often arrives when an incident is not going well and reinforcements are being sought. FDNY policy requires a dispatcher to notify both the IC and the assigned unit of its designation as the RIT. This reminds all of the importance of this task and establishes responsibility and accountability for these duties so crew members cannot get involved in firefighting and say they did not know they were supposed to "stand fast."

One way to curb the impact of the "standing fast syndrome," in which members watch everybody else "having fun" while they do nothing tangible, uses the RIT as an attack company if the incident escalates. In this case, a new RIT is designated as each additional alarm is transmitted and the previous RIT is then permitted to operate. This is not the best action from several standpoints but is probably the most practical alternative. If you choose to call a new RIT and use the prior RIT as an attack unit, you must wait for the new unit to arrive on scene, stage equipment and be briefed on conditions by the unit being relieved before the first unit leaves the command post. Otherwise, the later-arriving unit is at a disadvantage should something go wrong.

If the first unit is immediately deployed, there will be a several-minutes-long gap in RIT coverage at the time it is probably needed most. Yes, you need a truck upstairs to pull ceilings but be very, very careful about using an RIT for this purpose before it has been properly relieved. If it looks like the fire is starting to get away, that's when the RIT is most likely to be needed. Firefighters don't usually end up trapped at windows when everything has gone right! That is not to say the RIT must stay in the street until the last length of hose is packed away but make very sure the fire is "under control" and nothing is going to put firefighters at risk before you send the RIT in for overhauling.