How To Use A Rapid Intervention Team

Michael M. Dugan offers a guide to training and utilizing firefighters for this all-important job.


Reports of missing children! A team of firefighters is operating on the floor above the fire, conducting a primary search. The engine company loses water. The firefighters are notified via portable radio to retreat until the engine regains its water supply. The firefighters return to the same...


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Reports of missing children! A team of firefighters is operating on the floor above the fire, conducting a primary search. The engine company loses water. The firefighters are notified via portable radio to retreat until the engine regains its water supply.

The firefighters return to the same interior stairs that they had used to gain access to the floor above the fire but by now the staircase is untenable! They notify the incident commander (IC) via radio that they are trapped on the floor above. In the high heat and heavy smoke conditions they are looking for a way out. They need the help of a rapid intervention team.

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Photo by S.E. Myers
Norfolk, VA, firefighters work to rescue a fellow firefighter who experienced a breathing apparatus problem while battling a blaze in February 1996.

These teams are referred to by many names i.e., firefighter assist and search team (FAST), rescue assist team (RAT), firefighter rescue available team (FRAT), rapid deployment unit (RDU) or rapid intervention company (RIC). They have one primary function: to assist and rescue firefighters suddenly in trouble.

Due to the dangerous nature of firefighting, unforeseen events can happen at any time, leaving firefighters in sudden peril. A building on fire has the inherent risk of a partial or total collapse, leaving members lost or missing. An extending fire can trap firefighters by cutting off their means of escape. Explosions can injure, trap or even kill firefighters. The phenomena of flashover can instantly change the dynamics at a building fire and trap firefighters operating in the structure with only seconds to escape.

Any unit can be designated a rapid intervention team. The IC could use the team for any sudden emergency endangering firefighters and therefore must be mindful not to assign it routine duties which could be handled by other units.

In New York, NY, on April 7, 1995, a rapid intervention team from Ladder Company 6 made a lifesaving-rope rescue of a trapped firefighter. The firefighter was directly above the fire, separated from his unit, with a depleted mask. He was spotted in an interior shaft window appearing disoriented. The IC determined a quick response was necessary and ordered the rapid intervention team into action. The team's immediate and skillful response averted tragedy.

The response protocol for dispatch of a rapid intervention team will vary by local needs. The IC could call in a team anytime it is considered necessary, particularly when members are operating in dangerous areas. This will enhance firefighter safety.

The rapid intervention team can always be turned back if the situation is under control or if conditions are not what they appeared to be initially. However, the team could be en route or at the scene if the situation is warranted. Any delay in dispatching could leave firefighters in trouble.

For firefighters' safety, every department needs some form of a rapid intervention team dispatch policy. This of course, will vary and should be implemented with the individual companies' needs and resources in mind. In New York City, for instance, the third ladder company dispatched to an "all hands" fire is designated as the "FAST truck." The Massapequa, NY, Volunteer Fire Department has an automatic mutual aid or response policy to assign a rapid intervention team. At a non-expanding operation, the second-due truck company or the heavy rescue company is designated as the rapid intervention team unit. At an expanding operation, a mutual aid company from a neighboring department be-comes the rapid intervention team.

Once a rapid intervention team is on the scene, the members' first responsibility is to have the officer report to the command post. Equipped with full turnout/bunker gear, including self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), they are ready to work. The proper tools needed to rescue a trapped firefighter are also essential. These include, but are not limited to, axes, halligan tools, hooks, hydra-rams and rabbit tools. In addition, if available, they should have power saws, torches and a resuscitator. If the fire building is large, has a complex layout or is a multiple-story building, they should also be equipped with lifesaving and search ropes.

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