Rapid Intervention Teams

Robert Cobb outlines the role performed by a fireground unit that may be a firefighter's only chance for survival.


The deputy chief is standing in front of a five-story factory building; several minutes ago, heavy fire was belching from the first-floor loading dock and storage area. Most of the visible fire has been knocked down, the truck companies are opening up and the rescue company reports the primary...


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The deputy chief is standing in front of a five-story factory building; several minutes ago, heavy fire was belching from the first-floor loading dock and storage area. Most of the visible fire has been knocked down, the truck companies are opening up and the rescue company reports the primary search is negative.

7_96_rit1.jpg
Photo by Robert Cobb
The purpose of a rapid intervention team is to provide personnel for the rescue of firefighters if the need arises.

The second-alarm companies are checking for extension on the upper floors, stretching additional lines and venting. The situation looks good; no additional units will be needed. A progress report indicates that all companies are working and the fire situation is, "probably will hold with the present assignment." Most of the acrid black smoke has turned white and is lazily drifting out of the windows, with the exception of the third floor, where one window near the middle of the building is still puffing black. The incident commander (IC) calls the third battalion chief and requests a company to check out the area. The next radio transmission is an urgent, "Mayday! Mayday! We're lost and running out of air in the third floor."

As the IC stares at the third-floor window, three members of Truck 7 appear, their hands pulling at the heavy steel wire mesh covering the window. The IC knows he needs a ladder placed quickly, as well as a saw with a metal cutting blade. As he scans the street for a company to help, he sees only spectators. Finally, several members come racing around the corner of the building and the deputy chief points to the members in distress.

The black smoke issuing over the trapped firefighters' heads is changing to a dull orange. Several members sprint to the nearest truck company for a ladder and a firefighter begins exchanging the wood-cutting blade on the saw for a metal cutting blade. As the ladder is being placed on the building and the saw is started, heavy fire blows out the third-floor window.

The rescue of firefighters in a burning building is time sensitive. The purpose of a rapid intervention team is to provide personnel for the rescue of firefighters if the need arises. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1500 Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program provides information on the requirements for rapid intervention teams:

  • The fire department shall provide personnel for the rescue of members if the need arises.
  • One or more rapid intervention teams will be assigned, based on the needs of the incident.
  • Minimum of two members.
  • Appropriate protective gear, including self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), personal alert safety system (PASS) devices and any specialized rescue equipment specific for the operation.

The following should also be considered when implementing a rapid intervention team:

  • Location. On arrival, the rapid intervention team reports to the area of the IC and remains in visual or verbal contact with the IC at all times; this means the team should always stay at the front of the incident near the command post.

Common sense prevails. At a high-rise incident the team reports to the appropriate area lobby command post or operations post. There may be incidents that cover a large geographical area; in such a case the IC may assign the rapid intervention team to a sector or division.

  • Tasks. The primary task of the rapid intervention team is to respond to any firefighter reported in distress. Generally the member or members in distress are in one of two situations:
    1. Trapped in a collapse. This could be as small as a ceiling collapse in a 10-by-15-foot room or the sudden collapse of an entire wall or building.
    2. Disoriented and lost in the building. In reviewing case studies, it is estimated that up to 20 percent of fireground fatalities were related to firefighters becoming lost or disoriented in a building.

7_96_rit2.jpg
Photo by Robert Cobb
An important tool for the team is the search rope, marked at progressive lengths with knots, with a clip at each end and in a carrying bag.
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