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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Another task the team can perform is to assess the need for ground and aerial ladders. Upon arrival, team members should place a minimum of one ground ladder on the fire building to the fire floor or floor above and to the front of any involved exposure, regardless if a ladder is in place prior to their arrival. Additionally, if the truck is in front of the building and the first- or second-due truck crew didn't have time to place the aerial, the rapid intervention team must put the aerial up.

Anything that can be done to increase firefighters' chances of escaping from the building when time becomes critical should be attempted. Every ladder or aerial device placed on the building is another "fire escape." If no ladders are up, the chances of rescuing a member who shows up at a window may be near zero. If placing one or two ladders increases the odds even 1 percent, it's worth doing. The rapid intervention team will be the IC's first offensive step in the direction of the member in need. One advantage of having the team available is that it will give the IC a moment to assess the availability of other companies to assign to the rescue and call for additional help. Everyone at the incident cannot drop what they are doing and become involved in the search and rescue. There are critical tasks that must continue, such as hoseline operation and ventilation.

The rapid intervention team should also assist the IC with monitoring fireground radio transmissions. We all know how loud the scene of a fire can get outside fire alarms sounding, the apparatus engines whining, large hose streams and all of the typical fireground sounds may interfere with the IC's ability to monitor all transmissions. This task can ensure calls for help will not go unheard.

  • Tools. The members of the rapid intervention team should have a variety of truck company tools flat-head ax, sledge hammer or maul, halligan tool, hook, etc., search rope, portable radios, saw and handlights.

The key word here is rapid; the team members shouldn't be loaded down like pack mules. The IC must anticipate the need for additional equipment, such as a first-responder kit and spare SCBA. Other firefighters should be staged with any other specialized equipment that your department has, such as a thermal imaging camera, air bags or hydraulic rescue tools. Most departments carry specialized equipment on rescue trucks or in command vehicles, and any company that may be used as a rapid intervention team must be familiar with this equipment.

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Photo by Robert Cobb
On arrival, firefighters assigned to the rapid intervention team assess the need for forcible entry equipment.


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Photo by Robert Cobb
The search rope will give the team a gauge on the distance traveled and bolster members' confidence searching large, undivided areas.

The search rope is one of the most important tools for the team to utilize. It should be long enough for the search area, 150 feet minimum, with a clip at each end to safely tie off or extend the rope, and should be in a carrying bag which will easily deploy the rope. The rope should be marked at progressive lengths; consecutive knots at least every 20 feet will give the search team a gauge on distance traveled. Also, knowing the distance traveled into a building may assist other crews if a wall must be breached from outside the search area to extricate victims quickly. Short branch lines can be used to expedite a large area search. Rapid intervention team members can clip onto the main search line and sweep an area 15-20 feet out to the side and safely return. The simple tool will greatly assist members in meeting their primary search objective safely.

  • Response. The rapid intervention company should respond as soon as a working fire is reported. In large departments the IC may assign this task to a first-alarm company if it is not needed initially. Several departments with limited resources have a mutual aid company automatically dispatched to working fires. Some departments use the rapid intervention team for relief purposes after the fire is under control and there is no danger of collapse or smoke condition to cause firefighters problems.

Many recent case studies recently indicate firefighters are being killed and seriously injured during the initial stages of the fire. Some of the contributing factors are: