Rapid Intervention is still one of the most commonly used buzz words in today's fire service but are we really prepared to perform it?
It's more than just a name. Rapid intervention team (RIT), rapid intervention crew (RIC), firefighter assist and search team (FAST), or whatever else it may be called - all refers to the crew of firefighters that is standing by waiting to respond to a fireground emergency. The primary target of the team is firefighters.
It's time to take a good look at rapid intervention and answer a few questions that are directly related to the firefighter(s) in trouble. Basically, it's a look at rapid intervention from the inside-out. Consider the following regarding the Team.
The Team is the crew that will ultimately save your butt! This team will deploy when needed to enter the structure, locate your position, and take the necessary actions to safely remove you from danger - at least that's who they're supposed to be!
Unfortunately, the Team is usually assigned, or put together based on convenience, to satisfy the paper demands of firefighting (the liability). How many teams have you seen that are standing-by, properly motivated and prepared, ready to handle a true firefighter emergency?
The Team is a crew of aggressive, progressive, and capable firefighters that are good at moving through the worst conditions possible, while remaining calm and focused, and getting the job done? The crew remains proficient at the basic skills of firefighting while continually striving to take it to the next level - at least that's what they're supposed to do!
The Team acts at the worst possible time - when something has gone wrong! Look at it this way, during fire attack, search and rescue, ventilation, overhaul, securing the utilities and all the other related fireground tasks, the Team is preparing the fireground and maintaining a ready-mode to deploy and rescue firefighters who get into serious trouble.
Sure, things can go wrong during all aspects of the operation but it's right in the middle of the initial chaos that things usually go from bad to worse - and that's when the Team usually operates.
Who knows, that's the point! One of the most difficult things to track during fireground operations is the location of all crews and personnel operating inside the fire building. As a result, when something goes wrong and firefighters get in trouble the first priority, and problem, is locating them. First floor, second floor, basement, attic, front of structure, back of structure, left side or right side - it could be anywhere in the structure - how good are your search techniques?
Because things happen! And besides that, staffing is always less than it should be when it comes to fighting a fire. Sure, proficiency and continuous training can help many things go right during fireground operations but no matter how prepared you are things can go wrong.
WHERE DO YOU FIT IN?
With those points considered, take a few minutes to think about your role in the rapid intervention process. Look at it from two sides - the rescuer and the victim. Can other members of your department count on you as a member of the Team? Are you ready, and proficient, at performing the duties assigned to the Team? If the answer is no, hopefully you'll take the necessary steps to get prepared.
Now consider things from the other side of the issue. If you're trapped, running out of air, and unable to get yourself to safety, who's on the Team that's coming in to rescue you? Are they prepared? Can they get the job done?
What type of training is needed for rapid intervention? BASICS, BASICS AND MORE BASICS! Firefighters who remain proficient at performing basic structural firefighting skills can eliminate many of the emergencies that occur. When a true firefighter emergency does occur the Team can use the basics - including line positioning, fire containment, extinguishment, search, rescue, ventilation, and any combination of fireground skills - to handle the emergency and move the firefighter(s) to safety. Proficiency with the basic skills will allow the Team to improvise and overcome any problems that arise during the rescue.
This is an area that seems to get a whole lot of attention when discussing rapid intervention. Many advocate deploying a combination engine-ladder-rescue to be standing by at the disposal of the Team.
KISS! Remember, keep it simple! When performing emergency fireground operations, under emergency conditions, what equipment is being used? It's usually standard hand tools, hose lines and ladders. Add to that list a search rope and thermal imaging camera and see what you can do. Sure, access to every piece of equipment that is available would be nice - but it's the basic equipment that is used on every fire that will get the job done. Don't forget to consider air supply - for the trapped firefighters as well as the Team. Under rescue circumstances air supply will become an issue - plan for it ahead of time!
Rapid intervention, as with most issues in the fire service, is a shared responsibility. The department is responsible for making sure that teams are available and capable of performing when needed. Individual firefighters are responsible for accepting the responsibilities associated with rapid intervention and remaining proficient at the skills needed to get the job done. Rapid intervention skills are nothing new! They're simply a fresh, and updated, look at the skills we've been using for generations to take care of business.
THE FACTS ABOUT RAPID INTERVENTION TEAMS
WHO:The crew that will ultimately save your butt!
WHAT: A crew of safe, aggressive, progressive, and capable firefighters that are good at working in the worst conditions possible, while remaining calm and focused, and getting the job done.
WHEN: At the worst possible time.
WHERE: Who knows! The crew must move to any location on the fireground, as quickly as possible, to locate the firefighters in trouble - and then find the quickest and most efficient way to safety.
WHY: Because things happen! Some because of staffing, some because of inadequate training, some because of lax policies - and some just because that's the way things go.
You're a member of a rapid intervention team that is activated by command because of a trapped firefighter. The last known location of the firefighter is unknown, however, he was conducting a search with his partner and they had already given the 'all-clear' for the first floor (it's a 2-story residence). There is heavy smoke pushing from the eaves as well as from the front door - none of the windows have been ventilated. One hoseline is in operation and was advanced through the front door - the crew is operating on the first floor. There have been no ground ladders placed around the residence, the truck crew accessed the roof over the aerial and is getting ready to ventilate.
- How would you handle this situation?
- Would you ventilate the windows while you advance?
- Would you bring an additional line in with you? Is it part of your standard rapid intervention equipment?
- Would you request that ground ladders be placed to the second floor? Would your crew place them? Is this a standard policy for your crew?
- Does the crew have a thermal imager? Does the department have one?
- Do you deploy a search rope when advancing as a rapid intervention team? Has your crew practiced this technique?
- Are you prepared to perform rapid intervention?
Jim McCormack has been a firefighter for 15 years and is currently with the Indianapolis Fire Department. Jim is also the founder and president of the Fire Department Training Network, a membership network dedicated to firefighter training.