Rapid Intervention Teams

Much attention is paid to the response and duties of Rapid Intervention Teams for structural fires. Many departments have developed RIT companies and tools assignments, which when deployed certainly raise the level of safety for every firefighter operating at the scene. But what if an emergency develops prior to the arrival of a full RIT team of 5 or 6 members. What if a sudden change in conditions endangers a firefighter when the original and minimum team of 2 is still the only immediately available rescue team? When a full RIT unit is on-scene, they usually assemble a collection of tools that can be used for almost any possibility. When we only have our "2 out" team available, what exactly can they do if a "mayday" is received that requires them to go to work?

A team of two is limited to what tools they can assemble and which they can use. We certainly can't expect two firefighters to carry the full tool compliment that an entire RIT unit would. So what can they carry and what can they expect to accomplish? Let's look at a specific situation and examine the options this team has.

An engine and ladder company, each staffed with 3 firefighters arrive at a fire on the first floor in a two story detached private dwelling. A neighboring department dispatches a safety team of two members to act as the "2 out" for the protection of the firefighters operating in the IDLH atmosphere. What tools would be reasonable for this team to assemble at this time and what tactics could they expect to be able to initiate by themselves? With each member fully geared up with PPC and SCBA, they should each carry at least one hand tool and both should be radio equipped. If one carries a halligan the other can carry and axe. The axe can be used to strike or cut and the halligan can pry, strike or punch through material. This team should have a power saw available and even stretch a dry hoseline to the front of the building should it be required. An entire SCBA should be readied for use if they need to enter the building for a rescue and a search rope of sufficient length should be at hand as well. Each firefighter should carry a personal rope and/or harness to drag an unconscious or incapacitated firefighter and a scissor type folding ladder should be in readiness in proximity to the saw and hoseline in front of the building. This two man safety team must remember that they are not only the first two members that are trying to remove or rescue a distressed or trapped firefighter, but they may be the only members to perform this duty.

When ordered into the building to perform rescue/safety duties, this team must take their hand tools, the extra SCBA and they should consider tying off the end of the search rope at the building entrance and deploy it as they proceed to the location of the firefighter in distress. This action will not only provide a rapid exit route for the rescue team but it will also assure a path for additional firefighters to follow into the area where the firefighter in distress is being assisted. The only people that should have to search for the firefighter in distress is the first in rescue team. The deployed rope is now the marked path to the area where the "2 out" team is operating for others to follow to render assistance. If it is initially reported that a firefighter has fallen through the floor or a hole, then the folding ladder may be taken in initially.

As mentioned, the first in team of two rescuers should take with them a complete SCBA in the event that a trapped firefighter needs air or is running low on air. This air supply will give the rescue team time to assess the situation and time to affect a rescue or removal if that is necessary. One of the worst outcomes at a firefighter rescue would be the successful removal of a trapped firefighter who does not survive because of smoke inhalation or CO poisoning.

Once the firefighter is located the safety team must provide a detailed report to the IC of the condition of the firefighter in question. This report must include;

  • Exact location of firefighter in distress.
  • Whether firefighter is conscious or not.
  • Information concerning the fact that the search rope is deployed as a path to the distressed firefighter.
  • If any special tools are required at the location.
  • If additional assistance (personnel) are required at the location.
  • If an alternate route of escape is possible and if it will be used.
  • If the firefighter is alone or if additional firefighters are in need of assistance.

After arriving at the area where a distressed or trapped firefighter is, the rescue team must evaluate if fire or heat is present and if a hoseline may be required. If a line is needed, the team can either call for a line to be stretched by anther unit or team, or a member of the team can follow the search line out and advance the dry hoseline that was previously stretched to the front of the building. This will depend greatly on the number of firefighters on the scene and available for assignment to these duties.

Another survey that can be conducted after arriving at the location of the firefighter that is in need of assistance is to determine if there is a better, shorter or safer way out of the area than the way that the rescue team came in. While one member is tending to the distressed member, the other can make a quick search of the immediate area for this secondary escape route. If one is found and is considered for escape, the safety team needs to notify the IC so assistance can be deployed to that area, including medical personnel.

Once a firefighter is removed by a safety team from a hazardous situation, they must be immediately transported to a location where medical assistance can be administered. The IC must also be notified that the member in distress has been removed, from where he has been removed, and where they have been removed to. We must let the IC know these facts so that additional efforts are not initiated to rescue the member. We must inform the IC from where the member has been removed because occasionally there is more that one member in need of assistance and when one is removed the rescuers believe that both have been removed. Where the firefighter is removed to is important so the IC can deploy medical assistance to that area for care of the injured/trapped member and/or the safety team members.

When a 2-member safety team is deployed to assist a firefighter in distress, they must inform the IC to assemble another safety team immediately to cover any additional call for help of to lend assistance to the first safety team in the hazard area. Upon arrival of a full RIT unit. The IC should notify the safety team inside the building and ask if additional assistance is required. The RIT unit should not be deployed immediately without consulting the safety team first.

Although the time frame that many "2 out" teams operate in the hazard area is usually quite short in duration, they must be able to take the important first steps in the firefighter rescue procedure. They must be prepared and trained sufficiently to operate as a single two member team in a highly hazardous environment. All of this is possible with adequate training and practice at fire scenes. "2 in 2 out" is not necessarily a best case scenario for rescuing trapped firefighters, but it may be all that you have during the initial stages of a dangerous structural fire.