Engaging in a firefighter rescue within a burning building will most likely be the hardest assignment that you will ever perform, both physically and mentally. Having the adequate manpower to take on this seemingly impossible task will be one of the key factors in whether you succeed with the rescue, or tragically fail. I will share with you my thoughts on what I believe to be the answer to the standard RIT response.
I strongly believe in what I call "the rule of three" which provides for a minimum of a 3-team RIT response or "fireground availability". I am not advocating that three dedicated rapid intervention teams physically standby on the fireground. There are too many fire departments already having a hard time assembling just one team. What I am referring to is having the plan and means of assembling these two additional teams quickly from the fireground when a 'MAYDAY' is announced.
Team 1 (RIT 1), obviously, will be the actual initial standby team. This team should be dispatched with the 1st alarm assignment to any reported structure fire so that they can be on the scene, set up, and ready to deploy as the 1st alarm suppression crews are advancing.
If you wait for a fire officer or apparatus to arrive on the scene to "confirm" a working fire before you dispatch the initial RIT, you are wasting valuable time that this team could be using not to mention the amount of time the fireground is without a RIT.
Ask yourself how long it will take to get the RIT on scene and set up using this approach, keeping in mind that the first 20 minutes of the fire are usually the most dangerous as far as accidents/injuries, disorientation's, and depleted air supplies are concerned. The initial RIT should be arriving on scene at the same time as, or shortly thereafter, the 1st alarm companies. If nothing is showing the team can simply be "returned in-service".
This initial RIT has the primary responsibility of establishing the following; a staging/standby area, sizing up the incident and building, ensuring the proper safety equipment has been placed such as a ladder to an upper floor window, identify/rectify hazards, monitoring the fireground radio frequency, and ensuring they are ready to deploy on a Mayday.
The teams responsibility if a "Mayday" occurs is to; deploy and conduct the search, locate the downed firefighter, create a defendable space around the victim, perform an assessment of the victim, provide an independent air supply to the victim, provide a sizeup to the IC, and initiate any extrication operation that would be required to prepare the firefighter for removal.
If this initial team can accomplish removal of the downed firefighter within the time span of their SCBA air supply, great. But chances are, after completing the above, their air supplies will have become depleted to the point that they must retreat from the structure. Therefore, the initial teams complement of tools should be basic forcible entry tools, a search line, a RIT bag of some sort with an SCBA rescue pack (with spare facepiece), wire cutters, webbing or sling-link MAST, a TIC if available, handlights, and portable radios. This first team must remember to keep it basic and light so that they can rapidly maneuver through the building and locate the distressed firefighter.
If the initial RIT deploys on a Mayday, this poses 3 critical issues that must be dealt with by the IC immediately:
First, a second RIT (RIT 2) must be dispatched if they can arrive quickly. If not, RIT 2 must be assembled from the fireground immediately to back up RIT 1.
Secondly, a third team (RIT 3) must be dispatched or assembled from the fireground to protect the remaining crews if fire, or other dangerous condition, is still present. If RIT 1 encounters an extrication situation inside the building, RIT 2 will be needed to carry the specialized rescue equipment to the rescue room.