Honing RIT skills is critical because Maydays are always called at the extremes and require special skills that are not used often.
While preventing a Mayday is the ultimate goal, unpredictable events happen at fire scenes. That's why it's important for fire department to have well-trained rapid intervention teams, or crews, available for immediate deployment.
Asking for a RIT deployment is never a good thing. It's always a reactionary measure to help mitigate an unwanted condition during the worst conditions possible.
"You know something bad has happened when a firefighter goes down and we have to go in there and be quick, working in a hostile environment," said Raul Angulo, the captain of Seattle Fire Department's Ladder 6.
That's why Angulo, who has 33 years in the fire service, is constantly teaching and refreshing RIT skills to the firefighters in his company. He has also been an instructor at Firehouse Expo in Baltimore, at the Fire Department Instructors' Conference in Indianapolis as well as the National Fire Academy and fire departments nationwide and in Canada and Mexico.
Honing RIT skills is critical to successful rescues, Angulo said because Maydays are always called at the extremes and require special skills that, thankfully, are not used often.
In Seattle, Angulo said every confirmed fire requires an engine company of four firefighters and the engine to be prepared for RIT work.
Larger incidents require rapid intervention groups (RIGs) which is comprised the original RIT assignment two additional engines and a truck company with a total of 12 people, he said.
Every firefighter in Seattle must be proficient at a RIT level, but there are only a few selected for the RIG assignments, Angulo said, noting that his station, which is a "double house" is frequently part of RIG assignments. To make sure they're ready at all times, Angulo has at least monthly training exercises on rapid intervention – a department requirement.
Training focuses on thermal imaging camera (TIC), a rescue air breathing kit, rope lines and other related tools, he said.
"We time ourselves to see how quickly we can get set up," Angulo said, adding that it's mostly to measure efficiency. While it's part of the department's evaluation criterion, there's no established window of time that the exercise must be completed.
Earlier this month, Angulo built a training exercise around a 2007 Mayday situation in Houston where Capt. Eric Abbt was trapped on the fifth-floor of a commercial building while trying to rescue a woman caught by fast moving fire.
Angulo said he wanted to make sure his crew realized it takes time to affect a rescue of a down firefighter, but they have to be quick and efficient to save people. That's why training is so important, he added.
To bring the message home, Angulo said he called Abbt and had him talk to his crew about the Mayday.
"It was the first time he ever talked to anyone outside of Houston about the event," Angulo said, noting that it was done on a speaker phone in a "safe" environment where only his crew and a few captains and lieutenants so the discussion could be frank and candid.
"I used it as a case study," Angulo said. "What no one realized is that it took 27 minutes to get him out."
Proficiency matters in cases like that and Angulo said he's found one of the weakest links in almost any RIT deployment is establishing air for the down victim.
He said firefighters are very well versed in donning their own facepiece, but he's found that not many practice putting on mask on other firefighters.
"It's hard, especially with gloved hands," Angulo said. "The victim may be face down too, or on his back or where ever and you have to lean over and put the mask on in zero visibility."
In Seattle, firefighters must don their SCBAs in one minute or less and some firefighters can do it in 30 seconds, Angulo said, noting that practice is the key to achieving those times. That same practice must be used for putting on facepieces for others.