Expert: RIT Training A Key in Preventing Maydays

Honing RIT skills is critical because Maydays are always called at the extremes and require special skills that are not used often.

"You don't want to go to all that work to get to him, get him out only to lose him because you couldn't get air to him quickly enough," he said.

Removing a victim is also a skill that must be practiced routinely, he said. It's not easy to drag a firefighter who may weigh up to 300 pounds with gear and, again, practicing techniques helps.

Angulo recommends the RIT bring in Stokes baskets, or a SKED, or even a simple backboard to make it easier to drag the firefighter on.

"A Stokes basket is worth its weight in gold," Angulo said, noting that most firefighters wouldn't want to bring in something that big and heavy trying to affect a rescue quickly. However, the time on saved removing the victim is worth it.

In Seattle, Angulo said he makes his crew practice removing firefighters on ladders. After trying all the possible positions for taking an unconscious firefighter down a ladder, Angulo said he's found that putting a firefighter back to the rungs with his legs over the rescuer's shoulders is the best and safest way to effectively extract a victim. He said the rescuer can keep both hands on the ladder and the victim's weight is principally supported by the ladder. If the victim shifts, it only requires the rescuing firefighter to lean into the ladder to correct shifting.

Training and preparation are the keys to successful intervention, Angulo said.

And there are lots of resources available to help fire departments establish RIT teams and train them properly.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) addresses RITs in its 1710 standards and the United States Fire Administration has a variety of documents, research papers and sample SOPs departments can use as models.

The Department of Defense Fire and Emergency Services, the National Fire Academy and Department of Homeland Security are just a few other agencies with information readily available and in most cases, free of charge.

Departments looking to develop their own RIT procedures should not overlook their neighbors and state agencies for help and use them as resources. While the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) uses the term "RIT" to describe firefighters dedicated to responding to down firefighters in the National Incident Management Systems (NIMS) training, many departments and fire officials use the term RIT. The meaning is the same regardless of whether RIT or RIT is used.

While each agency and department might have nuanced takes on the theme of rapid intervention, they all focus on the need to have people dedicated and ready to respond immediately upon the recognition that firefighters are in trouble.

An initial rapid intervention crew most often requires a minimum of two firefighters, operating as team with the proper equipment (including self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBAs) and training positioned in an area outside of the Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health (IDLH) atmosphere. They are, by design, to be used as a temporary measure

That initial team must be available at all times and direct communications with each other and command to be available in rescuing the interior team should a Mayday be called.

A full RIT has a minimum of four firefighters, who are also properly trained and equipped and assembled in a designated area with the sole purpose of rescuing fellow firefighters in deteriorating conditions.

That team must not have any other duties or assignments and in large, multiple alarm fires, more than one RIT may be needed. It will be incumbent on the incident commanders to resist reassigning RITs, especially in times when staffing levels are reduced.

By most accounts, equipping a RIT need not be an expensive undertaking as basic firefighting tools comprise the bulk of what the team needs.

Firefighters serving on a RIT need full turnout gear, including SCBAs and they'll need radios, a Thermal imaging camera, handlights, forcible entry tools, rescue ropes, a RIT kit bag (which should have a spare bottle a spare facepiece, breathing buddy system and harnesses.)

The team may also need, depending on the circumstances, saws, cutting torches, ladders and specialized equipment that can be on a rescue truck or other apparatus on the scene.