Firehouse Magazine Heroism Awards: Fairfax County Fire and Rescue

As calls of a Mayday were transmitted on May 27 -- alerting Fairfax County, Va. Crews of two trapped firefighters -- members a Rapid Response Team (RIT) were ready to go to work.

As one of the trapped firefighters broke through a window to escaped the blaze, members of the RIT team went up the stairs to the top floor of the burning townhouse in search of the other missing firefighter.

"We first did a walk around of the townhouses, and then went in and split the unit. Two went to the right, two to the left. We then located a firefighter on left hand side, next to a wall," Lt. Danny Urps said.

"The firefighter was feeling the wall and his back was sort of towards me, I saw his lights and was able to see who he was and was able to take him back," Master Technician Joe Swift said.

Urps said the structure was fully involved and that the conditions make it difficult to operate.

"We went from crawling to flat on our bellies," he said. "We ended up diving down the stairs, getting off the floor just as it collapsed"

Lt. Urps, Master Technician Swift, Master Technician John Linhart and Technician William Ward said their training played a big part in making sure the rescue went smooth.

Since it was the first time the department had to deploy its RIT team, it's members had to rely on what they had learned in simulated situations.

"We've drilled a lot of this in the last couple years," Ward said. "When the call went out it was almost like a drill, it was very surreal.

"It was a reaction from the entire crew. Every guy will tell you, there was only one thing on our mind. We were going to get up there, find him and get out."

Members of the RIT team said composure was a key to not only getting the trapped firefighter out safely; but getting out safely themselves. They talked in regular tones; no one yelled. Everyone stayed calm and focused at the task at hand.

"It was the hottest place I've even been and the toughest situation I've ever dealt with," Swift said. "I have a whole new respect for being assigned to the RIT team. I preach it to other firefighters now."

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