Members assigned to rapid-intervention teams (RITs) are either from an engine or ladder company. However, the functions of a rapid-intervention team (RIT) are primarily those of the truck company: entry and search and, once the victim is found, removal. With that in mind, using members of a truck company, who perform these tasks every day, is probably the most effective use of our resources, as they’re the most skilled when it comes to entry and search.
First Things First
The first thing that the truck crew needs to know is that they’re responding as RIT. The dispatcher or on-scene commander must ensure that they’re notified and have acknowledged the message. This simple bit of communication changes the response mindset. They now know that they’re supposed to report to the command post and inform the incident commander (IC) that they’re on scene as RIT.
En route to the scene, the truck crew should monitor radio traffic so they can start creating a mental picture of where they’re headed and what they’ll need to do upon arrival.
Many firefighters and officers don’t like being assigned as RIT because it often requires just standing by. That’s the biggest problem we have: motivating the crew when they’re RIT. That job falls to the officer and command who must make it a worthwhile assignment. One suggestion is to allow RIT to complete overhaul after the fire is under control and the risk is reduced.
Another note: At a prolonged operation, RIT must be relieved. You can’t stand in front of a fire building in full PPE for 2 hours without relief.
Staffing RITs is a significant issue right now because of the situation many departments are facing with their budgets.
RIT should include a minimum of four firefighters. This can be broken into two teams of two firefighters. This is significant for a couple of reasons. First, if one member of the team has a problem, they can be assisted out by one team member, and the second team can continue with their duties. Second, splitting the team into two means you can make entry from two remote points as you try to reach the firefighter in trouble.
If I had my choice, I’d also like a fifth firefighter to be available to staff the turntable of an aerial device or perform ladder set-up in front of the building. The truck company apparatus operator should be familiar with the apparatus and how to operate the ladder or bucket. If you respond to a nearby department as mutual aid, you should know how to operate that department’s ladder device. Plus, RIT should be allowed to be proactive and position a ladder when members are operating, possibly giving them that coveted second means of egress.
An officer and four firefighters is a lot of manpower for most departments, but for RIT operations, five or more personnel will likely be needed. Staffing shortages for RIT assignments/operations can be overcome by having a RIT Task Force assigned to every working fire.
The Task Force could be composed of an engine company, a truck company and a chief officer to oversee RIT operations. Regardless of the staffing available, the team must be aware of the number of members assigned to RIT and the status of each member of the team at all times.
Put simply, the Task Force gets more firefighters on scene and has the added benefit of a chief officer serving as the RIT group supervisor/safety officer for the group.
Once the RIT officer arrives on the scene, they must report to the IC with the members of the team. The officer should get a briefing on the current operations and the location of operating forces. The crew should follow the officer to the command post with all their tools. This includes the normal complement of tools, as well as special tools, such as search ropes, saws and thermal-imaging cameras. The officer should then brief their crew.
RIT should observe the front of the building and determine any issues that need to be immediately addressed. One potential problem to look for: a lack of portable ladders on the front of the building.
RIT should perform a size-up of the fire building, including a complete 360-degree survey. This will allow them to get the total picture and identify possible problem areas. If there are areas not visible from the command post that are determined to be dangerous or that need attention, RIT should inform their officer who will then inform the IC of the situation and possible remedies. The IC will determine if RIT should handle that task or not.
Each RIT member should know their job or tool assignment before they respond. One member who is trained on ladder apparatus might check the ladders in the area and see if they’re raised and in the optimum position. If they need to be repositioned, do not do so without checking with the interior forces first. Also, RIT can remove window bars or gates if they would impede a firefighter from an emergency escape. Being proactive and preventing an injury is as important as rescuing a downed firefighter.
One member should be given the job of monitoring the fireground radio transmissions to listen for emergency traffic or a “mayday” call. They should be positioned away from the command post and all other noises around the fireground so they can hear the transmissions clearly. This location could be an apparatus cab. In some departments, this firefighter is assigned the radio for the entire operation, and will not be used for fire operations. This person is valuable, but you also lose a member of the team, which could hurt operations when manpower is limited.
Another member should be assigned as the tool person. Based on the emergency request (i.e., firefighter trapped due to a collapse vs. a firefighter who is lost or disoriented), they should determine what tools are necessary for rescue. The officer or RIT team leader might also call for specific tools if they think they’ll be needed.
Once RIT enters a building, the IC must replace RIT with another team and have personnel available to assist if it becomes necessary. It’s not unheard of for members of the rescue team to develop their own problems and require removal from the fire building. This situation, along with the amount of time and effort required to remove a firefighter who has become disabled, often requires more than one team. Note: Anytime RIT is deployed, you should activate the next greater alarm and/or make an immediate request for mutual aid.
One of the most important tasks undertaken by RIT is the search for a downed firefighter. Before performing this search, they must know what caused the problem (low on air, trapped or lost). Once the issue is communicated, the officer will determine the best route into the building. That might be through the front door or another location that brings RIT closer to the location of the member in trouble.
To make this decision, the officer needs some key information. First, what was the missing or trapped firefighter’s assignment at the time of the emergency? If they were the nozzleperson, RIT should be able to follow the hoseline to the nozzle and begin the search from there. If the member was on a search team, RIT should make its way to the search team’s assigned position and work out from there. If the firefighter in trouble is able to communicate, then RIT needs to obtain their last known location and start their search from there.
Once the downed firefighter is located, the officer must determine the route out of the structure. This will depend on the downed firefighter’s condition. If the firefighter is low on air and RIT is able to provide them supplemental air, RIT should go the safest way out of the structure. If the firefighter has a medical emergency and is unstable, RIT must determine the quickest way out of the building (as long as it’s safe for our team members). And, of course, if the firefighter isn’t breathing, RIT needs to perform a rapid-removal technique (i.e., snatch and drag) so they can turn over the downed firefighter to EMS and give them the best chance for survival.
The truck company that’s serving as RIT might not like the fact that they’re not fighting the fire, but more than anyone else, they have the ability to make a bigger impact on the safety of the operation. After all, firefighters and officers aren’t dispensable commodities—they’re members of the department who we are duty-bound to protect. And no matter what, RIT must be in place and properly used and trained on to be effective. Can you depend on your members to rescue you if you get lost at a fire? If not, then start training—now!