Fire-service training teaches the importance of calling a “mayday” early in a situation that will require rescue and assistance. In fact, firefighters are ingrained to call the “mayday” at the earliest sign of trouble, giving incident commanders adequate time to engage rescue resources. Equally as important is preparing rapid intervention team/crew (RIT/RIC) resources to successfully react to the mayday call for a downed or disorientated firefighter or one who is low on air.
NFPA 1407 can be used as template to create standard operating guidelines and training evolutions that will ensure your RIC operations are robust and able to effectively respond when called upon.
It is essential to review the lessons learned from both the Phoenix and Seattle fire departments with regards to large area search and rescue for simulated downed firefighters. Both departments confirmed that it took between 11 and 12 rapid-intervention team members to first locate the simulated downed firefighter and then extricate him or her from a structure. While these simulations were in relatively large-area buildings (5,000 to 7,000 square feet), the downed firefighter took an average of 6 to 7 minutes to locate. Once located the “victim” was required to be extricated and all total Seattle crews reported an 18-minute locate-and-extricate average time, while the Phoenix research yielded a 21-minute average.
This type of effort does not happen by chance. Successful outcomes require well-coordinated, trained and equipped crews. The Powell Doctrine, named after retired Gen. Colin Powell focused on committing a force of “overwhelming superiority” when engaging in armed military conflict. This belief was spawned from his witnessing and studying the lessons of combat. The fire service operates in hostile environments as well and requires preparations of having a rapid intervention team on the exterior of a structure poised to begin search and rescue operations at the direction of the incident commander.
We all are familiar with the “two-in/two out” commandment for interior operations. The reality however is that the Phoenix and Seattle work demonstrates and the Powell Doctrine applies, many more personnel may be needed to successfully respond to a mayday call for help in time to provide the necessary interventions to avert a line of duty tragedy. Preplanning your rapid intervention team “package” is critical to success. It in most cases will require a “heavy” or additional assignment of personnel to the alarm response. This may be from within your own jurisdiction or in many cases from mutual or automatic aid partnerships. The preplanning phase should be to identify where those resources will be secured from in advance and assure that standards operating guidelines are well established and joint training occurs on a regular scheduled frequency. Appropriate equipment such as thermal-imaging cameras also are critical to ensuring safety and success.
Take this opportunity to review what procedures and resources you have in place within your system as well as review NFPA 1407 and see how your efforts measure up. It is also an excellent opportunity to review the type of structures (size) you commonly respond to and re-evaluate do you have a large enough rapid intervention resource assigned, if not to explore what options you may have. These lessons learned are only valuable if we apply them, when possible, with our individual service areas.