Straighten the record
OK, I'll take the bait. In a letter in your October issue entitled “On-deck shortcomings,” there are several issues that I want to clear up. The letter is riddled with inaccuracies regarding the on-deck model, for example, how we manage radio channels and the focus of our on-deck companies. I cannot, in this space, do justice to on-deck.
First off, on-deck is not, nor was it ever intended to be, the “silver bullet” solution for firefighter mayday management on the fireground. In fact, on-deck is just a piece of mayday management. It is more correct to describe it as a comprehensive (not complicated) deployment model intended to reduce the need to deploy an RIT in the first place.
As a part of our deployment model, on-deck companies are assigned the function of RIT in the event of a mayday from a position that is far more logical than those taken by RITs. On-deck is not simply a replacement of RIT as the author of the letter suggests, and to characterize it as such misses the mark entirely.
On-deck is a deployment model designed to address the miserable statistical probability of disaster for our rescuers in the event of mayday. When a mayday occurs on a fireground, the rescue model a department decides to use should exploit capabilities as firefighters without killing the rescuers.
In his letter, the author describes research regarding problems of RITs and how companies feel about being an RIT company as a “lack of understanding of solid SOGs and training.” We have solid operating guidelines and training, as do many other departments that are struggling to make sense of RIT. The problem isn't that we don't get it. The problem is that we aren't buying it. RIT, as it is used today in the American fire service, simply is not good enough.
The author admits there are several unsolved problems with RITs. We agree. On-deck is a regular, routine, practiced part of our deployment that addresses much of what makes an RIT deployment so dangerous. Firegrounds have a certain degree of predictability. On-deck matches that predictability with our resources in a way that RIT does not.
Those who take sides on the issue that a fireground must have a dedicated RIT standing by, proactively or not, dedicated to rescue in the event of a mayday underestimate the resolve of firefighters under those conditions; at the same time they overestimate the effectiveness of RITs. It simply does not make any sense to argue that an RIT is in any way more committed to rescue because that is its only function. Those of us who have had to endure a mayday can tell you that rescue commitment during the mayday isn't the problem.
In addition, the author makes the claim that the RIT duties of performing “additional laddering, window bar removal, additional hoseline placement and monitoring conditions are proactive.” We also agree. However, this makes our point better than we could. These are important activities, however, they put an RIT in no better position to perform a rescue than any other company doing the same thing on the fireground. Proponents of dedicated RIT are saying it both ways: They need to be dedicated to rescue and, at the same time, performing proactive duties. Which is it?
For us, on-deck solved this puzzle. On-deck companies can, and often do, perform tasks that should be completed to make the fireground safer. One of those tasks may be timely relief, and relieving an interior company is safer than rescuing them.…
But it is a mistake to think that if the name of RIT is changed to on-deck, that you now are using the on-deck deployment model. It's simple, but not that simple.
If there are a hundred ways to rescue one of our own, we should train and become efficient at all of them. For those that are doing this training, we tip our hat. Keep going. But this training by itself is not enough, and is much like learning to do the wrong thing better. The on-deck model exploits what is good about this training and ties it into the bigger picture of all the fireground activities. It takes many of the best parts of save-our-own training and creates a deployment model that gives that training a better chance to work in the real deal.…
In addition, our experience and research suggest that a predicable ripple effect of activity occurs during a mayday from the inside out, not from the outside inward as suggested. This may possibly be the biggest fallacy with RIT deployment. In short, an RIT will not be the first to attempt a rescue. Demanding that interior crews close to the mayday, particularly the crew with the firefighter in trouble, continue what they were doing prior to the mayday is a recipe for more trouble. A department can train, use harsh language and discipline as needed, but firefighters will respond to a mayday in a (thankfully) very predictable way.
Maybe the best place to try to make some sense of this is by walking out to the apparatus bay and talking to your firefighters. Get any two of them together and ask one if the other was to go down, what would his action be. Then let them review your RIT procedures.
Sometimes words do mean something, and rapid intervention teams are not rapid, and often not intervention.… Until we hear of or can find the next better idea, we offer on-deck as a deployment model that can be customized to fit any department. The physics and chemistry of fire and the resources needed to fight them don't vary much from one place to another. What does vary is our ability to deploy resources. No matter what the size of your department, your last line of defense should not be your RIT.
Phoenix Fire Department