Appeared in print as "Rescue ready"
Some of the most difficult and complex fire ground operations are those performed by rapid intervention teams and rapid intervention crews (RIT/RIC) in support of rescuing a missing or downed firefighter. Due to the complexity and “no fail” characterization of these missions, ensuring readiness is of the utmost importance. In the most tragic of ironies, firefighters have been killed and seriously injured while training for RIT/RIC operations. In the pursuit of Everyone Goes Home, how unacceptable is an inattention to training and safety standards?
As chief officers and training managers, going the extra mile to eliminate risk and to still ensure realistic training conditions must be the primary goal in RIT/RIC training evolutions. After several of these events and dozens of near misses, the fire service and those involved in standards making implemented some firm recommendations.
Thefirefighter line-of-duty-death investigation program provides details from an investigation into a line-of-duty death from an unplanned training evolution in 1999. In NIOSH FF report #99-25, May 4, 2000, recommendations were issued regarding the practice of allowing trainers and participants to freelance by incorporating new procedures for firefighter escape and self-rescue during a live-fire evolution without prior preparedness or assessment of these practices. There had been no discussion of practicing or teaching this procedure to firefighters and training participants. There were no safety harnesses, fall protection, backup/belay lines or spotters to provide safety and eliminate the potential for injury. This was an impulsive and unplanned activity, which led to the death of the training officer who chose to demonstrate this unapproved procedure.
The formal recommendations from the NIOSH report are as follows:
- Ensure all new training programs undergo a comprehensive review prior to the implementation of the program
- Collaborate with other fire-related organizations regarding the feasibility of all new training procedures before the programs are implemented
- Ensure that all aspects of safety are adhered to per established standards and recommendations while training is being conducted
- Designate individual safety officers at all significant training exercises to observe operations and ensure that safety rules and regulations are followed
The lesson learned at a great cost is that all activities in training evolutions should be planned and approved by the training team in advance. Safety always trumps realism on the training ground. While it is understood that in emergency circumstances it may be necessary to take an acceptable risk to save the life of another, it is not acceptable to take those same risks during training.
A cost-versus-benefit analysis must be conducted on the fire ground before initiating activities that place members at high risk for injury or death. On the training ground, however, the level of risk is far lower than it will ever be on the emergency scene. Chief officers and training managers must ensure compliance with all local state and federal occupational health and safety standards as well as those NFPA standards concerning safety, training, live-fire and RIT/RIC operations.
Another significant source of information for those involved in planning and delivering RIT/RIC training are the NIOSH firefighter line of duty death investigation program reports where the rapid intervention standards and practices were managed poorly or applied ineffectively. One significant set of recommendations was issued in July 2007in report number F2007-28as a result of a LODD investigation. Those findings are shown below:
“Discussion: A rapid intervention crew (RIC) should be available for the rescue of members operating at emergency incidents. The team should report to the officer in command and remain at the command post until an intervention is required to rescue a firefighters or civilians. The RIC should have all tools necessary to complete the job (e.g., a search rope, first-aid kit, and a resuscitator) to use if a firefighter becomes injured.