A mayday call brings a sense of uneasiness and urgency to any fireground commander. And deploying a rapid intervention team creates chaos. Fireground commanders must gain control of the event immediately and establish order and discipline to ensure all aspects of the fireground continue to be handled and prevent further injuries — studies have shown that 20% of RIT members will experience trouble themselves.
A lone incident commander can't accomplish all this. The scene requires additional command roles filled by individuals with strong leadership presence.
The RIT officer role usually is held by the company officer of the crew assigned to the RIT. This individual leads and directs the operations of the team and ensures that firefighters take proactive safety and egress measures on the exterior. However, it's difficult for the RIT officer to successfully handle any additional responsibilities once the team is deployed.
The use of a RIT operations chief alleviates some of these problems. This position does not necessarily have to be filled by a chief officer, but it does require a knowledgeable, strong leader. This position decentralizes command, which reduces confusion, redundant or conflicting orders and radio traffic and allows the RIT officer to focus on rescue efforts.
The position supports the RIT with staffing, equipment and special needs. It also provides the team with direct accountability and an extra set of eyes to monitor fireground conditions and ensures that the backup RITs are in place and briefed on the rescue plan. This direct management also controls freelancing in the rescue effort.
The RIT officer should direct all communications to the RIT operations chief, as he or she will be responsible for providing resources and making any decisions related to the rescue. The RIT operations chief also should be mobile enough from the point of entry to get a true indication of rescue efforts. If he or she must be committed solely to the interior, a second RIT chief should monitor exterior conditions.
The RIT chief needs to monitor the designated radio channels intently. How is the fireground being depicted? Are companies performing high-risk activities such as vent/enter/search to facilitate rescue? What is the building construction type and what kind of lead out is being deployed? This information will be needed if a RIT is deployed.
Once on scene, the RIT chief will need to report to the command post and obtain a quick briefing of which companies are operating and where, how long they have been there and what progress they have made, and what accountability systems are in place. Most of the information needed can be easily obtained from a well-designed and properly filled out tactical worksheet. (See “RIT Chief Checks,” below.) The RIT chief should need only a quick glance and short verbal exchange before going on his or her way. But he or she should ascertain the RIT's staging location (if already established), fireground operations and mayday radio channel assignments, and a preplan drawing of the building before leaving the command post.
While the team assembles its equipment, the RIT chief and officer should get a good look at all sides of the structure. The chief needs to know where the fire is at, where it is going and where it is expected to progress. The presenting smoke conditions may answer these questions.
The chief needs to verify that companies operating inside are aware of what firefighters are seeing outside and that the tactics being used correlate with those conditions.
The chief needs to know what the building construction is like and if there is anything unique about it that can cause problems.
The RIT needs to know what it can do from the exterior to ease conditions or aid operating firefighters if they need to egress quickly. Forcing a door, removing glass, dismantling security bars, throwing ladders to upper levels and controlling utilities are all tasks that the team can accomplish without much effort. If these tasks require more effort because of special circumstances, the RIT chiefs should inform the incident commander so he or she can dedicate companies to these tasks.
The team also needs to know what resources are available to it. The RIT needs to be self sufficient, but that's not always possible. If the closest engine can provide additional lines, the team may want to secure those lines as soon as it is established and in position. The same goes for any ladders or other equipment. And RIT members should understand how to operate an aerial, if needed.
Know where EMS and rehab are established. The RIT chief should establish communications and an action plan with these important functions.
Overall, RIT chief's main responsibilities are to maintain accountability for team members at all times and make certain that every member understands the plan of action. Accountability not only refers to location but working time and air consumption. The RIT chief essentially becomes an additional safety officer for the team.
It may seem impossible to fill this position on the fireground. Often it's difficult enough to have a sufficient number of personnel on scene to conduct even most basic operations safely, especially for volunteer departments. These departments must reach out to neighboring agencies if necessary. Departments should consider the RIT chief assignment when drafting policies and procedures. This allows time for training and makes certain that the position isn't overlooked during response. But an operations chief can't manage a function if he or she doesn't understand it or how it operates.
The RIT chief and RIT officer should work together to make certain that all necessary tasks and considerations are addressed prior to a mayday. Checklists can provide a great training document prior to an incident or spark the memory during an actual incident.
When it comes to rescuing a fellow firefighter, departments must be ready to do what is necessary to ensure success and the safety of the members committed to action.
Jeffrey Pindelski is a battalion chief with the Downers Grove (Ill.) Fire Department and has been a member of the fire service for more than 18 years. He is a staff instructor for the College of DuPage and has a graduate certificate in managerial leadership and a master's degree in public safety administration. He is the co-author of R.I.C.O. — Rapid Intervention Company Operations and is a revising author of the third edition of the Firefighter's Handbook.
RIT Chief Checks
- Monitor radio
- Consult/review preplan
On arrival, ascertain:
- Location to stage equipment (usually primary entry point)
- Fireground operations radio channel and RIT radio channel
- Location of fire and volume
- Expected fire extension
- Fire company locations, how long have they been operating, and what progress they have made
- Resource sufficiency
- Type of accountability system in place
Conduct size up:
- Identify building construction and features
- Locate all doors and windows, removing any barriers
- Establish access to sides or rear of building
- Establish second way off of roof
- Raise additional ladders
- Look for signs of collapse
Post size up:
- Report findings and actions to safety section officer
- Monitor fireground radio for signs of trouble and progress
Survey closest engine to check availability of:
- Size and amount of hose
- Master stream devices
- Portable ladders
Survey closest ladder truck to:
- Ensure crew can operate aerial apparatus
- Determine portable ladder and specialized equipment availability
- Ensure EMS availability and establish communications