The need for rapid intervention teams on the fireground is here is to stay. Their deployment has led to the successful rescue of numerous firefighters.
While NFPA 1710 and 1720 approach the subject of rapid intervention for career and volunteer departments, what defines an adequate rapid intervention company and how a fire department establishes one on the fireground is open to interpretation. The important thing is that this resource be established as soon as possible and be managed in the proper manner.
Well-intentioned firefighters will want to rush to the aid of a comrade, sometimes by abandoning operations that may have a direct outcome on the success of the incident. Fireground commanders must immediately gain control of the event and establish order and discipline to ensure all aspects of the fireground continue to be handled.
Command officers must maintain control of their personnel and ensure that suppression activities continue during any rescue attempt. Division officers who are visible and remain calm while being assertive with orders will be needed to accomplish this. This is important to limit possible exposure and improve accountability in the original divisions or groups that were performing suppression activities.
Whenever it's communicated that a firefighter is in trouble, the incident commander needs to immediately perform a personnel accountability report to determine who exactly it is. Until exact information is known, it will be impossible to properly initiate an effective rescue plan.
RIT operations must be flexible; an ever-changing rescue plan may be necessary. It's important to remember that flow charts and checklists don't make the problem go away. The people plugged into these positions in the incident management system must be disciplined and show a strong leadership presence. It is only experience and training that will allow the individuals in these positions to function successfully.
When the RIT is deployed, members will be taxed both mentally and physically. Individuals will become so focused on rescuing the fallen firefighter that they won't realize or admit their own limitations — and this includes the RIT officer. This may ultimately expose more members to injury and further the problem.
The RIT officer should be in place when the team arrives. The main function of the RIT officer is to lead and direct the tactical operations of the RIT. There will be so many things taking place that it will be difficult for the RIT officer to successfully handle any additional responsibilities once the team is deployed. For this reason, an RIT chief is recommended.
The RIT chief or rescue branch officer position does not necessarily have to be filled by a chief officer, but it does require a disciplined individual who is knowledgeable and can demonstrate a strong leadership presence. This position will directly support the RIT operation and will provide several advantages in handling a fireground mayday, including allowing the RIT officer to focus on the rescue efforts, assisting the team, controlling freelancing in the rescue effort. and providing direct accountability.
The idea that one RIT, or even two, can resolve a mayday is somewhat naïve. The complications found in large buildings, including disorientation, collapse and unknown hazards, likely will require resources far beyond the capabilities of a single RIT. Because of this, the incident commander should immediately request additional alarms or mutual aid companies. This proactive approach ensures the safety of the fireground and increases the probability of a successful rescue.
Dedicating a safety section officer to the command team also can help control and evaluate risks in and around the actual rescue operation. This position has proven to be a valuable part of the incident management system. The safety section officer is separate from the incident safety officer. The safety section officer is an aide to the IC and is in charge of the incident safety officer, RIT operations chief, on-scene accountability and rehab.
The person in this role will be located at the command post or inside the command van close the IC. The main purpose of the safety section officer is to take command of the RIT operation when a mayday is called. This will allow the IC to concentrate on the continued firefighting efforts of the incident.
Other areas that incident commanders should address are EMS support and technical-rescue teams. If not already completed, the safety section officer can make certain that these areas are addressed and are coordinated with the RIT chief.
Technical-rescue teams may require additional equipment and resources. Early notification will allow these resources to be assembled before they're needed. Remember, they can always be returned if not needed. EMS support featuring Advanced Life Support capability also is essential. A number of medical personnel will be required to treat the downed firefighter as well as the rescuers. It has been highly documented that these types of incidents create additional injuries involving rescuers.
All communications from the RIT officer should be directed to the RIT chief, as he or she will be responsible for providing resources and making any decisions related to the rescue. The RIT chief should be mobile to a degree from the interior to the RIT's point of entry so that he or she can get a true indication of the operation taking place in the rescue effort. The RIT chief and RIT officer should work together to make certain that all necessary tasks and considerations are addressed prior to a mayday.
A checklist that is customized to the department's operations can help the command team remain focused on these tasks that must be performed and should be included as part of the incident commander's clipboard. For example, when a mayday is called:
The IC should immediately perform a personal accountability report to determine the number of firefighters involved, their location and what caused their situation. Are they trapped, disoriented, running out of air?
The IC should switch fire suppression operations to an alternative secondary tactical channel. This will help the affected firefighter communicate with the RIT and not get walked over by other traffic. Only the RIT, RIT chief and safety section officer should be on this channel. It's strongly recommended that the RIT, RIT chief and safety section officer also have a third tactical channel available to relay progress reports and other important information. This keeps the downed firefighter on an open channel for communication while preventing him for her from hearing an unfavorable progress report that prompts the firefighter to lose hope.
The IC should immediately deploy the RIT using search-and-rescue techniques that can be carried out rapidly. Once the RIT is deployed, the safety officer should take over control of rescue operations. It will be necessary to collect certain information and employ certain procedures or actions.
The RIT should identify the needs of the victim and communicate this to the RIT chief, especially in the areas of air supply, entrapment with extrication needs and any possible fire threat that may be approaching the team.
The RIT should provide progress reports to the RIT chief while in the process of removing the downed firefighter. The RIT chief will report directly to the safety officer.
The safety officer shall provide EMS with mobile intensive care units ready to receive the downed firefighter or possibly other injured rescue members.
Upon the removal or successful completion of the rescue, the safety officer should perform another personnel accountability report to account for all members on the fireground.
The importance of RIT training can't be overemphasized, as it relates to decision-making and discipline. Continual training will foster confidence in skills as well as provide the repetition necessary for firefighters to function without second-guessing.
As simple as rapid intervention sounds, it's quite the opposite. Many disciplines and procedures exist and must be customized to fit the operational aspects of the department that is implementing it. The principles discussed should serve as major points of consideration for all departments when determining the best allocation and management of resources when one of our own is in trouble.
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 16 years. He is a staff instructor for the College of DuPage and Downers Grove Fire Academy and a certified Instructor III and Fire Officer II through the International Fire Service Accreditation Congress. Pindelski holds a bachelor's degree from Western Illinois University, a graduate certificate in managerial leadership and a master's degree in public safety administration from Lewis University. He is the co-author of the soon-to-be-released R.I.C.O. — Rapid Intervention Company Operations. Pindelski was a recipient of the State of Illinois Firefighting Medal of Valor in 1998 and has been published in several trade journals on various fire service-related topics.
Michael Mason is a 20-year veteran of the fire service and is currently assigned to Engine 3 of the Downers Grove (Ill.) Fire Department. He is a staff instructor for the Downers Grove Fire Academy and serves as an independent instructor for various fire departments throughout the Midwest. Mason is a certified Instructor III/Fire Officer II through the International Fire Service Accreditation Congress. He is the coauthor of the upcoming R.I.C.O. — Rapid Intervention Company Operations.
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