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Street Smarts
by Michael Lee

How to best utilize rapid intervention teams

How seriously do you value your firefighters? If you have an elite RIT that trains for multiple scenarios then you can probably answer in a positive manner

By Michael Lee

The rapid intervention team is one of the most significant teams on the fireground and, as such, should be used as an elite team. They will intervene when firefighters require prompt, intelligent, aggressive action and should be seen as a primary assignment — and not a last minute thought.

A truly effective RIT should consist of at least four firefighters, and more if the situation dictates. One of the team is the designated RIT Officer (or Team Leader).

Consider assigning multiple teams when the size of the fireground is large, access to multiple sides of the structure may be difficult, multiple alarm personnel are operating inside the same structure or when the complexity of the event dictates it.

A RIT should be assigned when any crews are on air (SCBA, SCUBA & SABA), at structure fires, scenes that have potential for a possible structural collapse, incidents with an increased likelihood of entanglement, and where firefighters may become lost or unable to find egress points in the structure.

The RIT Team Officer should perform the following steps:

  • Report to the IC to receive orders, situation status and accountability status, find out where to stage the RIT, and determine radio channels for the fireground and RIT.
  • Confirm the chain of command and who the team will report to.
  • Obtain a copy of the building pre-plan or survey if possible.
  • Perform a size-up of the structure in order to determine:
    • Type of building/roof construction and age of structure
    • Possibility of collapse
    • Points of ingress/egress
    • Overall size/condition of structure 
    • Number of floors
    • Security bars 
    • Known history of previous fires in this structure 
    • Known contents and interior finish 
    • Location of stairwells and elevators 
    • Basement – present? If so, access? 
    • Weather conditions 
    • Extent of fire development 
    • Location of interior fire crews 
    • Reports of suspicious fires (arson?)
  • Consider the size and direction of the fire and any progress made suppressing the fire. Time of crews' interior versus a truss construction support system. 
  • Monitor radio traffic for clues of interior conditions, mental state of the interior crews, PASS devices sounding, etc. 
  • Brief RIT members of the conditions found, information received, any observations regarding hazards found and gather intelligence from other team members who have performed their own size-ups.

Once the RIT size-up is complete, they should stage where assigned (preferably in a location that allows for quick access into the structure) and prepare their tools for work.

Warm up saws or power units for hydraulic tools, and gather the tools your team may need based on the construction of the building: breathing air, RIT pack, forcible entry devices, thermal imagers, saws (chainsaw and circular saw), lights, search rope, etc., and familiarize yourself with any piece of equipment you feel rusty on.

Crews may be utilized to increase safety on the fireground as long as they are readily available for deployment as a team. They can be used to force entry to multiple points of egress as needed, but the key to utilizing RIT personnel for other functions is to ensure they remain mission capable and response ready.

The RIT should continually perform new size-ups to anticipate the speed and direction of the fire, to anticipate where crews are and what problems they may be facing.

Specifically listen to the tone of the communications: are they sounding panicked, overworked, tired? Use this information to know where you may have to deploy and anticipate the quickest means of ingress to get there — it may not be the same door all the hose lines are going into.

While this article will not go into the details of how to handle a Mayday (see my other article: Mayday: When Would You Use It?), I would like to stress the importance of the RIT action should a Mayday occur.

The RIT Team Officer should meet with the IC before self-deploying into the structure. Finding where the last known position is will speed up the process of finding the firefighter.

Establish a quick rescue plan so the IC can support the plan and modify the incident action plan. The IC may need to re-assign interior resources to assist with the rescue, but fire control may still be a necessity to create a safe zone for the downed firefighter.

Listen to interior crews' transmissions — most firefighter Maydays are handled by those crews closest to the firefighter who needs assistance.

Remember to bring only the equipment required to access and retrieve the firefighter. Call for resources to assist if needed and expand the RIT to a RIT Group if the time required to rescue the firefighter will take more than the initial team.

We have discussed the parameters where a RIT may be utilized, how to set up and what to do should your RIT be required.

While a large number of departments have begun to approach the concept of RIT in a nonchalant fashion ("we always have one, but have never used one"), we can't allow our personnel to become complacent.

How seriously do you value your firefighters? If you have an elite RIT that trains for multiple scenarios, and is made up of the department's best, then you can probably answer in a positive manner.

About the author

Michael Lee has 25 years experience in pre-hospital paramedic experience and about 20 years experience in the fire service. He started as a FF/Paramedic and worked up through the ranks, including training officer, to his current position as battalion chief. He currently serves as battalion chief at Mountain View Fire Protection District in Colorado. He is currently filling the role of safety officer for FEMA USAR Colorado Task Force One and has military service in the U.S. Navy. To contact Michael, email Michael.Lee@FireRescue1.com.



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