Training Day: Executing a mayday save with the rapid intervention team

Training together as the RIT is an essential element in a successful firefighter rescue

There are several elements that have to seamlessly come together for the successful rescue of a downed firefighter. These include:

  1. The ability of a firefighter to properly call a “Mayday” when injured, trapped or disoriented.
  2. The discipline on the fire scene for the majority of units to remain in the firefight, limiting radio traffic, knowing that if the fire goes out quickly, there is a better chance of saving the life of the downed firefighter.
  3. Having a knowledgeable and well-trained rapid intervention team activated immediately to find, treat and remove the downed firefighter.

All of that sounds quite simple, but in fact it takes training, discussion and repetitive practice to carry off without hesitation or delay. Here is a brief outline on the essential RIT training objectives.

RIT training needs to begin with the newest fire recruit.
RIT training needs to begin with the newest fire recruit. (Photo/City of Prattville, Ala)

First, you may call this team the rapid intervention team (RIT), the rapid assistance team (RAT), or the firefighter assist and search team (FAST). No matter what term you use, this is a team of a company officer and two-three firefighters, plus a separate designated RIT group leader assigned specifically to run any RIT emergencies.

RIT training needs to begin with the newest fire recruit. The skills – whether for search and rescue, preparing the firefighter for rescue or carries and drags – require hours and hours of training to get the new firefighter up to speed.

The company drill or training scenarios below are each one- to two-hour sessions to remind seasoned firefighters of the steps needed to quickly and effectively remove a firefighter in distress.

Step 1: Review your department’s RIT guidelines and equipment

Every department, no matter what size, needs written standard operating guidelines on RIT operations. It is a good practice to use the same RIT SOG across all the departments you regularly respond with on automatic or mutual aid to facilitate training and responding together.

The SOG should outline what the RIT needs to be doing before a mayday is called (e.g., a 360-degree assessment of the building by the company officer, finding alternative entrances and potential exits for firefighters needing to exit quickly, throwing ladders to safe area upper story windows, etc.).

The RIT equipment needs to be a part of your daily checklist. The following should be included in the kit, as well as anything else you’ve found may be needed:

  • Rescue SCBA Pack (extra face mask; harness; 12-foot quick-fill air hose with UAC fitting, 60-minute air bottle; RIT rope for marking the location of downed firefighter).
  • Thermal imaging camera.
  • Search rope (150 feet).
  • Two saws (one for wood, the other for metal).
  • Portable radio.
  • Set of irons.
  • Sledge hammer.
  • Wire cutters.
  • Trauma shears.
  • Stokes basket.

Step 2: Skills needed to prepare the downed firefighter

Practice the following rescue skills in ordinary room lighting until proficient before training in low lighting.

  • Practice conversion of the SCBA belts and webbing to be used as a drag harness. The SCBA provides more area for two or more RIT members grab and use for a drag. Unclip the waist belt and re-buckle between the firefighter’s legs so this now becomes a harness that won’t slip.
  • Practice air conversion from the air bottle and air line in the RIT bag to either universal air connection (UAC) or the “buddy breathing” device on some models.
  • Practice the actual commands and drags used to safely remove a firefighter. Some departments, instead of counting down to execute the drag, have gone to “ready, ready, go” model, where the firefighter at the head calls the first ready, answered by the other two firefighters, and then the firefighter at the head says “go” to execute the move.

Step 3: Basic activation of the RIT

Once Step 2 has been practiced by all the team members, there should be a review of how the RIT is activated on the incident scene. This includes the RIT command structure, which should be separate from the incident commander, who should remain fixed on extinguishing the fire or mitigating the emergency.

Extinguishing the fire quickly makes the downed firefighter safer – operations crews should keep to their tasks of extinguishment and not drop that responsibility and infringe on the RIT’s tasks.

The RIT structure should include a pre-designated RIT group leader who keeps in contact with the downed firefighter and maintains the need for radio discipline by the remaining firefighters on the scene so that the RIT, downed firefighter and RIT group leader have priority radio traffic.

Note that upon RIT activation, there are some departments that move the non-RIT radio traffic to another TAC channel, while other departments keep everyone on the same channel and practice strict radio discipline. Whichever you choose, practice it regularly.

Once the RIT structure has been sufficiently covered, practice activating the RIT, including a simple extrication scenario.

Step 4: Multiple firefighters down or rescue complications

Now that you’ve practiced for one downed firefighter, you need to practice for the worst-case scenario, namely, multiple firefighters down (e.g., a building collapse, a floor giving way or firefighters lost in a high rise or large warehouse). These are scenarios that might also be practiced with the help of a heavy rescue, squad or special operations company.

When your company is assigned as the RIT, while standing outside a well-involved, two-story residential fire, is not the time to think about what needs to be done. RIT involves extensive training and practice until it can be performed by muscle memory and experience.

Stay safe!

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