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Rapid intervention teams: What firefighters should know

An effective RIT team should work together as a group and approach training evolutions in a teamwork fashion


The rapid intervention team is no place for inexperienced and untrained firefighters.

Photo/City of Pullman, Wash

Updated March 14, 2018

When discussing rapid intervention teams, the initial introduction requires a step back to discuss briefly the “two-in/two-out” concept introduced to the fire service as a requirement by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

This administrative regulation was originally designed to be applied to a larger arena in that protection was required to protect from illness and injuries associated with hazardous environments that require respiratory protection.

While initially this procedure was a requirement for hazardous material environments, OSHA soon correctly interpreted that the environment contained by interior firefighting is an IDLH (Imminently Dangerous to Life and Health) situation, consequently assigning the same two-in/two-out regulations to the firefighting process.

This regulation requires that the employer shall ensure:

  1. At least two firefighters enter the IDLH environment and remain in visual or voice contact with one and another at all times.
  2. At least two firefighters are located outside the IDLH environment.
  3. All firefighters engaging in interior structural firefighting use SCBAs.

The OSHA standard also allows for one of the two individuals located outside the IDLH atmosphere be assigned to another role, such as “incident commander or safety officer as long as this individual is able to perform assistance or rescue activities without jeopardizing the safety or health of any firefighter working at the incident” (29CFD1910.134, paragraph 1 (g).)

Another paragraph (2 g) states that “nothing in this section is meant to preclude firefighters from performing emergency rescue activities before an entire team has assembled.”

This second paragraph is the argument that I made in the first installment of this series, whereby a firefighter may make entry into an interior structure on fire with a partner if there is sufficient reason to believe that a viable victim rescue is required.

This OSHA definition requires firefighters to have an initial two-in/two-out application when the first interior team makes entrance into the IDLH environment. This should not be confused with the establishment of a rapid intervention team.

Importance of rapid intervention teams

The difference may be seen this way — initial entry teams should have a backup team of at least two to assist with their rescue should something occur before full first alarm resources can arrive.

Once a fire progresses beyond the incipient stage (which generally occurs before we get on scene) and becomes declared a working fire or moves to a second alarm, then the IC should assign a formal rapid intervention team as soon as possible.

While firefighter safety is the primary reason for both the “two-in/two-out” regulation and a RIT, the means to facilitate a rescue is approached differently when one of the other teams are utilized.

NFPA 1710 and 1720 both ascribe the need to establish firefighter rescue teams but make a distinction between what to call the initial “two-in/two-out” team (IRIC) and a complete RIT team:

  • Initial Rapid Intervention Crew (IRIC) — Two members of the initial attack crew who are assigned for rapid deployment to rescue lost or trapped members.
  • Rapid Intervention Crew (RIC) — A dedicated crew of firefighters that is assigned for rapid deployment to rescue lost or trapped members. (This is the same as a RIT or FAST team)

The standard goes on to identify that when an “incident escalates beyond a full first alarm assignment or when significant risk is present to firefighters due to the magnitude of the incident, the incident commander shall upgrade the IRIC to a full rapid intervention crew(s) that consist of four fully equipped and trained firefighters.

This standard also recommends that the RIC report to the incident commander or Ops Section Chief and requires that “this dedicated crew is not to be confused with the IRIC.”

NFPA 1720 is more applicable to volunteer organizations and has contained within the standard a definition that fits the RIC description but the IRIC is not a defined term.

For an initial interior fire attack, the standard states, “Initial attack operations shall be organized to ensure that at least four members shall be assembled before initiating fire suppression operations at a working structural fire. In the hazardous area, two individuals shall work as a team.

“Outside the hazardous area, two individuals shall be present for assistance or rescue of the team operating in the hazardous area. One of the two individuals assigned outside the hazardous area shall be permitted to be engaged in the other activities.”

By now, hopefully everyone is up to speed on the difference between an initial rapid intervention crew (IRIC) and a rapid intervention crew (RIC). Let’s now move on to the objectives and capabilities of the rapid intervention crew and their officer.

Find and rescue

The primary reason for the establishment of a rapid intervention team is to find and rescue lost, trapped or injured firefighters on the fireground.

The ability to complete a rescue assignment when a firefighter calls a mayday may place a rapid intervention team in a dangerous situation and, to be successful, the RIT team should consist of seasoned firefighters who have training in specialized rescue techniques and have trained to access, locate, stabilize and remove firefighters in mayday situations.

The rapid intervention team is no place for inexperienced and untrained firefighters. In my opinion, members of a RIT team should be the elite firefighters from each department. They should be the best trained, best equipped, psychologically hardened and physically fit individuals accessible.

They must be capable of handling almost any situation presented in a calm, persistent manner. Sadly, most departments approach the assignment of RIT teams as an after thought.

Maybe it would be better said this way: when you are the firefighter who is trapped, do you want the best, most capable team coming after you or a team that was just created out front of the structure made from members of different departments with different abilities?

An effective RIT team should work together as a group and approach training evolutions in a teamwork fashion, so that when a true firefighter rescue is required they will have worked through numerous evolutions and are familiar with both the strong and the weak points each member has.

A strong RIT team:

  • Should be familiar with and train on how to rescue firefighters based on a variety of impacts.
  • Should be familiar with creating access in all building construction types.
  • Should be well versed in how to perform an incident size-up on their own and how to weave the information with the other members of their team to get a bigger picture.
  • Must understand how to read fire behavior and project its movement over time
  • Must be solidly skilled in how to perform team search techniques and deal with problems, such as a large area search process.
  • Must carry and be practiced in the use of thermal imagers to enhance search success
  • Must be intimately familiar with their SCBAs and how to perform change-overs and utilize their emergency breathing support systems
  • Must know how to utilize their radios and how to get to all channels

Finally, they should be well practiced at rescuing conscious and unconscious firefighters in the following environments: entrapped, entanglement, floor collapse, confined space, above ground, ground level, and below ground. They should be well versed in how to perform self-rescue techniques, forcible exit, ladder bail-outs, rope/charged hose line slide and command of RIT operations.

Michael Lee teaches firefighters the ‘Street Smarts’ they need to survive in some of the most dangerous situations they encounter: ice rescues, basement fires, and structural collapses. Read Lee’s advice in his FireRescue1 exclusive column.