RIT training: Focus on simplicity and speed over complexity and gadgets
With the right training and direction, rapid intervention should never be a dull assignment
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I must confess that earlier in my career, I didn’t really appreciate the power of the RIT assignment. I preferred being in the action.
I believe my disdain for the RIT assignment laid squarely on a lack of realistic training that underscored the importance of the role. Training was simply, “Learn your RIT bag,” and deployment wasn’t much more than, “Grab the RIT bag and stage.” Well, that’s not real training or real planning.
It seems that formal RIT activation and success is so infrequent that most companies do not want much to do with the assignment. In fact, it is so low that there is only one documented case that I’m familiar with where the RIT reached the trapped firefighter and removed him. In this incident, the firefighter was conscious but pinned by roof structural materials in a collapse. The RIT likely wasn’t able to use any of the scenarios they had trained for, as the downed member was out of reach from the RIT. The RIT officer had to remove his own SCBA, add an additional 8-foot length to the air hose from the RIT bag, and then use a pike pole to slide the replacement mask to the trapped firefighter. The trapped firefighter donned the mask, and the RIT went to work on removing the roof pieces that were pinning his legs. This RIT officer made on-the-fly decisions to quickly rescue the trapped firefighter.
This is reality, folks. This was a real deployment of a formal RIT. Training, understanding and common sense are all critical in times like this. Bottom line: The importance of establishing a formal RIT should never be downplayed. RIT is for us. We only have each other in a mayday situation. Who else is going to come?
The gold standard
Recently, there have been some online discussions, social media posts and even speakers on the conference circuit downplaying the role of RIT. Good thing for the rest of us that NFPA 1407, NFPA 1710 and NFPA 1720 all very specifically lay out training and deployment recommendations for RIT. Regardless of anyone’s opinion about the NFPA, these standards are the law of the land, so to speak, and to ignore or downplay the recommendations could cost you your job and even land you in court.
Yes, statistics show that most firefighter maydays are handled by interior crews or the crew itself; however, to suggest that we should ignore the need for a formal rapid-intervention team (RIT) is a narrow-minded train of thought that ignores the potential for a catastrophic event in which multiple crews are needed for intervention. In other words, if you are focusing your RIT training entirely on interior companies working single-family occupancies, then it’s time to shift your approach to one that incorporates a formal RIT.
No matter if you are adding companies to the first attack line to get the hoseline in position faster or adding a company to act as an interior RIT, you are still placing that interior RIT under the same roof that could collapse on the attack team. If your department experiences a catastrophic fire event with trapped or downed firefighters, the formal RIT is the gold standard that will save time and lives.
Simplicity and common sense
Simple, common-sense approaches to firefighter RIT training and operations – this is what the fire service needs. Simplicity equates to time-saving – and lifesaving. Once you have mastered the basics, then you can build your knowledge for those more extreme events.
Some training groups, social media “experts” and equipment manufacturers have taken RIT to entirely new and absurdly extreme levels that are actually counterproductive to the RIT mission. Gadgets may have their place in some instances, but it’s essential that RIT officers focus first on common sense, considering when and how to deploy tools in a manner that will aid the mission.
Snatch-and-grab or load-and-go techniques should be primary tactics for the RIT. Just because you have the equipment or have trained on complex methods doesn’t mean you should use them if the scenario does not call for it. Use the approach that will save time and serve your safety and that of the downed firefighter. For example, if RIT comes across a non-breathing firefighter, taking the time to put them on air is a complex operation that typically takes 3-5 minutes in a zero-visibility environment. Focus instead on getting the downed firefighter out of the building where more focused life-saving medical procedures can be initiated.
Remember, we should not be looking for an easy method to remove a downed firefighter; we should be using a quick method. In a mayday situation, easy is not necessarily fast. Simple is quick and quick plans in our profession require a lot of physical exertion and brute force – and that’s what we need to train for. It doesn’t get any simpler or faster than using physical force to move the downed firefighter out of a building to receive the care they need.
A proactive RIT
It’s time to rethink our idea of a formal RIT starting with some basic questions: What should the RIT do? How should RIT be deployed? What type of equipment should accompany the deployment?
A well-trained RIT should not be hampered by hardline guidelines or procedures. The RIT should almost be like a freelance crew that was given pre-approval to do whatever is necessary outside of the structure, and then determine what equipment they would bring inside with them if they are deployed for a mayday.
A formal RIT staged at the entrance of Side Alpha simply waiting to be deployed is a waste of resources. Use the team! The RIT can and should do their own size-up – an assignment encouraged and supported by the IC. Further, the RIT can soften the building while doing their size-up, they can get a general layout of the building, and they can determine how deep the interior crew is based on looking at the hoseline and even possibly looking through windows during their size-up. This will also give them a good idea of the interior conditions.
In doing their own size-up, the RIT can determine what equipment they might need, eliminating unnecessary equipment that would only slow operations in the event of a deployment. Also, in softening the building by removing any exterior burglar bars, boarded-up windows and calling for ladders to be placed, the RIT may prevent the need to ever be deployed in the first place by providing immediate access or egress for a crew that experiences a mayday situation.
On larger buildings, division officers should request an additional crew as a formal RIT. This RIT would not have all the needed information, but the RIT officer could make a quick recon up to the nozzle to get an idea of conditions and possible layout, then report back to their crew to come up with a game plan and potentially needed equipment.
Lastly, don’t discount the role of gpms. An unstaffed 2½ -inch hoseline placed near the action, ready to use, can be a game-changer and time-saver during a catastrophic fire event. It does not have to be staffed by the RIT members. Anybody could pick it up and start flowing in the event of a catastrophic collapse, knocking down fire as the RIT is deployed. While the 2½-inch hoseline is not a RIT function, a RIT could call for it to be pulled and placed at a specific location.
There’s plenty of RIT training out there. The problem: So much of it is overly complex or lacks reference to common-sense deployment and decision-making. We could go over 100 scenarios, but if you’re faced with a real-life mayday situation that wasn’t covered in one of those scenarios, you’ll need to revert to basic training rooted, again, in solid decision-making. Train members to use critical thinking to quickly make the save.
Most of your RIT training should be focused on simple tasks like drags, carries, lifting and the use of ground ladders. I can say without a doubt that removing a firefighter or even a victim by use of ground ladders is a weak spot for many fire departments across the country. We put in countless hours training on how best to search for a firefighter and secure a mask for them, but then fail to train for the actual removal of the downed firefighter.
The Denver Drill is one of the best drills for firefighter removal training, as it requires you to actually finish the scenario. Too many RIT drills involve searching for the downed firefighter, followed by a short drag. Any RIT drill should be performed to completion, meaning the downed firefighter is out of the structure, whatever that looks like in your training scenario.
When it comes to equipment, training should focus on how to deploy the most common tools carried on the fireground to help simplify the extraction process instead of needing to call for additional equipment. Further, knowing your equipment in the RIT bag is critical to success. It doesn’t make much sense to carry around that heavy RIT bag full of all those gadgets if you and your crew are not proficient in the use of that equipment. If you’re deployed as part of the RIT, you’re already going into a situation that went bad for a fellow firefighter. Whether it’s unnecessary equipment, lack of training or a poor plan, you do not want to bring additional problems into the situation.
Officers who receive the RIT assignment need to be prepared to actually lead in these instances. The officer should perform a quick recon of the situation and determine the equipment that will be needed inside the structure. The officer will need to minimize unnecessary equipment or actions being added to an already chaotic situation.
Speaking of chaos, it is the officer’s responsibility to remove or limit the amount of chaos associated with the situation inside the structure as well. To do this, the officer should be training their crew frequently on RIT/firefighter-down scenarios. Train them to full comprehension – how, what, why and when.
Fireground communication is critical. Communication is listed within the top five factors related to almost every LODD report involving interior operations that has been produced in the last 24 years. Being able to successfully communicate with the IC and have them understand what you are trying to express is critical and, unfortunately, uncommon.
Solid communications begins before the incident. Train with officers from your department (and even outside of your area) to help eliminate any confusion on the fireground. Let the ICs know your capabilities, plans, and explain any jargon or buzzwords they may not know. This will simplify your communications on arrival and will get the RIT into operation quicker with less radio traffic.
In a zero-visibility environment, a non-breathing, unresponsive or a badly injured firefighter does not have time for you to be running complex, potential irrelevant training scenarios through your mind. The key is realistic, common-sense training and operations. I cannot stress enough how important it is to keep your RIT operations simple. Make your scenarios and drills realistic, but keep your operations simplified and minimize the need for extraneous gadgets that only add confusion into an already chaotic situation. Focus training on drags, lifting, ladders and basic hand tools, as this is where we can keep things simple and save time from the beginning. Communicate with your ICs before an incident occurs, as this allows for better understanding and buy-in related to crew abilities. Communicate frequently and use a lot of common sense when deploying RIT operations.
Train a lot and stay safe.