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Rescue of firefighter highlights need for well-designed RIT

However your department accomplishes the RIT function, make sure those crews are highly-trained, well-equipped, and diligent

I’ll be honest. When I was on a fire company (as a firefighter or company officer) I never liked being assigned as the Rapid Intervention Team (RIT). It was always more “fun” to be part of a search crew, fire attack team, or ventilation group.

We rarely had to deploy the RIT to rescue a lost, injured, or trapped firefighter(s), so it often felt like we were on “stand-by” a lot of the time.

As an incident commander, one of my goals was to never have to use the RIT, since doing so (obviously) meant that something went wrong with my plan (since I never made a plan that included losing, injuring, or trapping firefighters), or fire conditions changed in an unanticipated, and potentially harmful, way.

This story clearly demonstrates the importance of having a dedicated RIT on stand-by to assist our brother and sister firefighters if they get in trouble.

Now some of you might say, “what about the research showing the difficulty of rescuing firefighters with a single unit assigned the RIT function?” I agree. In high-risk situations or large buildings it might be more appropriate to assign multiple companies, with a dedicated command officer, as the RIT group.

Some departments have been successful using an “on-deck” or “layering” concept where multiple operating units have the RIT function as a secondary duty, allowing firefighter rescue to be initiated from multiple directions, and hopefully closer to where the problem is occurring.

From the beginning to the end of each shift, incident, or duty day/night, our first priority must always be to our firefighters.

However your department accomplishes the RIT function, make sure those crews are highly-trained, well-equipped, and diligent in executing their critical duty; because when the “stand-by” ends, it’s “game on,” right now.

Adam K. Thiel is the fire commissioner and director of the Office of Emergency Management in the city of Philadelphia. Thiel previously served as a fire chief in the National Capital Region and as a state fire director for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Thiel’s operational experience includes serving with distinction in four states as a chief officer, incident commander, company officer, hazardous materials team leader, paramedic, technical rescuer, structural/wildland firefighter and rescue diver. He also directly participated in response and recovery efforts for several major disasters, including the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Tropical Storm Gaston and Hurricane Isabel.

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