your fire department's rapid intervention team
By Pat Pauly
Much like every other
idea and concept that the fire service in North America has adopted, RIT
has to start somewhere with someone. Who was the first department
in your area to have preconnected attack lines? The answer to that
question probably dates back several decades. Some fire departments
preconnected lines in the 1950’s, some the 1960’s, and most by the end
of the 1970’s. What year did the first station in the county or district
get large diameter hose (larger than 3”)? The revolution for 4” and
5” hose began in the 1970’s and continued for over 20 years. In fact
today there are still fire departments that use only 3” hose for supply
lines. How about haz-mat training, and what about wearing protective
clothing including bunker pants to all fires? Some group, some time,
was the trendsetter. Having a FAST, RIT or GO team is going to require
the same action. A fire crew is going to finally decide they are
tired of reading about firefighters being hurt, lost, or trapped and not
having someone ready to help them. Worse yet, some firefighter gets
hurt, lost, or trapped and then reality slaps everyone right smack in the
|A large warehouse
fire has taken several hours and the efforts of several small fire departments
to finally extinguish. The firefighters from some 15 different stations
are tired, sweaty, and ready for a well-deserved night’s sleep. Several
thousand feet of large diameter hose still needs to be reloaded and numerous
pieces of fire apparatus are stripped of other items including master stream
devices, nozzles, and 2 ½” hose. As various fire departments
are released from the scene, your fire chief comments on the excellent
cooperation between all the volunteer departments that have managed to
stop another large fire in the building of origin. Although each
and every fire company brags they are the “best” at this business, and
every member thinks his neighboring department has some really old-fashioned
ideas, they all seem to work together without major hassle when the “big
one” occurs. While reloading the 5” hose you ask your guys “Why can’t
we get anyone to start a Rapid Intervention Team (RIT)? ”
In this article I
will attempt to share some ideas that I am familiar with from small departments
that have formed firefighter rescue teams. These firefighters had
to struggle along the way with this “crazy idea” just like so many others
we have lived through. Unfortunately the fire service is not always
the easiest bunch of folks to convince to change. Some ideas are
good ones and maybe some are not, but “we the fire service” many times
want proof positive that this way will be much better, faster and safer.
Those are great reasons for resisting change but sometimes getting positive
proof is a bit more difficult than we might want it to be. How can
we prove that something is better, or faster, or safer? What length
of time will it take to show an idea does have merit? What if a firefighter
gets lost at the next structure fire and tells everyone by calling a “MAYDAY”?
We probably have good reason to consider what accountability will do for
us. Seems a wee bit exaggerated doesn’t it? Or does it sound
a tad familiar?
in fire departments all over the United States bring change. RIT
is no different than other “new” or “different” ideas. Some person
or group of people must decide it is time to research this. No doubt
your fire department could start a fire fighter rescue team without too
much effort. After all there are plenty of trained fire fighters
that know how to rescue somebody. What could possibly be different
about rescuing fire fighters? Actually there are many similarities.
There are also many differences. There are even some advantages to
rescuing fire fighters. But there are also many different techniques
and some disadvantages.
||Advantages for searching
for a lost or trapped firefighter include the likely sounding of a PASS
device. SCBA straps can be used as a convenient way to grab the firefighter
victim to drag him/her to safety. Disadvantages include the additional
weight of turnout gear and SCBA, something a civilian victim would not
normally have. Practicing firefighter rescue in dark atmospheres
filled with artificial smoke make for the most real life training scenarios.
Lighting becomes a problem, as does ventilation. Firefighters must wear
full protective clothing including SCBA while training for firefighter
rescue tasks. This includes “going on air” from your SCBA.
This not only makes the session more realistic but also quickly demonstrates
how quickly “rescuers” will become exhausted and frustrated if they are
unable to remove “victims” immediately.
Where does a person
or fire department begin? Although there was not a great deal of
information available to us six or seven years ago, lots of good sources
exist today. Many fire departments have started their own RIT.
Large career departments often can provide this service because they have
the resources. FDNY for example has been providing a Firefighter
Assist and Search Team (FAST) since the 1980’s. Their “All Borough
Circular 5-88” and “SOP # AUC 320” detail the response and procedures
for this important service. The Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire responds
a GO Team to provide fire fighter rescue. Small fire departments too have
taken the steps to provide this valuable service. The following information
details those steps from several volunteer fire departments in the Commonwealth
of Pennsylvania, my home state.
Some of the first
volunteer departments that were utilizing fire fighter rescue teams that
I became familiar with were from the southeastern part of Pennsylvania
(PA). Two of those departments were the Bryn Athyn Fire Company
in Montgomery County and the Southampton Fire Company in Bucks County.
They started their teams with information gathered from New Jersey and
New York. Greg Jakubowski and Tom Sullivan presented information from those
two states at the Montgomery County (PA) Fire Academy in the summer of
1996. That information was the basis for the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy’s
(PSFA) 2-hour “Rapid Intervention Teams” class that was introduced in 1997.
I met Jim Crawford from the Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire while teaching the
first offering of that class. He was teaching rapid intervention
techniques to fire departments all over the western part of PA. From
his classes many fire departments started teams. He then offered
his 2-day program to the PSFA in 1998 and they presented it for the next
four years all around PA. Many counties in PA started their first
fire fighter rescue team after Jim or the PSFA presented a 2-day class
on RIT techniques. Regional rit teams, comprised of members from
many different volunteer fire stations exist in several locations in Western
Pennsylvania is one of the counties that have seen RIT Teams formed on
a regional or multi-station basis. In Mahanoy City, Pottsville, and
Schuylkill Haven rapid intervention teams have become part of the normal
fire department response to structure fires. These communities are
located in the “hard coal” region of Pennsylvania. Their RIT Teams continue
to train on a regular basis even after they attended both the 2-day “basic”
and 2-day “advanced” RIT classes from the PSFA. Two stations in Mahanoy
City and several stations in the Pottsville-Schuylkill Haven area have
participated in this training and respond to fires in their areas.
The trendsetters stepped to the plate to make this happen.
||The Mahanoy City
Fire Department RIT Team assisted one of their members from a structure
fire during 2002. He had injured his leg when he got caught between
boards and the hose line. Although not seriously injured, the RIT
Team helped him exit the building when he called for them. Their
team is currently responding to 6 different municipalities to provide RIT
team service. They also have opened their membership up to all fire
stations in the Mahanoy City Fire Department. A working fire in Mahanoy
City results in this team providing a RIT stand-by team initially.
Another RIT team takes over this responsibility when they arrive from another
near by municipality.
|The Fire Bureau
of the City of Pottsville recognized the need for a firefighter rescue
team and hosted a FAST seminar in 1997. Two officers from FDNY conducted
it. This eight station volunteer department then wrote SOG #118.00
to establish and detail their FAST Company. It states that at least
one company will serve as the FAST Company on any working fire in Pottsville
with at least four highly trained firefighters. The FAST Company
Officer is specifically responsible to control freelancing and discipline
with the Team, and guidelines are provided to determine when the IC should
deploy the FAST Company. Recognizing that daylight alarms typically
result in less manpower the Pottsville Fire Bureau and Schuylkill Haven
Fire Department agreed to provide FAST support for one another when requested.
The Schuylkill Haven Fire Department selected their FAST Team members from
each of their three stations.
My home county of
Mifflin, located in central PA started a RIT team in 2001. Having
the good fortune of three different stations from three different municipalities
has made the formation and training of the team a challenging but rewarding
venture. Mifflin County Station #2 East Derry from Derry Township, Station
#13 Brooklyn Hose Co. from Lewistown Borough, and Station #17 West Granville
from Granville Township all worked hard to make this a reality. Several
of the active fire fighters from two of these stations were involved with
some initial RIT training offered in 2000. When all three stations
began discussing the formation of a team, things began to happen.
Officers met and discussed some ideas. A set of SOPs were written
and more training followed. The concept was introduced to the county
fire chiefs prior to, and again after the team was actually ready to respond.
Training continues to occur at the PSFA in Lewistown, PA located in Mifflin
County. Like so many other things that have occurred previously,
a group of change makers decided it was time. Not without criticism
or questions, the RIT32 team stands ready for response in an around Mifflin
The RIT32 team responds
at least one piece of apparatus from each of the three stations when dispatched
for a RIT call. During the first year of existence each station was
using a “utility type” vehicle for response. More recently all three
stations have found the need to respond an engine from their respective
stations because the smaller vehicles were either not capable of carrying
enough persons or enough equipment. Many times during evening or nighttime
responses each station may have four to eight persons responding to their
station. The three stations are located in bordering municipalities
so they are often on each other’s first or second alarm assignments for
structure fires. This means that a fire in any of the three municipalities
will result in one or two of the stations responding to fight fire leaving
only one or two of the remaining stations for RIT duty. This issue
was studied long and hard before the team began response. It was
decided that one station’s personnel were better than having no one available
to provide the service.
||The RIT32 Team trains
regularly on new techniques and reviews previously learned skills also.
They use acquired structures when available for realistic training.
A recent highway construction project yielded several wood frame residences
for the team to work in. Members not able to wear SCBA can still
serve a valuable service to the RIT32 Team. They may drive
apparatus, serve as the Accountability Officer, help move equipment to
and from the RIT staging tarp, and assist with other functions as needed.
Most of these firefighters attend training with the members that don SCBA
and stand by as the actual RIT team during calls. The RIT32 Team
Standard Operating Guidelines (SOG) calls for their first arriving piece
of apparatus to begin RIT operations as soon as they arrive. The
staging tarp should be placed near the Command Post as permitted by the
Incident Commander (IC). .
Any chief or line
officer with that first piece of apparatus becomes the RIT32 Team Leader
for this incident. He/she meets the IC face to face and discusses
the fire while the other RIT32 members assemble the equipment and four
of them dress in full turnout gear and SCBA. They don face pieces
but do not go on air. The Team Leader walks around the fire building
if possible (commonly referred to as a 360) and then reports to the RIT32
at the tarp. At 15 or 20-minute intervals, four new fresh members
replace those that are dressed and ready
The RIT32 Team had
the real thing occur in their first year of response activities.
In September of 2002, a firefighter became trapped at a house fire in Lewistown
Borough. Working along with firefighters from the Lewistown Fire
Department and several other stations, the RIT32 help to successfully remove
the trapped firefighter whose foot was caught in a hole in the first floor
after a collapse. He received minor injuries only. The hour
plus removal process was a valuable learning experience for the area firefighters
and RIT32 members. Many area fire stations have had the RIT32 leaders
present information about the team since this incident and many have placed
the RIT32 Team on automatic response to their confirmed structure fires.
Again the leaders or change makers have “stepped up to the plate” to make
RIT training is available
from many different sources. Jim Crawford of Pittsburgh, PA not only
conducts his 2-day RICE class for requesting fire departments but also
offers training opportunities through his website www.rapidintervention.com.
It lists drills, instructors and the method to contact Jim for his “extensive
hands-on” training classes. He continues to lecture all over the
U.S. at national fire service shows such as Firehouse Expo and FDIC.
Many different state fire-training academies offer programs. I am
familiar with those from Illinois, Delaware and from my employer the Pennsylvania
State Fire Academy, just to name a few. We offer the 2-hour “awareness
level” class, a 2-day basic hands-on class, a 2-day advanced hands-on class
and a 12-hour “Large Area Team Search Operations” class. Fire Protection
Publications of the Oklahoma State University offers a CD driven program
called “Rapid Intervention Teams”. Greg Jakubowski and Mike Morton
wrote it. Many other private contractors offer training classes on
firefighter rescue also. And now WTC will be offering this type training
through the Task Force I Training
Equipment for a rit
team can easily be found. Most of the tools used by existing firefighter
rescue teams are already owned by the fire department. Forcible entry
tools, ropes, spare SCBA, stokes baskets, hydraulic jacks, cribbing and
lighting equipment are the main items the teams “stage” on a tarp similar
to what many fire departments do at vehicle rescue operations. Additional
things such as thermal imaging cameras and lighted ropes are nice to have
but not necessarily required for the team. Many rit teams stage a
hydraulic rescue tool system at their tarp especially if they have a hand
pump to operate it. This allows for the various tools to be operated
in a smoke filled atmosphere without depending on a gasoline drive power
Taking the first
step to form a firefighter rescue team has to be taken by someone.
Can you be that someone? Like many other topics this too needs to
be addressed. Some fire department or a group of stations needs to
form a team and begin training. Although response to fires as a RIT
team may not be glorious or allow members to practice their skills, it
certainly provides a much needed service. Part of the “sell” to get folks
involved is the assurance that someone will be standing by if they happen
to be in trouble at a fire. Having a trained and fully prepared firefighter
rescue team at each working fire helps to guarantee the successful removal
of a firefighter that may get lost or trapped. As discussed, providing
RIT team service may require several fire departments or stations to form
a “regional or county” type team. In areas served by volunteer or
small career fire departments this is usually the most successful way to
guarantee a team with sufficient resources.
|About the author: Patrick
Pauly has 35 years in the fire service. He is employed full-time as a Fire
Service Education Specialist at the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy, teaching
and coordinating the activities of the Resident and “Academy On The Road”
training programs. His main topic areas are structural fire fighting, safety
and survival, and fire fighter rescue. As a volunteer he spent 31 years
in the Lewistown, PA Fire Department, the last 7 as Deputy Chief.
He is currently 1st Asst. Chief with the West Granville Fire Co.
Pat is nationally certified as a Fire Fighter III, Fire Instructor II,
and Fire Officer II, and was a PA Certified EMT for 26 years. He
holds an Associates Degree in Computer Science Technology.