"MAYDAY! MAYDAY! MAYDAY! Firefighter Engine 17 lost on Division 1 of the hardware store! Can't find my officer or the way out! Low on air!"
"Command to the MAYDAY-hang on, we are coming to get you."
"Command to RIT-Go!"
You're the RIT officer … now what? In many fire departments, the RIT is pre-determined by the order of arrival of apparatus-FAST truck, third engine, rescue squad, etc. Unfortunately, this approach creates a false belief that the pre-selected crew is trained and capable of saving a firefighter's life.
This article is intended to provide a realistic set of objectives (and equipment needed) when serving in the RIT function. Remember: There is a dramatic difference between two-in/two-out and RIT. A two-out crew is essentially in place to harden a path of egress for an initial-attack crew in the event they need to make a rapid exit. A RIT is designed to be staffed and equipped during a fully developed structural fire attack. A two-out crew should have a charged hoseline; a RIT should be supported by an engine company.
The Phoenix studies after Brett Tarver's death also underscore the complexity of removing a downed firefighter from a burning building: A minimum of 12 firefighters may be needed to effect the rescue of a single firefighter, during which it should be assumed that at least one or two of the would-be rescuers will themselves need to be rescued. Our objectives and our actions must reflect that complexity; if they don't, we attach unrealistic expectations to what a RIT can accomplish.
An initial-deploying RIT should focus on three main tasks: searching for, locating, and assessing a downed firefighter. To accomplish these objectives, your team must be fast, travel light and be properly equipped. It's impossible to predict the exact tools you might need based on the specific type of entrapment faced. Don't overthink or overestimate what you will be able to accomplish; take a pessimistic view of your capabilities and that of your crew.
To that end, there are four essential pieces of equipment that an initial-deploying RIT team should carry:
1. A 200' bag of static kernmantle (high-temp rope is strongly recommended; can be 9.5-mm, ½" or almost any size) secured to a "bomb-proof" anchor connected 2–3 feet high (to avoid being lost in debris) at or near the point of entry into the IDLH. This allows you to divert from traditional left- or right-hand search patterns when looking for the missing member; provides a pathway for subsequent-entering RITs to bring in specialized equipment directly to the downed firefighter; and provides you with a path of egress.
2. A thermal imager for the lead search member. An imager will not detect fire below you, but it is absolutely essential in locating the heat signature of a firefighter in an area filled with smoke, and assessing the ambient environment around them.
3. An air-replenishment system. The initial RIT must be prepared to connect the member into the new air with a trans-fill whip and be prepared to change out their facepiece in the event it has been lost or damaged beyond use. The RIT bag may also contain simple cutting tools (carpenter's knife and battery cable cutters) for disentanglement during assessment.
4. A forcible exit tool, preferable a 30" Halligan bar of uni-body construction.
An ideal initial RIT has four members, including an officer. In reality, many departments staff a RIT with three: The officer carries the TIC and the Halligan, one firefighter carries the RIT bag, and the second firefighter deploys the rope. Each member must have a radio.
Most company officers believe that they can serve as a RIT officer; all too often that skill set is glaringly insufficient. Command officers want to believe that their firefighter will come out alive, but wishful thinking will not make that happen. Instead, we must establish realistic objectives, equip ourselves properly, and train like our lives depend on it-because they do.
You are the RIT officer-are you ready?