A Hurst Jaws of Life technician demonstrates the use of one
of the company’s spreading tools during a simulated roof
collapse. (Hurst Photo)
Northwest Fire District (Ariz.) Rapid Intervention Crew (RIC)
members show some of their equipment. From left are
paramedic firefighter Luke Tompkins, engineer Mike
Plunkett, paramedic firefighter Matt Possert and Capt.
Rapid Intervention Teams go by various names in different parts of the country – RIT, Rapid Intervention Crew (RIC), Firefighter Assist and Search Team (FAST) – but all have a critical mission: to rapidly locate a downed or trapped firefighter, establish an air supply, assess medical needs and extricate him or her from the situation, whether it be a floor or roof collapse or some other life-threatening incident.
RIT standard operating procedures (SOPs) vary from department to department, depending on tactics, strategy and policies, yet the equipment the crews carry – at least on the initial entry – are similar. Besides their personal turnout gear and air packs, most RIT members carry basic firefighting tools and equipment, such as axes, Halligan bars, lifelines, personal safety lines, extra air packs, hose lines and hand lights.
In addition, some manufacturers have developed specialized rescue equipment tailored to RIT operations.
“You never know what condition you’ll find a trapped firefighter in,” said Chief Gregory V. Serio of the Verdoy Fire Department in Latham, N.Y. “Besides the forcible entry equipment and safety lines, our FAST crew carries a 30-minute rescue air bottle with a regulator and mask for the downed firefighter. It’s smaller than a standard-size bottle with its own frame and carried in a separate pack.”
Verdoy’s SOPs call for implementing FAST protection at all working interior structural fires beyond the incipient stage and other incidents where firefighters are subject to hazards that would be immediately dangerous to life and/or health in the event of an equipment failure, sudden change in conditions or mishap. Verdoy’s FAST consists of a minimum of two interior firefighters per team and one FAST leader.
Serio, a 20-year veteran of the 40-member department and in his fifth year as chief, said the FAST team isn’t limited by what it initially carries into the structure.
“Any additional equipment on our trucks can be used for FAST work if needed,” he said, “like ladders, lights, ropes and pulleys, air bags and cutting tools.”
Verdoy also has its own high-band radio channels assigned for FAST use, in addition to the 800-series townwide radio system used to dispatch and control fire calls.
Bowels Of Building
“People don’t get trapped near the front door,” Serio said. “They get trapped deep in the bowels of a building. We found that some radio systems don’t work in hard-to-reach places, but our high-band FAST system does.”
In Woodlands, Texas, Deputy Chief Richard (Rick) Windham said his department’s SOPs call for activating Rapid Intervention Teams for any structure fire or box alarm.
“Our RIT pulls together basic equipment as needed,” he said. “We don’t have specialized RIT packs, but our operational guidelines call for a thermal imager, SCBA rescue pack, lights, rope and some type of cutting or prying tool like an axe or Halligan.”
Windham pointed out RIT crews can acquire additional gear from a rescue truck or rescue trailer that’s always positioned at the scene for the kinds of incidents where a Rapid Intervention Team may be used.
“We do a lot of multi-company training scenarios and occasionally put a downed firefighter into one of our training sessions,” Windham noted. “We want our people to stay sharp because any interior firefighter could find him or herself on an RIT team.”
Windham added that RIT members must familiarize themselves with every scene they roll up to.
“They have to survey the scene, have ladders thrown for secondary exits on upper floors and know which ground level doors are available for secondary exits,” he said. “They do several 360-degree walk-arounds.”
If an RIT is activated, the team’s goal, Windham said, “is to find the downed firefighter, get him on air, and radio back what they need to get him out of there.”
In Arizona, the Northwest Fire District, which covers more than 140 square miles, including large sections of unincorporated Pima County northwest of Tucson and the towns of Oro Valley and Marana, has 192 firefighters operating out of nine stations that protect 125,000 residents and 1,900 commercial occupancies.
Cheryl Horvath, division chief of operations, said Northwest designates its team as a Rapid Intervention Crew (RIC). The department’s SOP calls for on-deck crews outside of the building at a working fire, ready to rotate inside the structure to relieve firefighters inside or to move at a moment’s notice as a Rapid Intervention Crew if needed.
Basic Equipment List
“The main assignment for the on-deck crew is to serve as RIC, but to be available for relief for a crew fighting the fire inside,” she said. “The on-deck company stages outside the main entrance and has RIC tools in place if they need to be activated as an RIC team, so they’re ready to go.”
Northwest usually has three companies available, so when the on-deck crew goes into the structure as a relief crew, the third crew becomes the on-deck and RIC crew. The original company then replenishes air bottles and becomes the third crew.
Northwest’s RIC has a basic list of equipment, including full personal protective equipment and SCBA, a thermal imaging camera, a portable radio for each RIC member, basic hand tools to include a Halligan and an axe, a hand light for each RIC member and the RIC bag of rescue rope. The RIC also has a charged hose line located near the point of entry available to it.
“Depending on the situation, besides the charged hose line, we may also stage a Stokes basket and K-12 saw out there,” Horvath said. “We give our captains carte blanche to add to the equipment list as they see fit. For a two-story home, they may throw an extension ladder against the building and also have another extension ladder available with the RIC gear.”
She said Northwest’s captains do a good job of paying attention to their surroundings and are very aware of lapsed time inside a building.
“We work in the land of lightweight construction, both for residential and commercial structures,” she said. “We don’t see a lot of heavy-duty buildings so we’re very mindful of the time we’re inside of burning structures.”
Aaron Guenther, vice president of sales and marketing for Hurst Jaws of Life in Shelby, N.C., said firefighters have been safer since the deployment of RIT.
“The RIT have some unique challenges,” Guenther said. “Very often they have very little space to work in due to a structural collapse in a fire, and they have very little time as well, so the tools they use are specialized compared to ordinary firefighting tools.”
Guenther pointed out that Hurst makes specialty tools for special operations like RIT, both for forcible entry and also for rapid intervention.
Hurst makes the HP Combo Plus, a hand-operated Jaws of Life tool with a spreading force of more than 26,000 pounds.
“There are no hoses, batteries or connections, but it’s an incredibly strong tool that can be rapidly deployed and easily carried by a firefighter,” Guenther said.
Hurst also has a series of Mini-Lite single-acting pistons for forcible entry that can be powered by either a quarter-horsepower DC pump or a larger Milwaukee pump.
“The spreader is about the size of your hand, so if a firefighter were to become trapped or pinned, you could rapidly deploy this tool in a place where you couldn’t get a conventional power unit,” Guenther said.
But, he said, the most popular tool Hurst makes that’s used by RIT is the LKE55, a battery-operated Jaws of Life tool that has spreading and cutting capabilities. It offers more than 30,000 pounds of spreading force and 56,000 pounds of cutting force, he said.
“There’s no setup, hoses or connections on the tool and it weighs just over 30 pounds, so one firefighter can carry it with a strap across his back,” Guenther said. “It can be used in very tight situations and conditions where an ordinary power unit for a hydraulic rescue tool couldn’t be used.”
Tom Gavin, Northeast regional manager for Paratech Inc. in Frankfort, Ill., said his company makes only rescue tools, and all of them are multipurpose.
“With towns and municipalities going through budget cutbacks, fire departments are being asked to do a lot more with a lot less, so it’s harder for them to buy specialty tools now,” Gavin said. “Many of them are looking at multipurpose tools.”
Paratech makes a Percussive Rescue Tool (PRT) kit that Gavin characterized as “ideal for carrying by RIT.” The kit, which consists of a slide hammer with five different bits weighing a total of 29 pounds, is used for forcible entry instead of a flathead axe and a Halligan tool.
“You use the slide hammer of the striking tool to drive the bit, then extend the handle to lock it into place, and you have a 42-inch long handle for prying,” Gavin said. “One person can use it to force a door, breach a wall or remove debris.”
Paratech also makes Maxiforce airbags that are specially adapted for the fire service, using neoprene rubber that is impervious to chemicals found in harsh environments, and Kevlar reinforced with non-sparking brass fittings.
Gavin said fire departments use
Paratech’s KPI 17 airbag, a 15-ton version, for RIT work because it can fit in a duffle with a couple of air hoses and a two-stage manual foot pump compressor.
Each airbag is 12.3 pounds, can lift up to nine inches and can be stacked two high, he said. At 16-by-21 inches and three-quarters of an inch thick, he said they are the thinnest airbags on the market and can be used in lots of tight spots. “The airbags can be used for lifting flat, or put in vertically to push things out of the way like a jammed door or fallen debris, or put in at an angle to do both lifting and shifting,” he said.
Omar Jordan is president of RIT Rescue and Escape Systems in Twinsburg, Ohio, a company that specializes in emergency egress and search systems.
The company makes a Group Search System that has a primary search rope, usually 200 feet, with a marked system of knots and two-inch stainless steel rings built into it every 20 feet. Three tag lines of 25 feet can be attached to the primary rope, which is anchored outside of the building, so RIT members can conduct searches and still remain tethered to the primary rope.
Line To Safety
“Most of the time RIT is made up of four people, and the first person in, usually the officer, will have the primary bag on his shoulder and may also have a thermal imaging camera to help guide his way,” Jordan said. “The other members hold the line and if they get to the point where they want to do a sweep search, they connect their personal tag line onto the main line and can sweep out 25 feet without the fear of being lost.”
Jordan said the goal is to keep all members attached to a stationary anchor outside the building so that as long as they stay on that line, they can follow it back to safety. Tag lines can be pre-attached to the primary line, he noted, but many departments opt not to do that.
RIT Rescue’s entry bag holds a one-hour air bottle with a mask and regulator for a downed firefighter. Jordan noted that crews also usually carry the search line, flashlights, an axe, Halligan and wear an emergency egress system.
RIT Rescue makes pre-rigged escape systems, all of which have a harness of some kind, a descending control device that is autolocking to prevent ground falls and an anchor hook of some type. Jordan said the systems come with whatever rope length the fire department desires and are often used by RIT members.
“For most fire departments, the rope length is usually between 50 and 75 feet, which is enough to get a firefighter out of harm’s way, and if it’s not enough to get them to the ground, it’s enough to get them down two or three floors to a window or balcony,” he said. “These RIT members put themselves in worse jeopardy than any other firefighter in a fire, so if they’re on an elevated floor and get in trouble, by wearing a personal escape system, they have the ability to make an emergency egress out a window or off a roof to safety.”