Not long ago, the world learned of a well-executed special operations mission of U.S. Special Forces—such precise operations don’t occur by accident or chance, but are complex and require much planning, technology and training. Fire service professionals of all ranks and disciplines would be well served to learn the lessons of such operations, as told in the Seal Team Six (Wasdin & Templin 2011).
The authors describe the daunting training and discipline leading to the SEAL-team designation and the operations they participated in. Training, tenacity and technology come together to form the foundation of special-operations success. This book offers many take-away points for the U.S. fire service that can be applied to the rescue of trapped and downed members of the service.
Much effort has been spent within the fire service recently to provide a risk/benefit approach to appropriately managing risk on the fireground, reducing line-of-duty deaths and responding to the consequences of acceptable or inherent risks. During the commitment of fire service members into zones of inherent risk and interior operations, we’ve learned the importance of early availability of rapid intervention teams being in place and prepared and their paramount importance to survival of trapped firefighters.
These lessons have been formally promulgated in the IAFC Safety Health & Survival Section’s Rules of Engagement, OSHA’s “2 In 2 Out” in IDLH environments and in NFPA Standard 1407 of rapid intervention teams.
Of course, translating strategy into action is often found to be most challenging, whether organizationally or on the fireground. The assignment of rapid intervention as a task on the fireground has been institutionalized and establishment by the incident commander is expected; however, success is predicated on much of the same foundation as has been established with U.S. Special Forces operations.
Work done in both the Seattle and Phoenix Fire Departments in the turn of this century has provided the fire and emergency service some lessons learned, especially in the area of LODDs. Both departments undertook simulated downed-firefighter mayday scenarios and ensuing rescue attempts to determine the efficiency with which rescue teams could effect successful search and rescue operations. Both departments utilized scenarios in large open structures, the most challenging. However, any mayday scenario that ensues may be the most challenging of your career.
The results from Seattle and Phoenix should cause all departments and fire service members to pause and reflect on whether they’re prepared to perform with their current rapid intervention training, technology, tools and teams.
Both departments determined that to successfully perform RIT operations through all phases to achieve successful rescues required 11-12 rescuers. Furthermore, successful downed-firefighter extractions required anywhere between 18 and 21 minutes of emergency search, rescue and extraction operations.
Regardless of how realistic any simulation is, it remains a simulation. Real-time actual mayday response may require resources and time beyond what simulations demonstrate, but those situations should serve to remind all incident commanders that rapid intervention is a specialty, not a chance.
The Phoenix and Seattle studies have great correlation to special operations rescue and extraction assignments. The same foundations apply to your RIT: are those assigned to these functions considered special operators? Are these the personnel with the appropriate, rigorous, initial and ongoing physical and mental training? Do they have the appropriate equipment and technology to ensure the highest probability of success? Do they have the tenacity that means the ability to succeed where others may fail?
The courage and fortitude of the American firefighter over centuries has been proven consistently—something we as Americans must be proud of! What data-driven research has demonstrated is that the science of rapid intervention and rescue is a sub-specialty of the fire service, much like the armed forces special operation units or medical interventionist are a sub-specialty within our service.
This is a maturing of the fire service as a profession as data and research are honing our risk assessments and operational response and readiness. This is something we must work to educate policy makers on the absolute importance of firefighter staffing levels and the impact that such levels have on safety and survival, particularly during these challenging economic conditions.
As such, it is incumbent upon all within our service to best identify and prepare appropriately with initial and ongoing training and conditioning, the appropriate tools and technology and provided rapid response capacity early in the incipient phase the call evolution. Specific policies, procedures and protocols following acceptable industry best practices should address how these specialized units will be positioned and prepared early on to react should a mayday response be required.
Todd LeDuc, MS, CFO, CEM, MIFireE, is an assistant fire chief for Broward County (Fla.) Sheriff Fire Rescue. He’s also a director at large for the Safety, Health and Survival Section.