Some may recall the work done by the Phoenix Fire Department in reviewing the effectiveness of its rapid intervention teams (RITs). Responding to a tragic 2001 line-of-duty death at the Southwest Supermarket Fire, Phoenix undertook a RIT study that basically demonstrated rescue-team effectiveness under simulated conditions in a 7,500 square-foot building.
The study showed that it took on average 12 RIT firefighters 21 minutes to locate and extricate a downed firefighter. What’s more, during the drill one in five of the rescuers themselves experienced distress during the rescue.
Of particular concern is that the larger the occupancy, the greater the need for anticipating a complex rescue and more well-trained and equipped rescuers.
In the wake of the tragic LODD in 2011 of Captain Jeffrey Bowen at a high-rise medical building, the Asheville (N.C.) Fire Department undertook their own comprehensive RIT study. Their critical-task analysis of rapid-intervention operations identified several factors as necessities; the critical tasks included locating, extricating, air, packaging and removing a down firefighter.
They demonstrated that it took on average 15 firefighters, including four from a RIT company trained to the technician level, to remove a single compromised firefighter from a complex rapid-intervention situation. The average time from mayday called to removal of a viable firefighter was 37:40.
Asheville has subsequently embraced widespread RIT training and the task-force response model that facilitates an appropriately sized, trained and equipped rapid-intervention package on all working fire incidents.
The body of evidence continues to support that interior operations require incident commanders to have in reserve a large pool of well-trained rescuers. Even with that scenario, they’re going to take a significant amount of time to successfully rescue a downed colleague.
Departments that can adequately muster such a team must do so early in an event and in a manner that places a potential rescue with the utmost chance for success.
However, departments that are challenged in providing adequate firefighters on scene to safely accomplish all the necessary tasks must take into account the ongoing danger of prolonged interior operations without an adequately assembled rescue team. Incident commanders must conduct ongoing risk-benefit analysis during such incidents.
The Asheville study adds to the body of knowledge that SOPs and incident commanders must take into account when crews are operating in a hazardous environment.