Another Look at RITs and the Mayday: July

Another Look at RITs and the Mayday

Last month I talked about the rapid-intervention team (RIT) and wanted to add to that conversation with a few thoughts about calling a mayday on the fireground. Whether you’re the incident commander (IC) of a commercial or residential fire, the RIT is a major component and shouldn’t be viewed as just another box to check off on your command board.

You’ve probably heard this stuff a hundred times, but time and time again we hear about firefighters dying in the line of duty, with RITs unable to locate and remove them in time—or the RITs have to call for a mayday.

Lack of Strategy
After speaking with the leaders of several fire departments about their mayday training, equipment and the number of personnel assigned to a RIT, I was shocked at how differently each department did everything. For example, one fire department has 44 fire stations, many of which are double company, and they only have six RIT bags for the entire department, which are located in the battalion chiefs’ vehicles. Another fire department that operates out of five stations doesn’t use RIT bags.

As far as the number of people who are assigned to be part of RITs, that varied even more, along with the experience level. Almost all the departments I talked to very rarely did RIT, mayday or self-rescue technique training.

So why are RIT and mayday training, equipment, and ideas ignored or overlooked so often by firefighters and fire department leaders? I’m guessing it’s because we’ve become complacent or believe that a RIT will not be needed, or we’ll never hear the words “mayday, mayday, mayday” over the radio. My hope is to help change how we view RITs and maydays on the fireground.

Improvement Ideas
So what are some of the ways we can improve RITs and help firefighters who call for a mayday? The key answer will always be training, but let’s dig deeper into ways that might help.

Focused training: 75% of our training efforts need to be focused on preventing us from ever needing to use rapid intervention, and the other 25% of our efforts should involve getting ourselves out of trouble. This means training every member of our department with classes that focus on RIT basics? including how to read smoke and building construction. Firefighters need to run drills that focus on operating portable radios while wearing gloves and in confined locations with no visibility. Another drill that’s often overlooked or thought of as unimportant is calling a mayday out loud while using a portable radio and providing a LUNAR report. As simple as these drills may seem to be, they are often some of the most difficult and have the ability to open the eyes of firefighters who might question the importance of the drills.

Number of Personnel: The number of personnel used on RITs has been a topic of debate for most fire departments, and will continue to be so. No two fire departments are the same, so there is no perfect answer as to the correct number of personnel on a RIT. Last month I brought up the idea of using two-person teams for the RIT, with the thought of multiple, small teams, rather than a single, larger team. Additionally, a team should always be on deck and ready to act. Remember, too, that we measure time by using the psi readings of the lowest SCBA cylinder in service. The plain fact is this: The fewer cylinders you have to monitor, the better your odds are of being able to move faster and last longer when searching for or rescuing the firefighter who called the mayday.

Continuously Drill: Drill and drill often using RITs with different numbers of personnel and ideas. Don’t shy away from any idea until you have fully tested it in the worst possible situation. If the idea works, share it with other fire departments.

Equipment Training: Whatever equipment you decide to have available for a RIT on the fireground, personnel should be trained to use it, and that training should be done often. During training, firefighters should wear full PPE and perform in limited- to zero-visibility situations. Again, if someone has an idea about a piece of equipment that could be used, try it—you just might find a better way to rescue a downed firefighter.

  • Focused training: 75% of our training efforts need to be focused on preventing us from ever needing to use rapid intervention, and the other 25% of our efforts should involve getting ourselves out of trouble. This means training every member of our department with classes that focus on RIT basics? including how to read smoke and building construction. Firefighters need to run drills that focus on operating portable radios while wearing gloves and in confined locations with no visibility. Another drill that’s often overlooked or thought of as unimportant is calling a mayday out loud while using a portable radio and providing a LUNAR report. As simple as these drills may seem to be, they are often some of the most difficult and have the ability to open the eyes of firefighters who might question the importance of the drills.
  • Number of Personnel: The number of personnel used on RITs has been a topic of debate for most fire departments, and will continue to be so. No two fire departments are the same, so there is no perfect answer as to the correct number of personnel on a RIT. Last month I brought up the idea of using two-person teams for the RIT, with the thought of multiple, small teams, rather than a single, larger team. Additionally, a team should always be on deck and ready to act. Remember, too, that we measure time by using the psi readings of the lowest SCBA cylinder in service. The plain fact is this: The fewer cylinders you have to monitor, the better your odds are of being able to move faster and last longer when searching for or rescuing the firefighter who called the mayday.
  • Continuously Drill: Drill and drill often using RITs with different numbers of personnel and ideas. Don’t shy away from any idea until you have fully tested it in the worst possible situation. If the idea works, share it with other fire departments.
  • Equipment Training: Whatever equipment you decide to have available for a RIT on the fireground, personnel should be trained to use it, and that training should be done often. During training, firefighters should wear full PPE and perform in limited- to zero-visibility situations. Again, if someone has an idea about a piece of equipment that could be used, try it—you just might find a better way to rescue a downed firefighter.

Final Thoughts
I want to leave you with a question and a comment to consider. We can all agree that the fire service prides itself on its preparation, training, equipment and rapid response when it comes to rescuing those trapped in a burning building. Why is it, then, that our pride doesn’t extend to RITs and their preparation, training, equipment and rapid response? We should step back for a moment and realize that every firefighter on the fireground has the potential to be caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. ICs, officers and firefighters need to take being assigned to a RIT seriously and understand that one day, it may be them calling a mayday.

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