Downward Trend in Firefighter Deaths
Fortunately, there appears to be a clear downward trend in firefighter deaths since the late 1970’s when the annual average was more than eighty a year. However, in 2018 there was a sharp drop to forty-eight total on-duty deaths from an average of sixty-five the previous five years. Of these deaths in 2018, only thirteen occurred while at a fire scene or during an explosion.
While on-duty deaths are decreasing, the requirements for initial and ongoing training have increased. One could conclude that this mandated training and standards for job performance have only had a positive effect in reducing fatalities on the fireground.
An improved focus on health and physical fitness, driver-operator training, equipment safety, the use of the Incident Command System, and Accountability systems on-scene, as well as an emphasis on the understanding of fire behavior, ventilation strategies, and tactics all play critical roles in firefighter safety. Another very important safeguard on-scene includes the standard use of Rapid Intervention Crews. It is recommended that a RIC be placed on every fire scene, to rescue firefighters who become lost, trapped, or injured during firefighting operations.
RIC, RIT, FAST – Same Thing, Different Names
Different terms are used to describe these rescue personnel, such as Rapid Intervention Crew, “RIC”, a Rapid Intervention Team, “RIT,” or a “Firefighter Assist and Search Team,” FAST.” The NFPA uses the term “RIC” but regardless of what your department calls this team, they are designated at the scene as soon as possible, and once resources allow.
OSHA first implemented the “two-in/two-out rule in order to reduce workplace injuries for all types of workers in hazardous environments. This rule requires that when two members are sent into an IDLH environment, then there must be two other members outside of the hazard area ready to rescue. All four members must be equally equipped, in full protective gear, with respiratory protection and radio communications.
NFPA 1407 Standard
NFPA 1407 Standard for Training Fire Service Rapid Intervention Crews took the two-in/two-out safety rule further and defined training procedures and skills needed for firefighters to operate as part of a rescue team. A Rapid Intervention Crew is defined as a dedicated crew, ideally, it is at least one officer and three members, if resources are available. This crew is to be positioned outside of the IDLH, trained and equipped as specified in NFPA 1407.
The NFPA standard also defines best practices and training needed for locating, assessing, and extracting a downed-firefighter, the use of ropes, slings and harnesses, MAYDAY response, and procedures for emergency air delivery using universal air connections and emergency breathing safety systems.
The standard specifies ways to create a training program that will produce a strictly disciplined, highly effective team of firefighters. They will have the skills and be well-practiced in rescuing firefighters that become injured, trapped, incapacitated, or disoriented at emergency scenes or during training operations.
Developing Department SOP’s
NFPA 1407 provides a model SOP to use. It requires that every agency has a standard operating procedure or guidelines in place for RIC operations.
- specific conditions that would require the deployment of a RIC at an incident,
- duties RIC will perform at the scene
- the positioning of the RIC at the scene
- tools and equipment use
- restrictions of personnel at the scene
- the criteria for the termination of the RIC function at an incident.
Ongoing, Reinforced Training
Not all firefighters will operate on a Rapid Intervention Crew, but they should all understand the purposes, policies, and rules governing a RIC, including the conditions under which it would be deployed. Those that will be involved on the team will undergo extensive training and train as a group.
Basic firefighting skills, search and rescue procedures, and survival methods are all reinforced during hands-on training. The skills needed for rescue are not complicated or technical, but they need to be continually practiced, and in environments that simulate real rescue scenarios or situations.
Training may include blacking-out SCBA masks or using artificial smoke to reduce visibility, navigating an unfamiliar obstacle course, or adding noise to create stress and tension. This type of training and repetition of skills helps members maintain focus under extreme stress and pressure. Members of your RIC should be considered your “elite” firefighters. They should have the most consistent and on-going RIC training, excellent physical fitness, be mentally sharp, and well-equipped to respond and handle any rescue situation.
RIC Operations at Scene
The implementation of a RIC should not be a replacement for all the other procedures that help to ensure safety on scene. The presence of a Rapid Intervention Crew on-scene should serve as a reminder of the constant dangers involved in firefighting. Hopefully, their presence will help to maintain a heightened degree of alertness for all personnel operating at the scene. RIC members are responsible for the search and rescue of firefighters in many types of situations. They must have experience dealing with entrapments, entanglements, floor collapses, confined space challenges, and below or above ground rescues.
- performing their own size-up of the incident
- building construction knowledge
- the knowledge-creating access in all types of construction
- experienced in reading smoke
- experienced in evaluating and reading fire behavior
- competency in thermal imager use
- skilled in emergency air delivery and air management techniques
On Scene Preparedness
A proactive RIC team will have equipment and tools prepared and positioned in the most accessible locations on the fire scene. They will continuously monitor radio traffic and be listening for emergency or MAYDAY transmissions. By listening to scene reports they will know where members are within the structure and what operations they are performing. This will allow them to access a distressed firefighter quickly.
Rapid intervention skills are built upon a firefighter’s basic skills foundation. As a member of a Rapid Intervention Crew, you must have solid training and a lot of practice. Your ability to perform with confidence under very demanding circumstances is imperative for your safety and the successful rescue of a downed-firefighter.
Action Training Systems’ 3-title series on “The Basics of Rapid Intervention” will give you a strong foundation on which to build your knowledge before you begin your hands-on training.