Better yet, how do you train and prepare for RIT? It's a good idea to take a close look at your RIT training and see how closely related it is to your Search & Rescue training (for civilians). If your RIT training isn't too much different, then it’s time to get real. Here's an example; On Monday your crew does a search & rescue drill. One of the firefighters finds a spot in the station to lay down and waits to be found. The crew goes in on a right or left wall search with their masks blacked out and searches around until (hopefully) they find their victim. The victim is evaluated, packaged and pulled to a safe environment outside of the building. Your crew high fives each other, signs the training roster and call it success. Now, the Following day your crew does a RIT drill. One of the firefighters finds a spot in the station to lay down, this time in their full gear, and waits to be found. The crew goes in on a right or left wall search with their masks blacked out and searches around until (hopefully) they find their downed firefighter. The downed firefighter is evaluated, packaged, possibly transfilled, and pulled to a safe environment outside of the building. Your crew high fives each other, signs the training roster and call it success. Maybe the variable in the RIT scenario is that a chair and a table were tipped over onto the downed firefighter. No much difference in these two drills.
Does this sound familiar? We've all done these exact same scenarios. What gets reinforced with this type of RIT drill? Each time you do this same type of RIT training your brain is learning and reinforcing that Rapid Intervention is based on simple-to-moderate skills execution, low need for solid leadership, and easy physical obstacles to overcome in a non-stressful environment. In this sense we are training to fail. The failure is going to manifest when the situation is real and it's your brother or sister firefighter trapped inside that burning building. A high level of stress will be involved, emotions will want to rule decision-making, and tunnel vision may set in.
I've been fortunate enough to develop, deliver, and evaluate realistic, high stress rapid intervention training with a moderate budget to secure every logistical need required to be successful. Over 400 firefighters from 16 departments participated and everyone walked away with a renewed appreciation of what it really takes to rescue a downed firefighter. Multiple pages of lessons learned were developed and, as a result, lessons applied were altered and updated.
One of the first things discovered was that our approach to firefighter rescue has to be from a different mind-set than the approach to civilian search & rescue. Because of personal protective equipment, firefighters are more likely to be alive and savable when things go bad inside the structure. But we know that our PPE has a limit. In particular, the amount of life (air) they have left in their bottle is the big concern. With the exception of serious traumatic injury, the downed firefighter most likely needs to be located quickly and provided with more air. If your crew doesn’t operate like a well-oiled machine, then the possibility of survival is reduced. Every slight delay in forward progress because of miscommunication, unfamiliarity of equipment, sub-par skill level, or inadequate leadership will result in time being taken off the downed firefighters remaining life (air).
So far none of this sounds out of the ordinary, right? We all know how to perform tasks on the fire ground and get stuff done. Here’s the difference; stress. Firefighters don’t train enough in realistic, stressful conditions. It’s important to stay consistent with the non-stressful, check-box type training. This is how we build muscle memory and retain the basic information needed to complete tasks. But, we need to add realism to the training regimen. When, stress sets in, tunnel vision follows. The more foreign it is working in an environment with stress involved, the more narrow your focus becomes. Your brain will literally open up if it has been trained and prepared for accomplishing those tasks under stressful conditions.
From time to time, mix up your training and get creative. As you design a RIT drill, think of the situation from the victim’s perspective and determine what it will really take to be successful. Most important of all, the catalyst that gives the most value in firefighter rescue preparedness is honesty. If we’re not honest with our knowledge, skills, and abilities then we’re lying to ourselves. Keep training, mix it up, get real, and be honest. We owe it to each other to be prepared. When it comes to a firefighter rescue - being average is not good enough.
Paul Strong is a career captain with the Valley Regional Fire Authority in South King County Washington and lead instructor at 3sixtytraining.com. He presents classes on leadership, rapid intervention and fire ground tactics and is a returning presenter to FDIC in 2014.
Be sure to attend his classroom session:
RIC for Real: Learning from Our Mistakes
Captain Paul Strong, Valley (WA) Regional Fire Authority
This presentation focuses on how to better prepare for a rapid intervention crew (RIC) deployment. The lessons learned from 400 firefighters participating in the hands-on RIC for REAL training will be the focus. The three main learning objectives are crew integrity and safety, communication, and air management. Students will learn how ineffectiveness in leadership, individual skills, and crew efficiency were magnified even among solid performers because of RIC preparation misconceptions. ALL LEVELS