The RIT/RIC dilemma raised its ugly head again last week when my friend Doug Mitchell (25 to Survive) posted a chart of FDNY’s RIT statistics from 1989 to 2008. The stats that really grabbed my attention were 1. The elapsed time from the working fire declaration (10-75) until the Mayday, 19 minutes, and 2. Who found the Mayday firefighter. First alarm units, excluding the F.A.S.T. or RIT team, found the Mayday firefighter 76.47% of the instances.
Now, before I start, let me acknowledge the fact that RIT/RIC is essential on every working fire or event that requires firefighters to enter an IDLH. They should be trained, have the minimal appropriate equipment and be staffed with at least 4 firefighters. However, in the text Suburban Fire Tactics, I wrote that they are prioritized lower than other fireground functions when selecting functional implementation. Why?
If you analyze Standard Operating Guidelines (SOGs) or procedures that I have written for my organization and other outside organizations, you will notice that typically the RIT/RIC Company is the last arriving company out of the 5 or 6 suppression apparatus assigned to a structure fire. An argument against this philosophy includes the fact that a Mayday or RIT event often occurs 5 minutes within the onset of the fire. In all fairness, I should state that my last arriving company (6th arriving) typically arrives within 8 to 9 minutes from time of dispatch. Allow me to make my argument.
The reasoning which justifies this philosophy is the fact that there are many components to firefighter and fireground safety. RIT/RIC is simply one of the components. Extinguishing the hazard, rapidly, is also a component of not only firefighter safety, but also occupant/victim safety. The point is simple, I do not want to handicap or delay this effort.
SOGs must be written with the prioritization of fireground functions which achieve our objectives of saving lives and protecting property while simultaneously providing a “safety” net for operations. The fireground objectives and firefighter safety often go “hand-in-hand.” You might ask, how so? Firefighting is dangerous. This is very true, however, if you rapidly eliminate the hazard the situation just became safer for both firefighters and trapped occupants. Therefore, a good suppression plan is a great safety plan.
Yes, I realize in theory that this is a great philosophy. But I also realize that it isn’t that easy. There are critical elements which must be present. There are risks involved in firefighting that we must understand before we can manage them. Managing these risks include: 1. having experienced company officers and firefighters who understand building construction, fire behavior, and tactics/strategies, 2. Training, and 3. A game plan for consistent, safe, effective, and efficient operations.
What components or fireground functions must be in place for a good suppression plan in order to achieve our objectives and to also manage the risks of the fireground?
The ability to rapidly place water on the fire and to rapidly place attack lines
Support the initial attack with fire floor truck operations, including:
Search and Rescue (both for fire and occupants)
Identifying flow path and providing ventilation considerations
Identifying egress, including laddering the building or softening the structure
Have backup lines to protect the attack line, stairwells, and egress points
Secondary truck functions;
Searching the floor above(for both fire and occupants)
Providing further forcible entry or egress points (laddering and softening the structure)
Considering further ventilation tactics
RIT/RIC team assignments
A command structure
A safety officer and accountability
The ability to provide advanced life support
As detailed above, the RIT/RIC component is one strand or element in the “safety net.” Do not rely on one simple element for the entire safety of your firefighters or occupants. Create a plan for safety, but also see the big picture: a good suppression plan is a great safety plan.