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Understaffed RIT - Arrival & Initial Actions

      As firefighter’s we always want to be ahead of the game,. Especially when operating with short staffed RIT’s. Do not wait until a mayday occurs to make a plan. Have a plan in place on the fireground before a mayday occurs. This does not mean adding a RIT section to pre-plans. It means the RIT members need to have a plan for the fireground they are operating on that is based on what they are presented with at the time. RIT members need to know things like how they are going to get into the building if they can’t use the front door, what they’re going to do if they have a missing firefighter verse a lost firefighter, and who’s going to carry what tools. This way, if a mayday is called, they are not standing there wasting time, trying to figure out who is carrying the TIC or who’s taking the search rope or if they are taking the stokes baskets or leaving it behind (Photo 1).

One of the most important things for the understaffed RIT to do to stay ahead of the game on the fireground is to conduct a proper size up to identify risks, correct hazards, and make a plan of action for a mayday with “what if” scenarios then pay attention to the scene and monitor the radio traffic to keep track of the crew’s locations. Countless fatality and close call reports show that incident commands miss maydays being given on the radio. It is the RIT’s job to be a second set of ears and eyes listening and looking for maydays on the fireground. Now, when a mayday is called by Engine 10 the RIT members already have an idea of where the company is because they know that Engine 10 was assigned to perform fire attack in the basement. The RIT can quickly locate the hose line and rapidly begin searching along the hose.

 Know multiple ways to get into and out of the building by performing a good size up, and pay attention to the conditions. Are conditions getting better or worse? How many lines are in service, is the IC calling for more hose lines in the building? If more hose lines are being requested than the fire is growing and getting worse, not getting better. This means there can be weakening of the structure, the possibility of crews becoming cut off or overwhelmed by the growing fire, or the mode of attack switching from offensive to defensive which can lead to someone getting separated from their crew while backing out.

Some other things to consider ahead of time is knowing where you’ll get additional crews from. It might be calling for a second alarm or by calling for mutual aid. But you have to know this ahead of time so you are not wasting time figuring this out during a mayday. Set up mutual aid ahead of time and exchange RIT policies, know each other’s expectations, and train together.

Photo 1: These buildings were built at different times & both have windows that lead into this small space that do not align. Have a plan...how would you rescue a firefighter who reports finding one of these windows during a mayday?

The Size Up

Size ups are used to gather information before a mayday occurs to help us stay ahead of the game. Conducing a good size up is critical for an understaffed RIT. Based on the size up, the RIT will chose which tools and equipment to stage and carry. Since a firefighter can only carry so much equipment, the understaffed RIT will be limited in the amount of tools they will be able carry and stage. A good size up will help the RIT select the tools that are most likely to be needed

Photo 2: Size up, look for the many things you may face as the RIT. Note the bars on the windows & the open garage door that needs to be secure before it closes on the interior crews. Pike Poles or vise grips will be needed ASAP to secure the door in the open position.

The size up also allows the RIT to get an idea for the building layout. How many floors are in the front and rear? What type of construction is the building? What are the common fire spread and collapse concerns with the construction type? The understaffed RIT can use this info to help them predict where and what problems they might face and prepare to deal with them. A general layout can be determined so if a mayday is called in the kitchen the RIT will have an idea of where the kitchen is located and can start their search there, saving time, energy, and air.

During the size up consider where egress can be set up. Find ways to get into the building and out of the building on each side. Is anything blocking the opening? Can it be made larger if needed? What tools would be needed to make it larger?

Typically, a fully staffed RIT will split up and multi-task when doing the size up to accomplish several things at once, like performing the 360, collecting tools, setting up staging, and meeting with the IC. However, this isn’t possible for a short staffed RIT. This means that an understaffed RIT needs to accomplish as many tasks as they can at once. One or two firefighters can easily multi-task by taking an extension ladder, the irons or a hook, a TIC, and, if needed, a saw with them while doing the 360 walk around. Now, the crew of one or two can place egress at the rear or on a side of the building, can scan the building with the TIC to find possible areas of fire spread, turn off the gas service and other utilities, force and control heavily secured doors on the sides and rear, remove security bars or other obstructions, and clear debris from around doors and windows to allow for escape and easier access later on. (Note, forcing and controlling doors does not mean leaving them wide open. It means that if you expect a door is strongly secured that you “soften” it up so if it’s needed later during a mayday it is much easier to force open with a shoulder or a shove.)

Right Tools for the Job

The size up lets the teams determine what tools will be needed if a mayday occurs. Some tools, like a set of irons, ground ladders, TIC, radios, and RIT packs are always needed. There seems to be a tendency to “overstock” the staging area with tools “just in case”. This practice may be okay when there are five or six firefighters on a RIT with two firefighters gathering tools while the others are doing the size up. But when a RIT is understaffed this presents a problem. The longer the crew is at the street getting additional tools “just in case” and the more trips they make to and from the apparatus getting the tools is unnecessary time they are away from the fire and not paying attention to the scene and conditions. There is only so much equipment that one person can carry into a building to make a rescue. Use the information collected during the size up to choose the tools that are most likely to be needed for that building and which ones to leave behind. Take saws for example. How many saws are really needed? What type of saw is really needed? Have you ever seen a RIT firefighter running back and forth to the apparatus with saws in both hands while they leave behind other critical tools, like the search rope or hooks? For a residential fire the first saw that’s grabbed can be a K-12 or Partner saw that has a multi-purpose blade on it or a chainsaw. Does the RIT really need a chainsaw, vent saw, metal blade saw, and concrete saw at a two story house fire? The multi-purpose blade on a k-12 saw may not cut everything as quick as a dedicated wood or metal blade, but it does cuts both metal and wood. A short staffed RIT can stage the K-12 or Partner saw with a multi-purpose blade that will let them cut a pad lock on the gate or window bars then turn a window into a door then go get other important tools like hooks or search ropes and still be prepared if a mayday is called. Don’t forget about saw-zalls either, they are battery operated and work in smoke conditions, not to mention light weight. The saw-zall can greatly help an understaffed RIT get started if a mayday is called early on in the operation before all the tools are collected. 

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