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Back to Basics: October 2009


September 15, 2009
By Mark van der Feyst

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Tactics are an essential part of the fireground operation. They allow us to plan our attacks methodically, which, in turn, makes our jobs a little bit easier. When it comes to RIT operations, we can use tactics to help us in our efforts to rescue firefighters. Let’s look at some tactical considerations that will help us in RIT operations.

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 Photo by Mark van der Feyst
A RIT firefighter assesses a downed firefighter and gets him ready for removal.


 

Tactics are an essential part of the fireground operation. They allow us to plan our attacks methodically, which, in turn, makes our jobs a little bit easier. When it comes to RIT operations, we can use tactics to help us in our efforts to rescue firefighters. Let’s look at some tactical considerations that will help us in RIT operations.

Searching for a lost or trapped firefighter should not be confused with searching for a civilian victim.

There are still fire departments that think and operate in this way. This is a recipe for disaster. We need to get into the mindset that rescuing a civilian victim is much different from rescuing a firefighter. The two are separate events that require different approaches and sets of tactics. When we rescue civilian victims, we usually find them in common locations within a structure. The three most common areas are at the fire location, at a window or at a door. Depending upon the time of day, a civilian victim may be in a bedroom. Using this common knowledge allows us to make a quick rescue. We can use certain tactics such as vent, enter and search to locate and rescue a civilian victim. A firefighter in distress can be anywhere within the structure. There are no common areas in which we will find downed firefighters because we are going into structures to conduct primary searches, fire attack, ventilation and overhaul.

These tasks take firefighters anywhere within the structure. So, we cannot rely on common knowledge to search for firefighters. We need to rely on the accountability system to tell us the firefighter’s last known location, information passed on to the IC from the firefighter needing rescue and the sound of the PASS alarm to direct us. 

We also have to consider fire development. When a civilian victim is trapped or still inside a burning structure, we are usually facing a fire that is still developing and growing. The structural integrity of the building is relatively intact but it is still a dangerous operation for us to perform a search and rescue within these conditions. With today’s building materials failing even quicker, structural integrity is diminishing. When a firefighter is inside a burning structure, we are at the peak of fire development and growth and are heading into the decay stage. The building is losing its structural integrity and is falling apart. This is what sometimes leads to firefighters needing to be rescued: floors collapsing; ceilings and roofs falling in; or firefighters falling through holes in the floor down to sub-levels. The conditions of the building are worse than when a civilian needs to be rescued. So when we are initiating a RIT operation, we have to consider that we are entering into a much less stable environment than a civilian faces. When we are rescuing civilians, civilians are wearing only their clothing, if anything at all. We are then pulling or lifting just their body weight. This makes it a little bit easier for us. Firefighters are wearing added weight with their gear and SCBA. This makes our jobs much more difficult. We have to contend with an average weight of 300 pounds for a firefighter, according to NFPA standards. Trying to rescue just one firefighter requires all our strength and endurance. Add water soaking into our gear and the overall weight of the firefighter increases. 

When we are rescuing civilians, we grab and go. With firefighters, we generally have to address the air-supply issue before we grab and go. This adds time and requires more people to bring in equipment.

It also hampers our ability to manoeuvre the firefighter out of the structure because we are adding to the firefighter’s profile. Even though the SCBA helps us by providing handles to drag, it adds to the weight of the firefighter and becomes an obstacle.

When we are removing civilians from a structure, we usually are able to use windows or nearby doors or we just carry them out the front door. There are not many obstacles to overcome when a civilian is being rescued. A firefighter is a different situation. We usually encounter obstacles due to failing structural members, deteriorating conditions or falling debris and we are sometimes forced to look for alternative exits such as enlarged openings and windows, or drag the victim through the building to an exit point.

Rescuing a firefighter is not the same as rescuing a civilian. Fire department personnel who think it is the same will be surprised when it comes time to rescue one of their own. Know the differences and train on them.


Mark van der Feyst began his career in the fire service in 1998 with the Cranberry Township Volunteer Fire Company, Station 21, in Pennsylvania. He served as a firefighter and training officer for four years, then joined the Mississauga Fire & Emergency Services, where he served for three years as a firefighter and shift medical instructor. He is now with the City of Woodstock Fire Department in Ontario.


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