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Back to Basics: The RIT kit – Tools of the trade for Rapid Intervention Teams

Being a RIT firefighter requires a lot training and dedication from both the individuals and the fire department. It also requires a lot of equipment to rescue a downed firefighter. Most fire apparatus today have lots of different equipment and tools on board that will never be used. We take all this equipment with us all the time because we never know when we just might need that one tool.

October 31, 2008
By Mark van der Feyst

The basic tools needed for RIT members are a radio, flashlight, hand tools and survival gear.
Photo by Mark van der Feyst
Fire departments should have several pieces of equipment for RIT operations when initially establishing rapid intervention team.
Photo courtesy PSFA

Being a RIT firefighter requires a lot training and dedication from both the individuals and the fire department. It also requires a lot of equipment to rescue a downed firefighter. Most fire apparatus today have lots of different equipment and tools on board that will never be used. We take all this equipment with us all the time because we never know when we just might need that one tool.

There are all kinds of special tools and equipment that have been designed just for RIT purposes. If you were to conduct an internet search on RIT tools, you would find all kinds of special tools and equipment. The types and amount of tools and equipment required to rescue a firefighter are dictated in part by the type of building the firefighter is in and the type of rescue needed. No matter how much money a fire department has, what type of building you are facing or the type of rescue to be affected, there are basic tools that each fire department and firefighter should have for rescuing a firefighter. 

The basic tools that each RIT member should carry at all times are a radio, flashlight, hand tools and survival gear. (See photo 1.)

Each member should be equipped with a portable radio. This will allow for all team members to communicate with each other and to monitor fireground operations. The radio should be on the correct channel and have a fully charged battery. A speaker microphone works best with the portable radio because it allows you to hear all the radio transmissions. With a portable radio in your chest pocket, the speaker is away from your ears by about 24 inches, making it much more difficult to hear. 


Carrying a flashlight will help you to conduct the rescue. Most firefighters will carry a personal flashlight either on their helmet or on their gear. These kinds of flashlights are great, but the beam is not as strong as a larger, hand-held flashlight. The larger light will help you with your patient assessment and packaging (to be discussed later) and can also serve as a signaling device should your radio fail. 

Hand tools
Hand tools are most often overlooked or forgotten. Firefighters don’t want to carry a hand tool because of the extra weight. This is due to a lack of training and a lack of understanding of the importance of a hand tool. Training with hand tools will enhance your ability to rescue a firefighter. Carrying a set of irons, or a roof man’s hook will aid you in the rescue. 

Survival gear
Survival gear should be carried by all fire personnel at all times. This gear will aid in the self –
rescue aspect of any occasion. As for the RIT member, this gear will also aid in the rescue of the firefighter. Items such as wire cutters, door chocks, a knife, webbing (preferably closed loop) and personal escape rope (at least 40 to 50 feet) will be a benefit to the RIT member. Wire cutters are the only tool that will get you out of an entanglement situation. I personally recommend carrying two sets of wire cutters, one in your radio pocket on your bunker coat and the other on the opposite side in the bunker pant cargo pocket. Should you find yourself unable to access the upper radio pocket, you will be able to access the cargo pocket, and if access to the cargo pocket is prohibited, then you will have access to the radio pocket.  Door chocks are a great asset. They are used primarily for keeping doors open. Most firefighters carry cute little door chocks that are the size of your thumb.  We have all seen them because most vendors sell them. These little door chocks are useless when you are chocking a door open in pitch-black conditions, with structural firefighting gloves on and firefighters
crawling around bumping into one another and into the walls and doors. These small, lightweight chocks get knocked around and the door closes.   The best door chock is made of 2 x 4s cut into triangular pieces about four to five inches long. These rugged door chocks will keep a door open with all the commotion of the rescue.  

Tools that a fire department should have for RIT operations when initially establishing RIT. (See photo 2):
1.    RIT tactical worksheet or checklist;
2.    RIT air pack;
3.    RIT tag line;
4.    Irons;
5.    Pike poles;
6.    Rescue rope;
7.    Ground ladders;
8.    Thermal imaging camera;
9.    Medical equipment;
10.    Lighting sources.

RIT tactical worksheet or checklist
Having a checklist ensures that the proper tools and equipment are brought to the staging area. This checklist should be completed by the RIT officer. It is his responsibility to make sure that all the needed tools are at the staging area. If other tools and equipment are needed, then request it through the IC.
RIT air pack
The RIT air pack is used to supplement the air supply for the injured, lost or trapped firefighter. This air pack should have a full bottle, a spare face piece and a way of attaching it to the firefighter. There are designed RIT packs manufactured by different vendors. They have some good options designed into them and will certainly be a benefit to the overall operation. At a minimum, having a spare SCBA with a spare face piece will do the job. In the case of mutual aid providing the RIT, make sure your department and the mutual-aid department uses the same brand name of SCBA so that they’re compatible. Many times I have seen one department using one brand of SCBA while the mutual-aid department brings its own SCBA RIT pack made by a different manufacturer. The spare face piece is used for a face piece changeover if the original face piece worn by the firefighter has been compromised. Make sure the air bottle is full. I have witnessed many drills in which the bottle is only half full and wasn’t checked prior to deployment. 

RIT tag line
This will be used for the initial search of the firefighter to be rescued. Once the tag line has been deployed and the firefighter located, the other RIT members will be able to follow this line in and out. There are many variations of the RIT tag line on the market. They all have benefits and pitfalls. Lighted rope works well because it provides a light source to follow and a receptacle for plugging in power tools. Pricing dictates what kind of tag line you choose. Simple utility rope also works. Make sure you tie a series of single and double knots every eight to 10 feet. This will serve as a way of finding your way out should the RIT team become lost. One single knot is the way out and the double knot is the way in. It is the same as reading the hose couplings. 

As mentioned in the section on hand tools, irons aid in the rescue of a missing, trapped or injured firefighter. Irons are primarily used for the forcible entry portion of the operation. 

Pike poles
Pike poles give us access into small spaces into which we can’t get our arms.  Pike poles are useful for hooking onto a firefighter’s SCBA strap to drag him out of a small void or hole. In a situation in which a debris pile is on top of a firefighter, using airbags to lift the pile a few inches and then reaching in with a pike pole to drag them out, is quick and effective. 

Rescue rope
Rescue rope is used for just what its name says – rescue. For sub-level rescues, or maybe constructing a 3:1 mechanical advantage lowering system, rescue rope is needed. Knowing the handcuff knot is essential when rescuing a firefighter with rescue rope.  

Ground ladders
Ground ladders are an essential piece of equipment. First, they give us quick access to upper floors of a structure while at the same time giving firefighters on the inside a quick way out for self rescue. They also can be used for constructing a lowering system from upper floors. This is a quick and efficient way of removing a firefighter from a structure. Using ground ladders to ladder the building is a proactive fireground operation in which every RIT officer should engage. It also helps us to identify what other preparatory steps should be taken to get the structure ready for RIT, for example. security bars on windows. 
Thermal imaging camera (TIC)
This is a must have for the RIT.  The TIC enables the RIT to locate and access the firefighter quickly. It also allows the RIT officer to monitor the fire conditions on the inside while the RIT conducts its operation. The TIC can also give us a quick check to see if the firefighter is breathing or not. The TIC will show the SCBA low pressure hose going to the regulator as a black or cool object. If you see this, you will know that the downed firefighter is still breathing from his SCBA.  The air inside the SCBA is cooler than the air in the environment and this will show on the TIC.  

Medical equipment
Obviously, the medical bag is useful for initiating medical treatment for the firefighter. If EMS is still responding to the call, we can start giving medical treatment right away.  

Lighting sources
As mentioned in the flashlight section, having a light source aids us with our rescue effort. We also need light sources for the staging area, the outside of the structure and the inside of the structure. The more light the better. 

The list above only represents a small portion of the tools and equipment that are needed to rescue a firefighter. Once the rescue has been initiated, more tools and equipment are needed.  As shown in photo 2, equipment such as hydraulic spreaders, cutters, rams, air bags, chainsaws, rotary saws, air chisel, stokes basket, hose line and whatever else is needed will be and can be used to rescue a firefighter.

As mentioned, the type of building and the type of rescue will dictate the type of tools and equipment needed. As you can see, it takes a lot of equipment and tools to rescue one firefighter. Add another firefighter to be rescued and you need even more equipment and tools. This is why the suggestion of using a mutual-aid response for smaller departments is wise. Bringing in their equipment will not deplete your resources. For the larger departments, mutual aid will need to bring in extra units to supplement the equipment and tool requirements. No matter what size department you have, you will need to make sure that you have the basic tools and equipment that is required to effect a rescue of a firefighter.  Do you have the basics? 

Mark van der Feyst, a 10-year veteran of the fire service, is the training officer for the City of Woodstock Fire Department in Ontario. He is a local level suppression instructor fo the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy and an instructor for the Justice Institute of British Columbia. Contact Mark at

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