Firefighters saving firefighters

Published 11:21 pm Sunday, October 17, 2010

Contributing Editor

Washington’s Fire-Rescue-EMS Department is participating in a rapid-intervention team pilot program under the auspices of the N.C. Office of State Fire Marshal.
Five days of RIT training concluded Friday with a training exercise at Washington’s Station 2.
A rapid-intervention team, according to the website of the Volunteer &Combination Officers Section of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, is a designated crew that serves as a stand-by rescue team for personnel and is available for the immediate search and rescue of any missing, trapped, injured or unaccounted for firefighter(s). This team shall be fully equipped with the appropriate personal protective clothing, protective equipment, SCBA and specialized rescue equipment needed as based on the specifics of the operation that is underway. This includes the emergency breathing support system (quick-fill hose device).
A rapid-intervention team provides another layer of safety for firefighters at fire scenes or other responses they make.
The Office of State Fire Marshal and RIT validation committee have developed a new RIT course for firefighters throughout the state.
The course is designed to expose students to several firefighter safety skills including situational awareness, team rescue techniques and advanced firefighter survival skills Students will successfully complete the pilot course will receive OSFM certification in RIT training.
To be considered for the course, a student must have the following prerequisites: N.C Firefighter I and be a member of a fire or rescue agency.
Rapid-intervention teams are a response to the fire service in the United States losing from 100 to 110 people annually while on the job, with about 25 percent of those deaths fireground fatalities, said Lt. Jonathan Hardin with the Washington department.
RIT training and RIT crews can help decrease such fatalities by preparing firefighters to save other firefighters at fire scenes, Hardin said. RIT training and RIT responses are needed “because sometimes we get ourselves in trouble,” Hardin said.
“The state saw there was a need to have universal training throughout the state,” Hardin said.
“We feel in our department that we want to put this as the No. 1 priority,” Hardin said.
“We can do things as a RIT team to better prepare ourselves to help firefighters who need help,” said Steven West, a Greenville firefighter and RIT instructor.
When a firefighter in danger sends out a “Mayday!” call, a rapid-intervention team’s duty is to quickly and safely find and extract the firefighter from that danger, West noted.
“I would say that RIT, in our profession, is probably the most strenuous training you’ll do,” Hardin said.
Friday’s hands-on exercise backed up that statement. Firefighters were sent through several obstacles — simulating things they could find during a real response — as they attempted to locate and extricate downed firefighters. After the training, RIT crews were soaked in sweat, breathing hard and nursing a few bumps and bruises.
The RIT training held last week in Washington is the first time such training was conducted at a fire department. In the past, RIT training took place at training schools, one near Charlotte and the other one in Wilmington, West said.
Also participating in the training were firefighters with the Parkwood, Belhaven, Greenville, Rocky Mount and Goldsboro fire departments.
“A lot of these guys are doing this on their time,” Hardin said.
What’s next as far as RIT training?
“Just keep learning,” Hardin said.