Training Day: Emergency breathing with the RIT

Use the following drills to train firefighters in emergency rescue breathing when deployed with the rapid intervention team


By Robert Avsec

One of my mentors in my fire service career, Deputy Chief (ret.) Jim Graham, had a favorite saying, “Doing something on the fireground for the first time [without previous practice] is always nothing less than spectacular.” And we were all pretty sure that he didn’t mean spectacular in a good way!

When it comes to a firefighter mayday call on the emergency scene, and you’re a member of the rapid intervention team (RIT), you want your performance to be spectacular in a good way – and that takes practice. In this article, you’ll learn how to develop a training exercise to help your people develop the knowledge, skills and ability to safely and effectively perform a save on the RIT.

Rapid intervention drill preparation

When it comes to a firefighter mayday call on the emergency scene, and you’re a member of the rapid intervention team (RIT), you want your performance to be spectacular in a good way – and that takes practice. (Photo/USAF)
When it comes to a firefighter mayday call on the emergency scene, and you’re a member of the rapid intervention team (RIT), you want your performance to be spectacular in a good way – and that takes practice. (Photo/USAF)

Ensure that you have all the following in place before beginning your RIT training exercise:

  • Firefighters with full structural firefighting protective ensemble
  • SCBAs
  • RIT pack or spare SCBA unit
  • Portable radio
  • 200-foot lifeline in rope bag

It’s been my experience, especially when working with inexperienced firefighters, that training and drilling on small segments of the larger overall process leads to skills mastery sooner than doing it all at once. For your RIT drill, consider these training segments:

  1. Searching for and locating a firefighter in distress
  2. Initial assessment and care for the firefighter and the environment they’re in
  3. Packaging the firefighter for extraction
  4. Extraction of the packaged firefighter

Here, we’ll focus on the first two.

Find firefighters in distress

Most firefighters are knowledgeable and skilled at conducting a search within a residential structure (e.g., room-to-room) but they may not have any experience searching for a downed firefighter in a larger structure (e.g., a manufacturing or storage facility). Here’s a drill for conducting a rapid search for this scenario.

  • Firefighter No. 1 serves as anchor FF at doorway where they secure the lifeline to a stationary object.
  • Firefighter No. 2 carries the portable radio and shoulders the lifeline’s rope bag as Firefighter No. 3 – using a six-foot pike pole – begins walking into the structure, sweeping the pike pole from side-to-side (just like a visually impaired person uses their probing stick to assist them in navigating).
  • Firefighter No. 2 remains in physical contact with Firefighter No. 3. Their function is to ensure that the lifeline continues to flow from the rope bag smoothly and to communicate as necessary with the portable radio.
  • Firefighter No. 3’s sole function is to move quickly, probing with the pike pole, and listening for clues that can assist in locating the downed firefighter. Every few minutes, the search team should stop and reassess where they believe the downed firefighter’s PASS is sounding from.

Practice emergency breathing techniques

Once the firefighter in distress is located, Firefighter No. 3 begins assessing the downed firefighter using the PASS, air and can (PAC) process:

  • PASS. Shut off the downed firefighter’s activated PASS device (the noise no longer serves a purpose).
  • Air. Ensure the downed firefighter’s SCBA facepiece is still in proper position and determine if they are breathing on their own by looking for fogging in their facepiece and by placing a hand on their chest to feel for chest movement.
  • Can. Trans fill their SCBA from the RIT pack using the rapid intervention crew universal air connection.

Firefighter No. 2 provides a radio report to the incident commander: condition, actions, needs. For example: “Firefighter Jones located. Unconscious but breathing. No entrapment issues. We’ve transfilled his SCBA from RIT pack. Need two more firefighters to complete extraction.”

Variations on this drill should include:

  • Buddy to buddy. Firefighter No. 3 connects his or her buddy breather hose to the downed firefighter’s buddy breather hose.
  • Buddy to mask regulator. Firefighter No. 3 connects their buddy breather hose to the downed firefighter’s universal air connection to bypass their SCBA.
  • Buddy RIT to buddy. Firefighter No. 3 connects the RIT pack’s buddy breather hose to the downed firefighter’s buddy breather hose.
  • Buddy RIT to mask regulator. Firefighter No. 3 connects the RIT pack’s buddy breather hose to the downed firefighter’s universal air connection to bypass their SCBA.

Skills development not testing

It’s critical that all firefighters learn and practice these skills because when called upon to aid a firefighter who’s declared a mayday, failure is not an option. However, proper skills development does not take place by putting a firefighter into a zero-visibility environment (e.g., hood over their SCBA mask) before they’ve mastered the skills with everything in plain sight.

Only after several successful evolutions with full visibility their eyes open should you challenge firefighters by turning out the lights. Your goal should not just be skills development, but confidence development as well.

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