Rapid Intervention Teams within fire departments are vital to the survival of the firefighters within the organization. There is a national class, consisting of two parts, on how to be a RIT team.

The first part of the class, RIT 1, is classroom. It goes over the history of RIT teams, the importance of them, what is required, how to behave, etc, etc. As with most of the classes we take, not paying attention can get you killed, so it is a good idea to listen.

RIT 2 consists of a hands on practical. Throughout the day you get to try hands-on the techniques you learned in the classroom. Things like cutting a hole in the floor between floors and raising a firefighter through it. How to properly lower a firefighter in a Stokes Basket from the third floor, both down a ladder or straight down using only a piece of webbing, Rescue Rope, and a Carabiner. The final part of the second day is a real rescue. For us, the fourth floor of the old Law Library in Downtown Tampa was used. The entire building was going to be torn down, so we got to tear it up first. (I love being a firefighter :) The fourth floor (which none of us (save the instructors) had seen) was smoked out (using simulation smoke), and wax paper was put over our SCBA masks to insure we REALLY wouldn't be able to see. We then waited. Below is the account as best as I remember it:

Our team consisted of three personnel, myself, another officer (a captain - so he was team leader), and a probationary firefighter. We reviewed all the proper preplans, and had a general idea of the layout of the floor. However, half of the fourth floor was movable walls, so it could be in any configuration. While on standby, a mayday was alerted over the radios.

Incident Command immediately deployed us to the landing of the fourth floor with our gear. I was carrying a 30 foot section of rescue rope, a flashlight, a halligan bar, and had the search rope (search rope is deployed out of a special bag that is left at the entry of the team so that we can easily find our way back. We were informed by radio that the firefighter who was trapped had begun making a left-hand search, and had no idea where he was at.

We made entry to the fire floor and begun a left-hand search. We were able to make it through two rooms with no luck finding the firefighter. It is almost impossible to describe the conditions in words, but it is smoky, dark, you can't see, you are on your hands and knees, and under much duress. In addition, you have the noise from your air pack, the fire alarms, the rest of your team yelling so you don't get lost, and straining to hear any noise from the downed firefighter. It sucks.

At this point our team leader's air bottle alarm went off. Apparantly he had not been controlling his breathing. Wanting the second RIT team to know where we had been, I broke through one of the walls with the halligan bar, and tied off our search rope to it. We then exited the fire floor.

The second team made entry, found where we had been, and quickly proceeded past it. They were able to reach the downed firefighter, however, they did not have enough air left to make the rescue. They tied their search rope to him, and exited the fire floor.

Now, at this point, the firefighter had been located, but the second team had not taken a spare SCBA kit with them, so he was almost out of air. Even though we were only supposed to go in once, I made the decision that we were going to go back in to make the rescue. The rest of the team agreed, and we informed the I.C. We then proceeded back to the fourth floor.

Just before we reached the fire floor, our Captain backed out. He was exhausted (ended up being stuck with an IV because he was dehydrated too), and couldn't go on. I knew that if we could just get the rescue SCBA bottle to the firefighter, an imaginary fourth team would have time to make the rescue, and we would be credited with a save. We followed the second team's search rope back to the firefighter, and got his SCBA bottle switched out. Because we made it so fast, we felt we had time to attempt a rescue. We rigged a harness on him, and proceeded to try to drag him out. Unfortunately his arm was caught in some wire, and rather than have us go back and get him out, the instructors called it a 'save' and sent us out.

Even though this was just a training, it was as realistic as it gets. We had overturned desks, loose wires, hazards, etc. You forget that you are in training because your body switches to auto pilot mode and you just act. The feeling is unbelievable. We were credit with the save, and our name was written on the wall of fame in the lobby of the building (it is being torn down now - but we got pictures).

I am grateful for all of the experiences I have had during my career as a volunteer firefighter, but this was just amazing. I have seen a lot of fires, and car accidents, and all sorts of other things, but when it is your buddy, your brother that needs to be rescued, everything changes.

Thanks for taking the time to read this, and feel free to /msg me with any questions.