Training: One man RIT drill: Training and building your shift
Rapid Intervention Team (RIT) training has always been a topic of much discussion. Some believe it’s the most important training we can involve in our yearly training schedules, as it covers saving our own, a downed fire fighter. A high-risk, low frequency operation that can become emotional and personal, based on the individuals experience training and conditions. Others believe the mentality of “it will never happen to me/us/our department” or “do your job right and you won’t need to be saved.” So the coffee table debate rages on, useful vs useless. Added fuel to this fire is the “standard” drill formats offered up by many fire houses across the country. Computer-based, PowerPoint driven, table top overviews of skills that must be manipulated to develop proficiency in a physically and mentally demanding task. This style of “training” typically leads to zero buy in on both sides of the argument and furthers the riff between these opposing views. We are not challenging our members comfort or skill. This form of education does not promote growth and a sharing of skills and ideas but perpetuates the status quo and furthers the divide. There are times we must challenge ourselves and our members with an all-encompassing physically and/or mentally taxing scenario. When we base our drills on fact science and experience while keeping our members engaged, you’ll find the buying and knowledge taken away from it will improve the performance in all aspects of our job.
Let me preface this drill with this: it is not meant to be a scenario-based drill but rather a physical and mental challenge of your skills, air management and ‘no-quit’ drive. Anyone that challenges this drill will feel the stress physically and mentally as it will take 100 percent of you physically and your ‘A’ game mentally, to be successful. Those that dismiss the drill based off realism, are missing the point.
The “One Man RIT Drill”, simply named due to the fact that at its core, it’s a rescue of a downed fireman by one single fire fighter, didn’t start as a lone fire fighter attempted drill but rather a company drill.
According to Don Abbott’s project mayday, (www.projectmayday.net), which has compiled mayday statistics and organised them from over 4 337 career fire departments across the United States (as of December 2017), the highest incidence of maydays from 2015-2017 were falls into the basement (coming in at 20,3 percent, total of 867 incidents), 40 percent of which were due to a collapse. In 20 percent of those incidents, the stairs were compromised. Couple this information with a near miss we experienced in our own town , an LODD and a close call from Sacramento. This drill was created from a single conversation: we’ve all talked about how to rescue a fire fighter from a hole in the floor but in the case of a unresponsive downed fire fighter how are we getting down to him or her? Add in a few inspired drills taken from a RIT class that we had attended at our state institute, the drill was created for our years’ RIT training.
The drill was simple, in terms of the goal, a downed fire fighter who had fallen through the floor after a collapse needed rescue, any and all tools from the truck could be use in the rescue and the stairs were compromised. Using our bay floor, our hose tower and a basement that had been sealed and fogged up using a smoke machine, crews needed to make their way to the basement using the hose tower, find the downed fire fighter, package him (including mitigating any SCBA issue found or getting them air via RIT Pack) and bring him up the hose tower (1-storey- 12ft) to the bay floor and drag him out, without running out of air. When crews found the downed fire fighter, he would have light debris on top of him/her and issues including improperly worn SCBA, mask compromise, low/out of air etc.
The drill played out as a typical drill would, there were mistakes with equipment and communication, many different methods were attempted with uses of ladders, rescue equipment and company manpower consisting of three to four members. Most crews were successful to varying degrees of success, time to extraction dictating that measure of success.
After the drill was completed, our shift began to discuss whether this same drill would feasible for one man to complete. After research, again using Abbott’s project mayday on career fire departments, only 7,2 percent of mayday rescues were made by a designated RIT team. It became clear that regardless of whether it was feasible or not, it was more likely that it would either be the crew involved in the mayday (28,2 percent) or an interior crew working (26 percent) that would perform the rescue. With the possibility of working in a three-man engine (FF, Engineer and LT) company in our town, we decided that if this was going to be a single man attempt, it would be treated as follows: your partner has fallen through the floor and this was your attempt to rescue him or her as part of that 28,2 percent of mayday crews that rescued their own.
A single fire fighter will start approximately 50′ from the hose tower door and drag his/her equipment. His/her equipment could consist of whatever equipment he/she carried on their person such a carabiners, webbing etc. (the rule being that it had to be consistently carried and not added just for drill), two hand tools (irons, hooks etc), a rope bag and a RIT Pack. The fire fighter would then open the hose tower door and descend the tower using whichever method they chose (other challengers were standing-by for safety checks of ropes, knots, etc) At this point the fire fighter would have to enter the basement room (or in this case a basement garage, that was either cinematically smoked up or blacked out (no windows with the lights off) to near zero visibility conditions, find the downed fire fighter, mitigate the SCBA problem using the RIT Pack and low drag him approximately 20′ to the hose tower. Once isolated in the hose tower, the fire fighter would have to ascend the single story back to the bay floor, haul the downed fire fighter to that floor and then drag him out the 50′ that was initially traversed in the beginning. All of this would have to be done without the downed fire fighter running out of air (in which in this case, for obvious reasons, was a 175Ib Rescue Randy wearing an SCBA with mask) or the challenger running out of air or quitting. Impossible right? Four of our members have been able to complete this challenge.
Though this drill may have become competitive among shift members, multiple training points were constantly enforced and reinforced during the process. Some of these points included: isolating yourself and downed members from rapidly changing conditions, proper use of ropes and knots, proper assessment and packaging of a downed fire fighter (reset PASS device, AIR , STRAPS, GO, in that order), knowing your equipment among many other topics.
Trials and tribulations
This article alone is one year in the making and its for good reason, it took us close to one year to have a member successfully complete this challenge, with the following three members succeeding within the same week. The reason behind that is simple: it was a team success. With every attempt, new methods and ideas were tried, getting closer and closer to success. Problems beginning with how to properly descend the hose tower, not only safely and efficiently but with the fore-thinking of how to get back up. How would you properly manage carrying all the tools needed? How would the downed fire fighter be packaged to be able to manage the drag and ascent of the hose tower? How would we ourselves ascend back up the hose tower? How would we manage to haul the weight of a 175 pound rescue randy, along with a 28 pound RIT pack and a 22 pound air pack? Every one of these issues, along with many others, had to be addressed among the hardest obstacle: how would these obstacles be addressed under the stresses of being physically tired from the work involved and mentally exhausted while on air and in full gear?
Science pulled from studies of human stress and survival reaction in combat situations from our brothers and sisters in the military, will tell you that your fine motor skills and critical thinking will be hampered at varying levels of elevated heart rates. From fine motor skills beginning to dissipate at 115bpm to motor skill breakdown, auditory exclusion and “tunnel vision” occurring at 175bpm, this drill was proof of that. We saw our own abilities deteriorate during the most strenuous parts of this drill. Our shift members watched as our ropes and knots specialist mess up a simple clove hitch when he was trying to haul the downed fire fighter up the single storey ascent. We watched as another member completely disregard the PASS device activation for minutes only to find out he didn’t remember hearing it at all. Simple tasks, that under normal circumstances, would be easy, were hard even for the most practiced of members. The solution became clear to us, the more we trained in those conditions, our heart rates would not elevate to those levels and even when they did, our bodies became accustomed to working in them.
The point of this drill is to simply push a fire fighter to his or her physical exhaustion point, his or her mental breaking point. What are we made of when the odds are stacked against us? Will we quit or continue on and make another attempt in the face of failure. It is a culmination of many skills and talents including knowing your equipment, ropes and knots, RIT assessments, fire fighter drags, systems, critical thinking and so much more. It’s the ultimate test that can be achieved within the firehouse walls.
Without giving away the tricks, tips and solutions we came to during our year-long venture, I challenge any readers to attempt to recreate this drill within their respective departments and take on the one-man RIT drill. I challenge the readers to do it within the ranks of their shifts or respected members in the fire service to try and overcome the trials and tribulations in their own ways because that is where the true result of the one man RIT drill arises.
Building your shift
One of the strongest attributes of a quality shift of fire fighters is how cohesive they are in their operations. Among the members of our shift, we obsessed over what the current issue at hand of our own individual attempts were, in the after hours of our daily duties and drills. If one member was successful using one method, that method would be taught to all challenging members and added to their respected strategies. It wasn’t long until every single members attempt looked identical from the descent, to the drag and to the ascent. There was a certain amount of pride in seeing your own method or idea being used in another challenger’s attempt and that was reciprocated when you yourself ended up using one of their methods. Don’t get me wrong, it was a race to the finish to see who would be successful first. In the end, though, we’d all still be making attempts individually had it not been for the whole shift’s effort.
For those with questions on how the drill was created, set up or completed by our members, I’m willing to elaborate but I strongly recommend taking on the one man RIT drill first. We are only as good as the conditions in which train and learn, to quote Archilochus “We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.” We owe it to our citizens and our brothers and sisters to expect more of ourselves everyday. Bring it back to the bay floor.
Source: Black Helmet Brotherhood