The Portsmouth Fire Department’s responders have been participating in specialized firefighter rescue training at the now vacant Elmhurst School during the month of August.
Portsmouth Firefighters refer to this type of training as “RIT training”; RIT is an acronym for Rapid Intervention Team. At the scene of a fire, the RIT team is a team of firefighters that are tasked with rescuing any firefighter that becomes trapped, injured, or lost in a burning building. Typically, this group stands by in a position of readiness with specialized equipment, prepared to respond to any firefighter in distress.
The formulation of RIT teams and RIT practices began in the United States in the early 1990’s in response to high rate of firefighter fatalities and injuries. Each year in the United States approximately 100 firefighters lose their lives in the line of duty. Despite ever improving firefighting technology and fewer fires, our responders continue to die at essentially the same rate each year.
The reason for this situation is very complicated; but I will attempt to summarize in a few sentences. Firefighters, because of improved protective equipment, go farther and deeper into fires than ever before. The fires burn hotter and the smoke is more toxic than in years past, due to the difference in materials found in buildings today. Buildings are efficiently built with lightweight materials; unfortunately, these materials do not hold up well when exposed to fire and fail much earlier than the materials used in older buildings.
The federal government attempted to address this issue with the passage of the OSHA Respiratory Protection Standard CFR 1910.134; also known as the 2 in / 2 out rule. This mandate states that a fire department, in order to send two responders into a burning building, must have two responders standing by outside the structure. Anyone who has ever pulled or training to pull a downed firefighter from a burning building will tell you that it requires a minimum of 4 firefighters to rescue 1 distressed firefighter.
Portsmouth Fire Department responds to a report of a building fire with 7 responders. The jobs to be accomplished include fire attack, search and rescue, ventilation, and the shutting down of utilities. OSHA mandates that firefighters operate in teams of at least 2 responders. So, where do we get our 4 responder RIT team? Our RIT teams come from outside fire departments and Portsmouth provides RIT teams to our surrounding communities as well because of their staffing.
The pictures and videos attached with this posting show firefighters rescuing one of their own. The responders are working in zero visibility; we smoked up the building using smoke machines. The pictures were taken through one of the department’s thermal imager cameras. While not as dark as real smoke, training smoke does not cause damage to a building or its contents. We attempt to make the training as realistic as possible; complete with radio communication and full use of protective gear. Absent from the realistic drill is the heat from fire and the adrenaline that comes with attempting to save life in such a dangerous environment.
This training also marked the debut of the Department’s first true RIT pack. A RIT pack is a piece breathing apparatus, similar to the ones we wear on our backs, specifically designed for firefighter rescue. Basically, this supply of fresh air is brought into the building with the RIT team. If the downed firefighter is out of air or his or her breathing apparatus has failed, they can get lifesaving fresh air from the RIT pack to the victim.
This equipment was one of the last pieces of equipment purchased by our former Chief, Jeffery Lynch. Our responders witnessed firsthand what a difference this specialized tool can make in a RIT operation. Firefighters in and around Portsmouth are safer today because of the purchase of this equipment.