Who rescues firefighters when they are in trouble?
Firefighters often put themselves in harm’s way. Today building fires are very different from years ago. New building construction methods use more synthetic materials that burn hotter and new lightweight construction materials commonly fail, collapsing much quickly than traditional building materials. New protective gear worn by firefighters allows them to advance deeper into structures, closer to the seat of the fire. But as firefighters proceed further into a structure, the fire continues to develop and temperatures increase closer to the point of flashover. Flashover occurs when the combustible building materials are heated to their auto-ignition temperature, causing a near simultaneous ignition of everything in the room or area.
While the department trains firefighters to recognize flashover conditions and building collapse indications, they also must be prepared to react if any of these potentially fatal conditions occur.
The use of Rapid Intervention Teams (RIT) or Rapid Intervention Crews (RIC) has been standard operating procedure for some time now throughout the country. In fact, the NFPA and OSHA have requirements for rapid intervention teams at all structure fires. Additional crews are dispatched to structure fires with the sole purpose of search and rescue of other firefighters in distress.
In Chelsea, the fire officer in command of an incident may request a single engine or ladder company to stand by if the fire is small and quickly contained. Multiple alarm fires may require multiple rapid intervention teams.
“Having a rapid intervention team in place right away is vital to firefighter safety” stated Acting Fire Chief Robert Houghton.
Last week, Chelsea firefighters trained on searching for and removing firefighters in distress. The Soldiers Home allowed the department to use a closed section of their facility for the training. A smoke machine was used to fill the second floor with smoke and a fully equipped firefighter was placed in one of the rooms, covered in debris, to simulate a structure collapse scenario. Other firefighters searched for him in teams of two, simulating an actual incident. Different rescue scenarios were used during the training, including removing the firefighter from the second floor window, onto a ladder.
“This is a great opportunity to simulate actual conditions with zero visibility” stated Capt. Paul Doherty, the department’s training officer. “Once the trapped firefighter was found it took 6 to 8 additional firefighters to remove him during each scenario.”