RIT Deployment “Firefighter Triage”

The Ultimate Test!


Firefighters rescue civilians everyday from the interior of a working structure fire and SAVE a lot of lives by going interior to suppress and search for trapped occupants. Saving Lives is our top priority and this is the reason civilians respect firefighters so much. Respect is huge and should not be taken likely. It’s not easy to earn, but can easily be lost. I think generally most civilians respect the average firefighter and place them on a pedestal in comparison to other occupations. Firefighters should respect this and work to continue this admiration that has been placed on our calling. I appreciate the admiration/respect that most civilians give us, but it is not what I’m looking for in relation to earning respect/admiration. The civilian is very high on my priority list, but the firefighters I’m responsible for are VERY high on this same list and they frequently RISK their lives to save others; and I want to feel confident, that I have the abilities to command a Firefighter Rescue Operation “Mayday”. I view this, as the ultimate test that I may face one day as a Fire Ground Commander. I literally think about it every single day. I study previous Maydays and RIT OPERATIONS. I also do a lot of WHAT IFs???? What if this happens, What if that happens and how would I/we deal with that. I don’t think we can do, to much What if thinking.


Recently I gave notice to my battalion that we would be performing a RIT DRILL and gave them some of the details. I explained it would involve a down firefighter, trapped in a collapse. That they would be required to use airbags in a low visibility environment, under challenging conditions. They were given a few weeks to prepare/ train however they deemed necessary.

The drill consisted of two firefighters trapped in a basement under a simulated collapse. We used couches with bags of concrete as weight to simulate a floor on top of rescue dummies. One of the dummies/down firefighters strictly had a mask on and no airpack. Ten feet away was another dummy/down firefighter with airpack and mask on. The bell was ringing or had just ran out once the RIT makes it down into the basement. We also had smoke detectors and pass devices sounding. This is critical for firefighters to learn the difference between a pass and a smoke detector. Smoke detectors can cause a false attraction and delay air/ rescue to a trapped firefighter. Once the RIT locates the down firefighter they must ID, check air, and silence the pass. These three priorities should almost be done together and reported to command. History tells us that we could find additional firefighters other than the one or ones that called a mayday. Historically a large number of firefighters have been located that never transmitted a call for HELP ” MayDay”.

During the drill, each RIT found the firefighter with strictly a mask on first. They did the above priorities the best they could. They were unable to ID the firefighter, because the firefighter was not properly marked. YES, properly marked. All firefighters operating on the fire ground should have their name on the bottom part of mask, front piece, and lower part of bunker coat. In addition to this, each air pack should be marked with company designation on the bottle band and front shoulder strap. With these markings, it should be fairly easy to ID a down firefighter and confirm the company they are assigned to. It still amazes me how many fire departments do not properly ID their firefighters. I have operated on the fire ground with both and it is a huge difference when firefighters are visibly marked.

Back to the drill.

Once the RIT gets the first firefighter on air and silences the pass, they hear a second pass ten feet away and this down firefighter has a fully operational airpack, that is very low on air or has just ran out. This is where the RIT has a serious decision to make. Do they try and get RIT PACK between the two and provide regulator to mask of first firefighter and trans-fill the second firefighter. This would be a Great option, but in this scenario, I purposely spread the two just enough that the RIT hoses would not reach. I wanted them to decide, yes down firefighter TRIAGE. Nobody wants to talk about it. Yes, everyone goes home. They just might not go home alive. This is a reality and we must train to save those that can be saved. We do it with civilians and we may be faced with this same situation during a RIT operation. I placed Chief Mcnames picture on my screen saver in December of 1999 and left it up for almost a year. I looked at his picture everyday and thought about the decisions he faced and the ones he made that night. I have never met him, but he has impacted my career and voyage to prepare for the ULTIMATE test. So do we disconnect the first firefighter, go trans fill the second, to then return to the first and re hook up the regulator?? I’m not sure, each situation could be different. Location, previous radio communications, signs of injuries, age of firefighter and other considerations that we don’t like to openly discuss. Down FIREFIGHTER TRIAGE.

Once you have established air to the down firefighter, now begins the extrication process. What tools will you need and have you trained using them in this kind of environment? Are the tools set up for RIT operations. Airbags used in a RIT operation need to be set up properly with ropes or webbing to assist in dragging and using in a hostile environment. They also need to be properly marked with isolation valves already pre connected. The hoses need to be mark where you can identify in low visibility. The control box and hose need to be stream lined. When operating two bags, you should have three different colors and something to help manage the hoses during deployment and while setting up once at the down firefighter. It can be very frustrating if you have not trained and thought out your air bag operation.

Back to the top.

The civilian respects you, but does your fellow firefighters RESPECT YOU?

Have you truly worked at preparing yourself for the Ultimate Rescue, a Firefighter Rescue?

I would like the civilians, I swore to protect, to respect what I do and how serious I take my calling. But more importantly, I really want my fellow firefighters to feel confident that I have done and will do whatever necessary to save them if they were to get caught or trapped in a fire. I hope that I am able to full fill my calling.

Everyday must be a Training Day!

Curt Isakson

Additional Note!

Do not run out of air as a RIT TEAM member with a FULL RIT AIR PACK in your hands or available. The RIT TEAM may need to share the RIT PACK. Practice trans-filling yourself. It takes practice..