Nov. 27, 2018 started like any other shift for Engine 48 on the upper Northeast side of Dallas, Texas. Lieutenant Pattie Kraft and her crew responded to 11450 Audelia Rd. The one alarm fire in the apartment quickly grew to multiple alarms.
Lt. Kraft and her crew had entered the structure on the second floor searching for citizens. She and her crew of three attempted to knock back heat and flames to reach the potential trapped victims. Lt. Kraft gathered her crew close together in order to back out.
The fire suddenly wrapped behind them and obstructed their only way out. The punishing heat pushed the crew to the ground.
“Battalion 2 to Engine 48, come out of that building!”
“Chief I want to, but it’s hot and we are stuck!”
“Received! Battalion 2 to Command, Engine 48 is calling a Mayday! They are on the second floor Delta side.”
Command, “Second floor Delta side correct?”
Battalion 2, “Affirmative!”
Command responded, “Tracking outside on a Mayday. We got a Mayday, Mayday, Mayday! All companies we got a Mayday, Mayday, all companies we got a Mayday. Stay off the radio until further notice. Let’s change fireground to channel 10. We will change fireground to channel 10.”
The massive fire at the Cambridge Apartments grew quickly and Lieutenant Patti Kraft knew she was in a circumstance that she could not get herself or her crew of rookies out. Pray was the only thing left to do.
Texas USAR Team / Rapid Intervention Team
The Texas USAR Team served as the Rapid Intervention Team (RIT), standing by at this fire. NFPA and OSHA require FAST/FIT teams. These standards require that a minimum of two fire fighters be standing by in a full personal protective equipment while other crew members are working in hazardous atmospheres.
One unique piece of equipment is extra air containers. Trapped firefighters keep their main on, but can quickly plug into extra air provided by the RIT member.
The standards are the result of a series of incidents where fire fighters became lost, trapped or disoriented while fighting a structure fire with a FAST/RIT team present. What was once called Rapid Intervention Crews (RIC) has morphed into Rapid Intervention Teams (RIT).
Keith Massingill, Captain of the RIT for Dallas Fire Rescue, responded to this rescue. Having been automatically dispatched to the multialarm fire, the RIT quickly studied the fire, set up according to training and located themselves in the perfect place to provide rescue.
They nailed it because when Lt. Kraft and her crew needed them, they were already in the right position with the right equipment and team. Everything played out perfectly, per training.
Knocking down the fire that blocked egress for Engine 48 was difficult, but firefighters’ “get-it-done” personalities and the right training are prepared for difficult situations.
One tool that helped locating the trapped firefighters was the self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) contained built-in infrared detectors. Usually there is only one detector on an apparatus and it is handheld. Each member has the capability to located heat generated by bodies. The RIT used this device to quickly locate and remove the trapped firefighters.
Engine 48’s crew members were located and retrieved within minutes of the Mayday call. Crew members did have a few injuries (burns to the neck area) and the all too familiar heat exhaustion firefighters face.
Lieutenant Kraft made one request of me when writing this article. She said, “Please give all the recognition to the RIT team members” and with that she refused to be photographed. However, one of Lieutenant Kraft’s rookies Tamisha Lamb was interviewed saying, “You train as you fight and fight as you train.” Other’s made the case, “If you think you are in trouble, don’t be afraid to call for help.”
Calling for help when needed is what emergency rescuers do inside our team dynamics. We know how to communicate and, we know when we are in trouble we need rapid intervention. The work firefighters, paramedics and police do is just too risky not to be a good team. Fire departments across the county are doing more with less, but keeping these well-trained teams is imperative to the lives of rescuers and our citizens.
The final say came from Battalion 2 about this Mayday, “The key to a successful Mayday is communication.”