More than one student asked the question during the July Industrial Fire School at Texas A&M University ─ “Isn’t the rapid intervention team supposed to rescue firefighters only?”

The confusion was the outgrowth of certain short cuts necessary to keep the training on schedule at Brayton Fire Training Field. Sometimes the number of students on hand fell short of that needed for the planned evolution. Rather than designate separate rescuers for firefighters and operators the same two-person RIT team doubled up to handle both.

Lending further to the confusion, both the fallen firefighter and the injured operator were represented by homemade dummies fashioned from old bunker gear. Obviously, operators on duty usually wear fire retardant workwear, not bunker gear.

One instructor questioned about the responsibility of the RIT team offered a practical example rather than a textbook definition. The RIT team is for emergency responders, period.

“But if you’ve got an operator lying beside a responder, grab them both up,” the instructor said.

Guidelines published by the IAFC states that RIT “ensures the risks faced by our personnel are minimized through sound risk management practices and safety procedures.”

“The objective is to have a fully equipped rescue team on scene and in a ready state to deploy for rescuing injured and trapped firefighters,” the guidelines state.

Prioritizing firefighters means a lot more than just looking out for your buddies first. In the rapidly changing environment of an industrial fire scene, giving as much protection as possible to the firefighters expedites the primary mission that exceeds all others, even firefighting.

The first question an arriving responder asks is not about wind direction, isolation or electrical issues. It is always, “Is everyone accounted for?” And, if someone is not accounted for, the firefighters are the people responsible for finding them.

However, we do not ask our firefighters to lay down their lives in some futile gesture that can only add to the death toll. The first water applied to the fire is not an effort to save the property but to provide coverage that makes any rescues possible.

“The heck with the unit,” the instructor told his students. “I can replace it.”

With more than enough firefighters to work with, an incident commander might assign the RIT team to rescue an operator if an ideal circumstance presents itself early on. Incident command structure is meant to be flexible enough to deal with the unexpected opportunity as well as calamity.

RIT teams are not intended to be callous or uncaring about civilians. A RIT team is meant to render immediate aid to the people who have a chance to affect the outcome of the transpiring emergency. And that may well lead to saving the lives of those trapped or endangered by that emergency.

It is all food for thought. So I extend an open invitation to any fire brigade officer training at Brayton to give me a call at Industrial Fire World, and let me buy lunch or dinner while we will discuss RIT teams or any other aspect of industrial firefighting. It will keep you better fed and keep me better informed.