PLAISTOW — The Fire Department is leading a program for local firefighters to learn rescue skills aimed at helping colleagues in need and increasing survivability rates.
Nine nearby departments, including Atkinson, Newton, Londonderry and Hampstead, participate in the five-week programme.
The program is designed to predict and prevent life-threatening situations for firefighters in building fires.
Plaistow Fire Chief Chris Knutsen teaches the local Rapid Interventions Team Operations program after 20 years in Tennessee.
“If a civilian calls 9-1-1, we come to get them,” Knutsen said. “When we get there, we don’t have a 9-1-1. We need to be taught self-rescue because nobody else comes to us.”
A rapid response team is deployed whenever there is a fire in a building. Knutsen noted that rescuing a firefighter is different from rescuing a civilian.
Special abilities range from using equipment like ropes and rigging to conduct a rescue, being alert to distress radio signals, and profiling buildings to quickly pinpoint firefighters’ locations.
The program also teaches local agencies how to respond to lost, disoriented, trapped or entangled firefighters due to construction conditions and rapid fire development.
All actions are taken as a safeguard to prevent tragic loss or injury.
Knutsen knows that the work his and firefighters do is dangerous, but he hopes a program like this can help them return home to their families after each call.
“No fire department wants to suffer a fatality or significant injury on duty,” said Knutsen. “This is to prevent a fire department from experiencing the worst day in the history of this department.”
In addition to better support for his own department, he sees the training as a positive tool for surrounding departments to come together for one another.
He said many fire departments in the area don’t have enough staff to handle a call on their own and rely on the help of others.
“If we have a building fire here in Plaistow, there’s a chance Atkinson or another department will have to fill an RIT team position for us,” Knutsen said. “It’s a great program because we need training on it, but it’s also a good team building program and a cross-departmental relationship program.”
Atkinson Fire Chief Brian Murray sees the program as another opportunity to strengthen his department’s growing relationship with Plaistow Fire, as the two neighboring departments already work closely together.
Both are automatically dispatched together on Plaistow and Atkinson calls. It allows the two to bridge staffing needs and build a united front in their communities.
“The more you train together, the more aligned you are,” Murray said. “When things don’t go well, it’s because you’re not used to working together.”
He believes every firefighter should receive rapid response training.
Murray said this program is particularly important to Atkinson because of its proximity to Plaistow.
When a firefighter gets into trouble and needs the help of an RIT team, most of these situations occur early in the emergency when the first and second trucks arrive on scene.
Since the two are usually first and second trucks from both cities, Murray said they would likely serve as each other’s RIT team if needed.
Knutsen plans to offer the course at least once a year in the future, if not more often. He also wants to add another program of RIT combat drills that would add rescue skills simulation.