A human chain of firefighters makes its way through a dark tunnel in the basement of the former Porter Lumber Company in Morenci. They’re searching for another department member who should have emerged from the building several minutes ago.
Upstairs, another set of volunteers is making its way though the “entanglement room,” an area strewn with loose wires, insulation and heating ductwork. They have waxed paper covering their face masks to simulate the reduced vision inside a burning building.
Nearby, firefighters are working to remove a victim from a small enclosure—a space almost too small to move around in.
In each case, the goal is the same: Learning to prepare for the worst, for the time when a fellow department member is in trouble.
The training session Saturday introduced 30 firefighters from nine departments to the Rapid Intervention Team (RIT) concept. Whenever a department responds to an interior structure fire, a RIT team from a nearby support department is called to watch over the process.
There's value in the training that goes well beyond the basic purpose of rescue work.
“We’re preparing for RIT, but the firefighter survival skills taught are used every time you go into a burning building,” Morenci fire chief Chad Schisler said, and that’s of utmost importance to him.
When his department members crawl through an actual smoke-filled “entanglement room,” the skills they learned in RIT class could very well save their lives.