These have all been possible as a result of the rapid intervention procedures in place and the specialized training each firefighter has undergone.
Indeed, rapid intervention team operations have become the norm and have proven invaluable in almost all situations the fire service handles. But RIT operations have only been institutionalized in the fire service during the last few decades. As McGrail writes in his book Firefighter Operations in High-Rise and Standpipe-Equipped Buildings McGrail (2007, p. 59):
During the decade of the '90s, and into the beginning of the 21st century, the whole concept of rapid intervention was developed and has evolved into what it is today. From a time when even the term RIT was foreign to most fire departments, to today when RIT is not only common term to most, it is now the topic of countless articles...most fire departments operate with some form of RIT in a standby position at all fireground operations.
Although RIT has become standard in the fire service, during the 9-11 and Katrina disasters, it was found that either there were not enough RIT teams or none at all in some fire departments in Louisiana. For the RIT teams that were deployed, their training could not have prepared ten for with of these two events. The 9-11 attacks for example, when the firefighters arrived on scene, they did not have the capabilities to reach the floors that were on fire due to the height. In addition, rescuing people became difficult not only because there were a lot of them trapped in the higher floors and there was no way to reach them. Thos firefighters who were able to enter the buildings had to contend with falling debris, smoke, panicking people and even toxic materials and fumes.
During Hurricane Katrina, the fire service's major role of firefighting took to the sidelines because majority of the tasks involved search, rescue, retrieval and evacuation of trapped people. The event also proved tremendously difficult because there were not enough firefighters to serve the numerous victims of Hurricane Katrina. A new reality was also faced by the fire service during Hurricane Katrina and this was more on the personal aspects of the firefighters involved. Since those who responded during Hurricane Katrina, particularly those belonging to the different fire departments in Louisiana, were residents of the state or cities/municipalities struck by the disaster, these firefighters have families that were victims also. Thus, there have been reports that some firefighters left their duties in order to attend to their families needed rescuing. This did not happen though immediately but occurred one some of the firefighters realized that they are facing an impossible situation and the next prudent thing to do was to ensure the safety of their families.
Aside from having to face impossible situations and lack of available personnel to manage events of the magnitude that the 9-11 and Hurricane Katrina events demonstrated, other major problems faced by the fire service in dealing with these two disasters included "flawed policies, [lack of] leadership, and organization at both the national and local levels of government (Weitz, 2005). These findings were clearly documented in both the House and the Senate during the hearings done after the two events. Details of the outcome of the hearings are discussed in the succeeding section.
D. Findings of the House and the Senate on the 9-11 and Hurricane Katrina
During the House and Senate hearings held after the 9-11 and Hurricane Katrina events, findings pointed out to several things that went wrong. One glaring finding regarding both events is the lack of communications amongst the responding agencies. For instance, on the morning of September 11, New York police officers were able to hear the radio warnings from helicopters that the North Tower of the World Trade Center was glowing red and most of the police officers exited the building safely, while dozens of firefighters who could not hear those same warnings, tragically perished when the tower collapsed (U.S. House of Representatives, 2005). In the Senate, communications figured also as an area lacking during Hurricane Katrina. More particularly, the findings were, "Destruction of communications towers and equipment in particular limited the ability of crews to communicate with one another, undermining coordination and efficiency. Rescuers also had to contend with weapons fire, debris, and polluted water. (Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, 2006)" Consequently, both cases showed that the fie service will have to revisit their communications system and how this can be integrated with other agencies in order for the problems faced during the 9-11 and Hurricane Katrina events will not happen again. Without an integrated communication system, the fire service cannot properly manage disasters along the lines of these two events.
Although communications have been the general problem in both events. There are subtle differences through and Donald Moynihan provided two different outcomes of how communications were used during the two events. For the 9-11 terrorist attacks, Moynihan states (2007), "The response to this event has been described as a success by the 9/11 Commission, which recommended the widespread use of the Incident Command System." In the case of Hurricane Katrina, "The response to Katrina featured neither an effective network nor an effective hierarchy. It lacked a clear command and positive working relationships among key actors (Moynihan, 2007)." Consequently it is clear that the latter have provided enough communications support on the strategic level to ensure that emergency services would have deployed properly. Nonetheless, there was still a problem with communications though at the ground level because the various emergency response services have no unified communications systems on the ground. The same goes through with Katrina but it was more disastrous because of the lack of strategic coordinating efforts. What happened then in both cases is that the fire departments involved had to act on their own and often had conflicts with other services due to the lack of unified communications. The reason for this state of affairs is that public safety agencies traditionally have made individualized decisions about information and communications technology, generally failing to purchase state-of-the-art technology that operates effectively and interoperates with others involved in emergency response (Weiser, 2007, p. 548).
With the problems of communications faced by the fire departments, what they did was respond to calls from various entities and deploy personnel as needed or based on triage. Often it became a first-come-first-served matter until the fire department personnel reached its limit or there was already a lack of personnel to be deployed in problem areas. Specifically, "Hurricane Katrina was the largest natural disaster in the United States in living memory, affecting 92,000 square miles and destroying much of a major city (Moynihan, 2010);" with these figures in mind, imagine the area of responsibility the fire departments and the gravity of the situation they had to faced. Unlike the 9-11 terrorist incidents whereby the area of deployment was confined and static, for Katrina, it is everywhere and anywhere. Thus, fire departments in the area had no way of truly providing the response needed to those that faced the disaster. Indeed, from the various reports of the two Houses of Congress, it is clear that fire departments should have additional support when faced with similar or worst disasters like the 9-11 and Katrina events. As recommended during the House hearings, "To best equip our Nation's first responders to do their job, they must be able to communicate with one another, not just between fire, police, EMS in one jurisdiction, but also on the local, State, and Federal jurisdictions (U.S. House of Representatives, 2005)."
E. Lessons Learned and Implementation of the Plan Thereafter
The lessons of the 9-11 and Katrina disasters are clear, no fire department at present can manage such disasters of those magnitudes without establishing major paradigm shifts in the make-up of the contemporary fire service. One of the changes that has to be made in order for the fire departments to handle future events such these two is to look at the fire service as a service that not only operates on land but may have operational requirements also in the air and water. In the case of the New Orleans Fire Department, one of the Senate findings stated (Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, 2006):
The Office of Emergency Preparedness for New Orleans, long known to be among the nation's cities most vulnerable to a catastrophic hurricane, had a staff of only three. Its police and fire departments, responsible for search and rescue activities, had five and no boats, respectively. In 2004, the city turned down a request by the New Orleans Fire Department to fund the purchase of six additional boats.
It may be perplexing to note how the city of New Orleans never thought about the importance for the New Orleans Fire Department to have their own boats especially since the city has various waterways traversing and surrounding it. Had the city provided the…