The call rang out over the radio at the scene of a "fire" on Westway Road this week. First one Westport firefighter, then two, then three, were reported trapped in the basement as the ceiling above them partially collapsed.
Westport Assistant Fire Chief Michael Kronick quickly dispatched the Rapid Intervention Team, a group of Fairfield firefighters, that were ready and waiting at the scene to enter the house and rescue the endangered firefighters. They were deployed with tools, extra air packs and a thermal imaging camera.
A few minutes later, all firefighters walked out of the house unscathed -- which was expected since Monday's scenario was part of a week-long joint training exercise by the neighboring departments.
The RIT is an expansion of mutual-aid agreements between the two towns in effect for many years, and the drills represent an enhanced state of that cooperation. The training has been staged at a house at 18 Westway Road -- scheduled for demolition -- in the Southport section of town near the Westport border.
Under standard practice, the RIT will stand by at the scene of a fire, ready to provide assistance if firefighters become injured, lost, disoriented or trapped.
For example, at the recent Crane Street in Fairfield where a mother and daughter died, while Fairfield's firefighters battled the blaze, Westport's RIT was sent to the scene, ready if needed. Fairfield firefighters stood ready to do the same at a recent fire at the Harvest Commons condominiums in Westport.
"In the aftermath of some multiple line of duty deaths, we need to dedicate resources to be ready to go in and get our guys," Fairfield Assistant Fire Chief Chris Tracy said. "We need to have a team ready."
Kronick said it is an OSHA regulation that whenever two people are sent into a hazardous situation, two people have to stay outside, ready to make a rescue if needed
"It's all about firefighter safety," Kronick said. "We've all had close calls; we don't want to have close calls anymore."
Kronick recalled a fire in Westport about 12 years ago where a firefighter got trapped on the second floor. "He just basically jumped through the second-floor window. They were all fighting the fire," he said.
Firefighters are called to fight fires that have changed over the last several decades, Kronick said. "Everything is made in China, and everything is made of plastic," he said, "and plastic is solid fuel oil."
Even though the number of fires has been dropping, many fires these days are hotter, smokier and spread more rapidly.
"We're fortunate to get the opportunity to do these drills with the guys from Westport," said Fairfield Lt. Robert Smith. "This is about saving ourselves, rescuing ourselves."
It gives a different perspective, Smith said, "to be rescuing on of your own."