ORLANDO, Fla. – For some women in the Orlando Fire Department, the Rapid Intervention Team (RIT) is a chance to train, compete and put their skills to the test.
RIT is a team set to step into life-threatening situations if needed. An initial group of firefighters work during emergency situations, like a building collapse, to save lives, but the RIT team is ready to respond should those firefighters need extra assistance. For example, if they get hurt, trapped inside the building or experience gear malfunctions, the RIT is ready to respond.
The competing teams have always been men, so the Orlando Fire Department decided to ask for volunteers and created an all-women’s team in 2018. District Chief Lori McDonald, Lt. Jackie Pollock, engineer Shari Tramell, firefighter Rachel Camacho and firefighter Terra Hutcheson make up the department’s first all-women’s team.
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Because none of the team members are part of the heavy rescue unit that responds as RIT, McDonald says the competitions give the women the opportunity to perfect their techniques.
In the competitions, teams go through an obstacle and respond to a situation that includes finding and packaging a victim. The team includes a commander and a four-person team going through the obstacle.
The team tries to get together to train frequently and even built a mock-up maze of something they could be put through. McDonald said the competition team allows the women to practice skills they normally wouldn’t get the chance to.
Becoming a firefighter wasn’t always McDonald’s dream job, but when she became exposed to the career, she said she fell in love with it. She’s been with Orlando Fire Department now for 22 years. Like her, many of the women on the RIT competition team have also been with the department for decades.
“That’s what I love about [the team],” she said. “It’s these females that have been on the department for a very long time who are putting themselves out there.”
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In the years the team has been competing, McDonald says they’ve only seen one other all-women’s team from the state so far, but everyone at the competitions has always been very supportive. And while they may not be the top finisher, McDonald says the team has made huge improvements since the beginning.
She says their goal is to improve each time and maybe even come back better than one of their men’s teams.
In total, the Orlando Fire Department currently has about 25 women.