Basic Survival Skills and the Probationary Firefighter - Part 4

The fourth and final part of this series continues where we left off last time. We continue to discuss skills, techniques, and tactics that if implemented properly will keep us safe. Skills and Techniques


Follow a hoseline to safety: This is an easy drill in the firehouse. Lay out 100 feet of hose and allow a firefighter with his or her vision obscured to flee in the direction of the engine outside. By feeling the coupling, a member with gloves on can determine which way is toward danger and which way heads outside (see Figure 1).

Entanglements: Never take off your SCBA unless failing to do so will result in your untimely death! If you are entangled, say a lightweight hanging ceiling has fallen on you, and you become encumbered in cable wires, fiber optics, and other wires, try backing up and removing the entanglement. Remember, you don’t want to remove your SCBA unless it’s the last resort. Stay calm, this is a serious situation, begin the process of calling for help immediately. Start to self-extricate. Keep your wire cutters readily accessible… this might be the time to use them. Make sure you don’t cut your SCBA airline, your finger, or an electric wire.

SCBA removal: There are two techniques taught in John Norman’s Fire Officer’s Handbook of Tactics 3rd edition (page 249 and 250). One involves the partial removal of the SCBA, thus allowing the user to negotiate a narrow space, and a second technique that is more involved. This second technique requires the removal of the SCBA (the face piece remains in place for both techniques). It allows the user to remove obstructions or permits the firefighter to flee an entanglement hazard (see Figure 2). These techniques are great training activities. Practice them in the station with full gear and vision obscured. Create an entanglement hazard in a safe non-IDLH setting. Members can stand around and watch and learn. Never create an entanglement hazard during a live burn or a smoke drill. That’s just looking for trouble and a good way to hurt somebody.

Make sure fire doesn’t get behind you: Periodically check the ceiling above you for fire extension. Start from areas of safety, such as from the doorway entrance/exit. If the ceiling were to come down, your safety is enhanced by being in the doorway and not in the middle of the room where the ceiling can fall in potentially one big piece. Also, always beware of the danger of backdraft explosions anytime you open up a void. Knowledge of fire behavior is critical to your survival! Remember that fire can travel up, down, left, right, forward, and back. Maintain situational awareness at all times to avoid being trapped by an advancing fire!

Use of a short length of rope: To prevent disorientation and getting lost, don’t forget the value of a short length of rope. Even searching a cluttered room off of a fire escape might require a guide to safety. A short length of rope in your pocket, 25 feet or so, will give you a lot of freedom and confidence. Use common sense and proper search techniques, but use the rope as an addition to your safety.

Buddy system: A good way to stay out of trouble is to always work with a partner. Two sets of eyes are better than one. If you get in trouble, you always have someone to aid you. Don’t work alone, maintain team integrity!

No freelancing: Freelancing is going off and doing what you want to do without any orders or anyone being aware of your location. This is really dangerous and foolish. Work within the incident command system.

Accountability: Regardless of the system your department uses, accountability dramatically aids in your safety. If your location is known, then help can be sent to you. If no one has a clue as to where you’re working, then you’re in real trouble!

Door chocks: Beware of doors closing on hoselines or locking behind you: By carrying a door chock, you can stop a door from closing on a hoseline and acting like a hose clamp. Also, by preventing a door from closing behind you, not only your safety, but also the safety of your colleagues is enhanced. Multiple means of egress allow for firefighters to flee rapidly.

Don’t bunch up: Try to avoid bunching up on the stairs or near the exit points. Firefighters needing to flee do not want to be hampered by members blocking the stairs and exits. Keep these areas clear all the time.

Keep an eye out: If you think a member is in danger, you can also initiate a Mayday transmission on the part of someone else. Give accurate information and make sure you know what you are talking about!