Lack of visibility: A good way to really ruin your day is falling down a flight of stairs or off the roof. If you can’t see your feet, you need to crawl. This applies on the roof as well! Don’t risk walking off a roof; don’t feel foolish for crawling when you are not inside the building. A change in wind direction may cause the smoke to completely disorient you. Always use your tool to probe in front of you, always check for a solid platform to move onto. Remember to always have two flashlights with you at all times.
Oncoming traffic: Most drivers are absolutely oblivious when it comes to seeing firefighters operating at the scene. The drivers become fixated on the apparatus lights and activity and fail to pay attention to where they’re going. To prevent being hit by a car, use the apparatus as a shield for you and your colleagues. When operating at a car fire on a busy thoroughfare, the apparatus chauffeur should place the apparatus to block oncoming traffic in one lane (or more depending on circumstances). This 15-ton barricade will do more to enhance your safety than any cones will ever do. Sure, the more visibility that you create the safer you are. Cones, flares (where appropriate), and adequate scene lighting are all great, but nothing is better than that heavy apparatus to protect you from some drunk.
Oncoming traffic (continued): As silly as it sounds, look both ways before getting out of the apparatus and before crossing the street! Remember what we said a moment ago, many drivers are completely oblivious to you. Not getting struck by a car is just as important as a well-executed escape from a dangerous fire situation.
This four-part series covered a lot of little things that can really add up to protecting you and your colleagues. Are there more points and techniques than are listed here? Of course! The point of this series is to give you, the probationary firefighter, a foundation to build on. Know your job! Never stop learning. Firefighter safety and survival is a broad and complex subject that requires constant training. We are dealing with perishable skills that must be exercised and evaluated periodically.
The probationary firefighter’s training doesn’t stop after the fire academy; rather, the training is just beginning. Every firefighter should be able to implement survival skills instantly the moment the need presents itself. Remember, another critical point, call for help the very moment you think you’re in trouble. Time is of the essence; there is no time to waste. Don’t worry about the potential for being embarrassed. Your goal is to make it home to your family.
ARMAND F. GUZZI JR. has been a member of the fire service since 1987. He is a career fire lieutenant with the City of Long Branch, NJ, Fire Department and is the deputy director of the Monmouth County, NJ, Fire Academy where he has taught for over 20 years. He has a masters degree in management and undergraduate degrees in fire science, education, and business administration. View all of Armand's articles here. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.