Basic Survival Skills and the Probationary Firefighter - Part 3

So far in Parts 1 and 2, we have discussed the core basics of firefighter safety and survival that every new or probationary firefighter must develop and attempt to master over the course of their fire-service careers. There’s so much to learn and so...


So far in Parts 1 and 2, we have discussed the core basics of firefighter safety and survival that every new or probationary firefighter must develop and attempt to master over the course of their fire-service careers. There’s so much to learn and so much to master, as it relates to this topic. It’s impossible to absorb it all and become proficient at each and every safety and survival skill in just a few short months. This is why your continued training and study is so critical.

Today, we seek to answer the question, “What skills should I have a working knowledge of?” Every probationary firefighter should leave their basic training with a certain degree of confidence, that in the event something went wrong, they can help themselves or at the very least direct assistance to themselves quickly.

This article covers basic survival skills. Each of the skills and techniques are highlighted and can form the basics of any survival program. Each topic is covered briefly and is designed to point out techniques that a member should have mastery of. For each skill discussed below, your next action is to explore each of these in depth. This can be part of a continuous company training program or possibly devoting several days of training at a fire academy for one specific topic.

These topics are each of great value, but by no means are the only techniques. A good, quality survival program leaves you with the knowledge that you can begin helping yourself at any emergency.

Team Effort

Before we begin talking about techniques all members must be familiar with, it is critical to emphasize that firefighting is a team effort. Our safety and survival is enhanced when a sufficient amount of competent personnel, who are properly equipped, are available.

Some tactics and techniques that directly relate to firefighter safety and survival are beyond the probationary firefighter’s ability. For example, an incident commander has a leading roll in keeping his or her members safe from harm. Just some of these precautions include the following:

Adequate scene lighting, both inside and outside

Effective, adequate, and controlled ventilation removes combustible and poisonous gases, reduces the danger of flashover and backdraft, and increases visibility. Ventilation is not an afterthought; it must be considered often and adjusted as needed.

  • A strong incident command system (ICS) where accountability is provided for all responders
  • A rapid intervention company (RIC) or companies. This must be more than just a “check in the box.” An RIC is a sufficient amount of highly trained and competent personnel (at least half a dozen) who are properly equipped and capable of going into action instantly!
  • Two sustained water supplies (redundancy enhances survival)
  • An attack line of appropriate diameter and flow to prevent the danger of flashover. The unburned combustible gases overhead are just looking to ignite. With enough heat and oxygen, the potential exists for members to be incinerated! A charged hoseline must be staffed and protecting the members conducting operations inside the building. In most instances, it will be positioned between the life hazard and the fire. A well-placed attack line protects members from extreme forms of fire behavior.
  • A backup line of equal to or greater diameter than the attack line. The backup line provides the same or more water in the event the attack line encounters difficulty (i.e., a burst length, loss of water supply, severe fire conditions, etc.)
  • Progress reports. Division and Group Supervisors and/or firefighters and fire officers in key positions (roof, rear of the building, exposures, etc.) must give periodic reports to the Incident Commander (IC). The quality of Information, Intelligence, and Reconnaissance all directly affect whether people will live or die. These key players become the IC’s eyes and ears (see Figure 1).
  • A sufficient tactical reserve of resources ready to expand the IC’s strategy if conditions rapidly change
  • A 360-degree size-up so the IC knows what the building looks like and what conditions are being faced, inside, outside, and all around including the roof.
  • Control of utilities (gas, water, and electric) prevents additional dangers and threats to survival
  • Proactive approach to firefighter safety. An IC at the top of his game will always be proactive when it comes to the safety of his firefighters. For example, creating additional egress points such as forcing open multiple doors or laddering multiple sides of the building all aid in survival. This is being proactive. Saving a firefighter’s life doesn’t have to be a dramatic rescue; it can be as simple as having the rear door open, thus allowing for an immediate escape.
  • To our engine and ladder company chauffeurs, you are responsible for bringing the team safely to the scene…therefore slow down and stop at stop signs and red lights. Even consider yielding to green lights and double-checking the intersections. During peak periods of fire activity, apparatus may be responding from areas where you normally don’t expect them. Expect the unexpected and drive defensively!
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