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...


There are countless other points that will also enhance firefighter safety. It is therefore vital that your leaders also be at the top of their game and well versed in fire behavior and building construction. This has a great deal to do with firefighter survival.

Individual Skills and Techniques

Firefighter safety and survival can be dramatically altered through the implementation of the actions described above. Nevertheless, every member has to be able to implement safety and survival skills instantly. What are these skills and techniques that all members must be capable of performing?

  • Proper wearing of PPE and SCBA. It sounds simple, but many injuries are attributed to not wearing proper gear. Wear your equipment as it is designed to be worn; the protection it offers you is very significant.
  • Seatbelts! A great tip for reducing the chance that you will be injured or killed is to always wear your seatbelt! We respond to many more incidents than just building fires. There is always the chance of someone hitting your apparatus or the chance that circumstances (evasive driving due to another driver’s incompetence, ice, etc.) will cause the apparatus to careen out of control and end up on its side. Your seatbelt is a great insurance policy and limits the number of firefighter injuries and deaths annually.
  • Air Management. Our SCBA’s allow us to survive in very hostile environments, but the air supply is finite; it will run out! Many SCBA’s have visual indicators (heads-up display) that allow members to be constantly aware of their air supply. As a good rule of survival, constantly monitor your air supply. Two good rules of thumb are, first, you want to consider the last quarter of your air supply as an emergency reserve. In other words, you want to be out of the building before your low-air alarm sounds. The second rule is air usage. If you entered a large-area occupancy and it took you 10 minutes and three-quarters of your air supply to get to where you are, you do not have enough air to escape! Therefore, always be in the habit of monitoring your air supply in any type of occupancy. Remember, if you used half of your air to get to a certain point, you need at least that to get out. Use great caution and practice frequently with air management techniques.
  • Personal size-up. Every firefighter and fire officer conducts a size-up at every incident. A size-up is a process whereby a member looks at potential threats to life safety and incident stabilization. For a probationary firefighter, his or her size-up will include hazards that directly affect them and their team such as fire location and behavior, building construction, type of occupancy, and building area and size. The size-up will answer questions such as where are the egress points (doors, windows, fire escapes, attached buildings, etc.). A firefighter’s size-up never stops. The fireground is dynamic and always evolving…so must be your size-up.
  • The exceptional textbook, Fire Officer’s Handbook of Tactics 3rd Edition, by retired Deputy Assistant Chief John Norman, offers significant amounts of not only tactical information, but also information as it relates to safety and survival. The author identifies three key considerations as it relates to survival. From page 249 of his textbook, Norman identifies three rules of firefighter survival:
  1. Always know where your escape route is
  2. Never put yourself in a position where you have to depend on someone to come and get you. o
  3. Always know where your second escape route is

These points are clear and concise and to the point. Each point relies on you conducting a thorough and continuous size-up.

  • Being able to transmit a Mayday. A key consideration in getting resources to you quickly is to call for help the moment you think you have a problem! The instant you think you are in danger (i.e., you are lost, trapped, disoriented, or injured), you must transmit a Mayday! A Mayday transmission requires all other members to clear the air immediately! Your Mayday transmission must provide critical information to those who can help you. As a minimum:
  1. Give your location; be as descriptive as you can be
  2. Identify who you are
  3. Identify the nature of your emergency
  4. Make a request for any specific resources that you need to help you
  5. Identify your air supply remaining