Basic Survival Skills and the Probationary Firefighter - Part 2

In this article, we’ll cover the needed tools and equipment to which every firefighter should have immediate access. Tools and equipment form the second major aspect of safety and survival on the fireground. Today, we’ll answer the question of...


In this article, we’ll cover the needed tools and equipment to which every firefighter should have immediate access. Tools and equipment form the second major aspect of safety and survival on the fireground. Today, we’ll answer the question of, “What basic tools and equipment will enhance my survival?”

As we enter the second article in this four-part series, let’s briefly take a look at what we’ll cover. Every firefighter must have a working knowledge of basic safety and survival practices. We discussed that firefighter survival can be divided into three major aspects:

• Knowledge and Personal Fitness

• Tools and Equipment

• Skills and Techniques

The first part in this series attempted to highlight the basics of Knowledge and Fitness. It discussed the critical nature of being adequately prepared, both physically and mentally. In short, we attempted to answer the question, “As it relates to my survival on the fireground, where do I begin?” Now, let’s take a look at what every firefighter should have access to as part of their own personal survival.

The Basics

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Every firefighter is issued his or her own set of PPE. Today’s equipment, if worn properly, will prevent terrible and debilitating injuries. From proper boots to bunker gear to helmet, gloves, and protective hood, these items must be worn as designed. For example, injuries such as hot molten tar dripping down the back of your neck from a fire above, and seemingly too distant from you to warrant wearing your gear properly, can be the cause of a painful injury that could’ve been prevented.

This PPE can also protect you from the elements such as cold and rain. Other times it will be too hot to wear for extended periods of time and at this point, members must be rotated to areas of safety to rehab. In addition, don’t forget about the threat of blood borne pathogens and other communicable diseases. You must prepare accordingly.

Gear being worn properly includes wearing your chinstrap on your helmet. Keep your helmet in place! Your helmet doesn’t do you any good if it is on the ground because it keeps falling off. Today’s helmets offer great protection, but only if it stays on your head. The same goes for the earflaps; wear them because they offer additional protection.

Some will tell you that your ears offer a signal to get out, that the room temperature is so hot that it’s time to flee. Well, this topic was actually covered by the acclaimed author Tom Brennan. He covered the fallacy of this topic in his July 1993 article in Fire Engineering Magazine, entitled Fact or Myth. In short, wear your hood and rely on training, knowledge, and skills to forewarn you of a potential flashover.

Eye Protection: Every firefighter must have eye protection! This could be the protective shield from the helmet, a set of goggles mounted on the front of the helmet, or a pair of safety glasses kept in a coat pocket. You cannot risk losing your eyesight! Redundancy here will not hurt you either. Sometimes the eye protection on our helmets is obscured due to smoke and heat damage from past fires and scratches or other damage incurred over the years. Going to an extrication incident and not being able to see clearly because of a worn helmet visor/eye shield, may result in a short cut and the member pushing it up and out of the way. This is very dangerous and hence the need for a set of safety glasses kept in a pocket! They’re cheap and offer good protection, just make sure you get a pair that offer wraparound protection. This will prevent a metal fragment from hitting you in the side of your eye or dead on. It’s just not worth losing your eyesight!

Also, depending on the nature and occupancy and the incident, you may go into occupancies that have an electric cable hanging loosely at eye level. Not seeing this until its too late could result in a very debilitating and permanent injury. Have a good pair of safety glasses with you and don’t be afraid or embarrassed to use them!

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