Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA): At the start of every tour, check your SCBA. Make sure the cylinder is full … not 3/4, not 85%, make sure it is full! This is critical to your survival. Further, make sure that the heads-up display is functioning and that the Personal Alert Safety System (PASS) is in good working order. Don’t take your SCBA for granted. It will protect your respiratory system from a host of problems. Also make sure you wear it even during overhaul, when carcinogens or carbon monoxide (CO) are still ever present.
Flashlights: Carry two! Always two! Nothing can be of greater value than being able to see where you are going. Adequate lighting has saved countless firefighters from injury. The newer style rechargeable lights are great. They project a powerful beam and last for a good duration. Stick with lights that allow for hands-free operation. A light slung around you and secured with a seat belt buckle/strap allows you to disconnect it if you get entangled. A second light, on a coat or helmet, provides redundancy if the first light fails. Never get off the apparatus without two lights … day or night!
Pocket Tools and Equipment: Pocket tools such as a short length of utility rope, various hand tools, and a spanner wrench, are all great aids on the fireground. In addition to these tools, don’t forget that every firefighter must carry the basics for personal survival. Take a look at this list and see what you are missing:
A Sharp Knife: A knife has many uses, but for firefighter survival, it can be a great aid depending on the circumstances. Carry a knife that can fold up and does not threaten the wearer when he or she is crawling or moving. You don’t want to sever an artery!
Wire Cutters: These are a must! A good pair of wire cutters will alleviate many entanglements. Much of today’s construction has hundreds of feet of cable and wiring built in everywhere. It’s in the ceilings, in the walls, and in the floors. In order to be connected in this fast-paced society, our homes and businesses create traps for the unsuspecting firefighter. A hanging ceiling falls on top of you while you are searching and you are entangled in all kinds of wires, cables, phone lines, and fiber optics. Be prepared to cut yourself out of any entanglement hazard. Just beware of the threat of electrocution!
Pliers: A good pair of pliers can significantly increase fireground safety. Take for example the ability to shut off a gas supply to a home or appliance. This action alone can prevent the dangerous buildup of natural gas. This is only one example of the benefit of this tool.
Door Chocks: These cheap wooden wedges can prevent a door from locking behind you, it can prevent a door from closing on a hoseline being stretched to the “drop point,” and can allow for easy entry and egress. They’re cheap … carry a few.
Bail-Out Device/Rope/Accessories: The U.S. Fire Administration’s report Rapid Intervention Teams and How to Avoid Needing Them, recommends that all firefighters be equipped and trained in personal rope escape. This resource is downloadable from the reference at the end of this article.
This is an insurance policy in the event everything goes wrong on the fireground and you are trapped on an upper floor and must escape. Some departments are buying very high quality “bail out devices” for each member. With proper training, these enhance the survival of their people. The few hundred dollars spent per member is analogous to the expression “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
If you don’t have these devices, there are other means that departments have used or relied on. For example, a pouch containing 50 feet of personal escape rope/life safety rope stored in a turnout pocket with a carabiner offers a last-ditch method of escape. The U.S. Fire Administration report discusses this method in greater depth.
This survival tool deals with elevation differences and great care and thought should go into this. Introducing this 3rd dimension (height) puts firefighters at great risk. Being 30 or 40 feet away from safety and knowing you can’t get there safely must be a terrible feeling. Again, proper preparation, research, equipping, and training by your department can give you and your counterparts a huge insurance policy!