Basic Survival Skills and the Probationary Firefighter

Armand Guzzi looks at the basic skills of firefighter survival and shares lessons that all new firefighters should be taught and should be reinforced for veterans.

The goal of this four-part series is to be able to answer three questions:

  1. As it relates to my survival on the fireground, where do I begin?”
  2. 2. “What basic tools and equipment will enhance my survival?”
  3. “What skills do I need to know?”


Soon, the newest members of our service will be turned loose from the relative safety of the training academy to their new assignments. Once assigned to a company, there are no more “built-in safeties.” There is no place for errors to be corrected by an instructor and one wrong move may very well be the new member’s last. There’s a very real need for every firefighter, from the newest member to the most senior member to be fully competent in the basics of firefighter survival.

This series of articles addresses the very basics from three different aspects:

  • Knowledge and personal fitness
  • Tools and equipment
  • Skills and techniques


These are three interrelated components to fireground survival. Each of our firefighters must be prepared for the potential hazards that await them. A great resource put out by the United States Fire Administration (USFA) as part of their technical report series is entitled “Rapid Intervention Teams and How to Avoid Needing Them.” Within this report are many great ideas that can form the foundation of a firefighter survival-training program.

Each of our training programs differs in some respect compared to the programs of other departments. Some training programs are very thorough and may last 6 months or more, while others may be very short because of budgetary constraints or staffing or time issues. Nevertheless, basic survival skills must be covered. Good, quality training takes place at our fire academies, but due to the limitations described, it is incumbent on our departments and their company officers to continue with a firefighter’s training every shift and every opportunity. Where the fire academy leaves off, a seamless transition of constant learning must occur when the probationary firefighter goes to their company.

Knowledge and Personal Fitness

The fire service is a highly technical profession. A true professional in our service will constantly be improving, learning, and applying new skills at every opportunity. Personal knowledge forms the core of firefighter safety and survival. In addition, there is the critical importance of excellent medical, physical, and mental fitness, proper diet, and adequate rest. Many of our casualties, for example, are attributed to heart attacks. Furthermore, the other mental and physical stresses that are associated with this job all take their toll on the well being of our members. Injuries and deaths (not only on the fireground, but also off duty) can be prevented through a regimented fitness and diet program.

These health-related issues should be an integral part of your own department’s program for enhancing personal well being and improving firefighter survival from that aspect. This topic alone is far too in-depth to cover in detail here. To the probationary firefighter, seek out from your own department just what they have to offer as it relates to these issues.

After leaving the fire academy, the learning is just beginning! Now is not the time to put down the books and relax. Our three- to six-month veterans just don’t have the time to waste; too much is at stake. In addition to a solid department training schedule, each new firefighter must begin to absorb the lessons that have caused so many of our counterparts to never return home. There are many resources available. Take for example the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and its Firefighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program.

This site, as well as a host of other sites dedicated to preventing firefighter injuries and deaths, has so much information to share. Remember that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it!

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