Firefighter Rescue: Rapid Removal Through a Window

When it comes to rapid egress or removing a downed firefighter, the most appropriate action to take due to conditions may be to use a window in the immediate area. A task such as this can be challenging if it is not trained on or practiced regularly...


When it comes to rapid egress or removing a downed firefighter, the most appropriate action to take due to conditions may be to use a window in the immediate area. A task such as this can be challenging if it is not trained on or practiced regularly. This article focuses on firefighter removal...


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When it comes to rapid egress or removing a downed firefighter, the most appropriate action to take due to conditions may be to use a window in the immediate area. A task such as this can be challenging if it is not trained on or practiced regularly. This article focuses on firefighter removal in a confined or restricted space. It is important to remember that the safest way to remove a downed firefighter from an upper level of a building is by using a staircase if at all feasible.

Firefighters may be forced to use windows for removal for a variety of reasons. The route taken into the structure may have been altered or changed during the course of operations by collapse, deteriorating fire conditions, the malfunction of a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), an air-supply issue or disorientation. Factors such as surroundings, fire conditions, collapse or building construction can further increase the challenges that must be overcome.

An extreme and unfortunate example of this is cited in the 1992 line-of -duty death of Denver, CO, Fire Department Engineer Mark Langvardt. After he experienced trouble in the fire building, Langvardt made it to a second-floor window before being rendered unconscious. Due to structural collapse and intense fire conditions, other firefighters were unable to gain access to him through the interior of the building. Firefighters reached him by laddering and entering the second-story window. This window was 42 inches off the floor in a corridor that was only 28 inches wide due to storage shelves that were immovable; these are dimensions that make it difficult to maneuver and lift a downed firefighter.

Langvardt was eventually removed by an interior wall breach from an adjacent stairwell, but many unsuccessful attempts at removal were tried in a period estimated at 55 minutes by 15 or more firefighters. This incident has been the main catalyst for developing techniques devoted to rescuing downed firefighters within tight spaces and possessing elevated windowsills.

A constricted-space window removal requires at least three rescuers. These maneuvers are labor intensive and will require a rapid intervention team (RIT) to be operating on the exterior as well as the interior. Communication between these crews is of highest priority. The exterior RIT will need to know the specific equipment and exact location necessary to effect the rescue. This will normally take place after the initial RIT locates the downed firefighter.

Two of the most common ways to perform a removal of this nature are the "Denver" and "Fulcrum" techniques.

"Denver" Technique

To perform the "Denver" technique:

  1. One rescuer enters the window head first (photo 1) and crawls over the victim to the downed firefighter's feet. The rescuer then faces the victim and the window from which he entered.
  2. The rescuer then grasps the downed firefighter's SCBA shoulder straps and leans backward into a sitting position while also pulling the downed firefighter into a sitting position (photo 2). This will let the second rescuer enter the window in the area beneath the windowsill (photo 3). The second rescuer must be in a sitting position with his back against the wall (photo 4).
  3. The second rescuer raises his knees and places his feet at the victim's buttocks (photo 5), then grasps the downed firefighter's SCBA cylinder while the first rescuer straddles the victim's legs and positions the downed firefighter's arms onto the rescuer's upper legs.
  4. The first rescuer squats, wraps his arms around the downed firefighter and grabs the SCBA harness as close to the cylinder valve as possible (photo 5). The downed firefighter is then lifted onto the second rescuer's bent knees. The second rescuer then grabs and pushes upward in a bench-press motion against the cylinder to assist with the lift.
  5. After the downed firefighter is positioned on the second rescuer's knees, the first rescuer can squat again and place the victim's legs onto his shoulders. The first rescuer will place his face as deep into the groin area of the downed firefighter as possible. This is done to provide enough lift in one motion to raise the downed firefighter up and over the windowsill (photo 6). The first rescuer continues to drive toward the window and push upward while the second rescuer continues to push upward at the rear and lower portion of the SCBA cylinder (photo 7). These actions help to clear the downed firefighter's SCBA of the windowsill.
  6. The rescuers on the exterior, if positioned at ground level, should assist by reaching in and grasping the downed firefighter's shoulder straps to help lift and clear the downed firefighter's SCBA (photo 8).
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