From early in our fire service careers, we are taught that there are three priorities on any incident: life safety, incident stabilization, and property conservation. Paramount in this list is life safety, especially the lives of our firefighters.
However, during the discharge of our duties, it is possible that firefighters can become disoriented and trapped, requiring the assistance of a well-trained rapid intervention team; the team on scene that is solely used for the purpose of rescuing trapped or missing firefighters.
But, just how well-trained are our firefighters in the field of rapid intervention and self-rescue? Most departments are aware of the requirements of NFPA 1500 and OSHA as it pertains to rapid intervention teams, but what are we doing to train them to be proficient in their duties?
Simply put, the proper way to successfully train our fire service members in rapid intervention and self-rescue is to teach them early in their careers to not get into a compromising position from the onset. It is imperative that the fire service takes a hard look at this issue, and develop new curriculum for the betterment of our members.
Primarily, firefighters should be trained to identify some of the main reasons why firefighters become trapped, including:
- Failure to identify fire growth and intensity signs. Smoke can provide many clues to the fire's intensity, based on color and density. Also, being able to determine the stage of the fire's growth can help prepare for potential backdraft or flashover conditions.
- Failure to identify building construction characteristics and collapse indicators. Depending on the type of construction, some have specific hazards that can lead to disaster during prolonged interior operations. Also, newer construction techniques and materials can lead to earlier collapses and tightly sealed buildings, allowing the fire to burn unnoticed for longer periods of time.
- Failure to identify the signs of flashover. All too often, firefighters fail to recognize some obvious signs of flashover. Our members are taught to look, listen and feel for flashover:
- Look for the presence of rollover or flameover
- Listen for crackling of the fire, any hoselines that should be in operation, and any ventilation operations that could alleviate the buildup of heat; and
- Feel for any sudden increase of temperature in your location, and if there is, leave the area immediately.
- Failure to recognize that an activating PASS device is considered an emergency! From early stages of firefighter training, candidates develop the habit of keeping their PASS devices from activating while they are rotating through skills sessions during their time spent at the academy. Unfortunately, this practice leads to complacency on the part of the firefighter when an active PASS device is sounding. Many times newer firefighters on the scene of an emergency tend to ignore this signal of distress. This can have disastrous results, therefore it is imperative to train firefighters that any PASS device activation is to be considered an emergency until proven otherwise.
- Failure to communicate the emergency. What does a firefighter do when transmitting a Mayday? There are a few things that should be included in the message, using the acronym LUNAR:
Location information is vitalThe best descriptive location that you can supply the incident commander is going to save a lot of time during the process of finding your crew.
Unit designation. Knowing what crew went missing may aid in finding them. Knowing who was given a specific assignment may narrow down their location of what area of the structure that they were working in.
Name of the person calling the Mayday.
Assignment in process. The task given to the crew may suggest that their situation is dire. For example, a crew that was stretching an attack line into the seat of the fire that got cut off by a collapse or fire spread is in need of urgent rescue.
Resources available to the crew. Knowing what tools and equipment that is available to the crew may aid them in self-rescue and can greatly improve their chances of survival.