Preparing for Self-Rescue & Survival Success

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...

Along with the information listed above, it is important that firefighters are taught practical skills for their participation as RIT team members, and some self-rescue skills they can employ should they get caught in a hostile environment.

Self-Rescue Skills Training Examples

From a window: In the event egress is required out of a window, remove the entire window assembly; not too many firefighters can fit through a double-hung window in full gear with an SCBA on their back. If the firefighter is on a lower floor, they can hang-drop to safety. If they are on an elevated floor, wait at the window and call for a ladder if time will allow. Once the ladder is in place, all team members shall exit the structure. If emergency egress is necessary due to rapidly deteriorating conditions in the room, the ladder can be placed at a 45-degree angle, instead of the normal 75-degree angle, to allow for a safer slide down the ladder. Then, the firefighter slides head first onto the ladder until their ankles catch the windowsill or the first rung of the ladder (see Photo 1.) Once in place, the firefighter can spin around and then climb down the ladder in the normal position (see Photo 2.) Once all team members have exited, the crew notifies the incident commander that all members are accounted for and safe.

Should a ladder prove to not be feasible, firefighters may incorporate an emergency rappel. Since many departments use many different types of descent devices today, firefighters should have a thorough background in rope rescue, rappelling and descent device usage prior to attempting this skill in a hostile environment. Firefighters should be equipped with, at a minimum, a Class II Harness, 50 feet of personal escape rope, some sort of descent device, and carabiners for attachment purposes. The firefighter should first set a barrier between them and the fire, such as closing a door to the room they are in. After securing a reliable anchor point, the firefighter keeps tension on the rope and makes their way out the window, descending the rope until they are on the ground. Due to the deteriorating conditions in the structure, the firefighter should be on the ground safely after the descent in no more than 30 seconds.

Breaching a wall: It may become necessary for a firefighter to breach through a wall to get to an uninvolved area of the structure, or to an area outside of the structure. Prior to breaching the wall, the firefighter should notify command of their location, so that a handline can be sent to their location to assist in egress. Most walls will have wall studs that are 16 inches on center, and are covered with sheetrock. Crews can remove the sheetrock on both sides of the wall, and manipulate their way through the studs using a reduced profile maneuver (see Photo 3): the firefighter loosens the shoulder straps on their SCBA and removes the strap that does not have the air line to the SCBA mask on it. The SCBA waist strap is loosened, and the SCBA is rotated under the arm of the firefighter. With the SCBA tucked into position, the firefighter can then pass through the wall studs after checking the floor condition on the other side of the wall.

Follow the hoseline: In the event a firefighter becomes disoriented, they can find a hoseline and use it to guide their way out (see Photo 4). Depending on the direction of travel, the firefighter will find either the nozzle on the end of the hose, or find the egress out of the structure. Some departments use hose that have arrows painted onto their hoses, with arrows pointing to the way out of the structure. At a minimum, when the firefighter comes across the coupling, the female end of the coupling will face in the direction of the exit.

Rapid Intervention Team Skills

Firefighter fallen through the floor: The best and quickest access to the downed firefighter might be through the hole in the floor, depending on the severity of the collapse. The RIT team may have to work around remaining floor joists that are still in the hole. If that is the case, a ladder should be placed in between the remaining joists (see Photo 5.) A hoseline should also be deployed to this location to provide protection for the downed firefighter, and the rescuers that are entering the hole to retrieve them.