Company Level Training - Rescuing a Downed Firefighter - Part 1

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This scenario is a follow-up from our last training article. We will assume that this rescue of a downed firefighter is being performed by an activated rapid intervention team (RIT). A two person team has made entry into a residence with a good idea of the location of the downed firefighter. The RIT has located the firefighter and placed him on top of the search rope.

Our training session will begin at this point. We will go over several key points to cover with your crew and the follow-up article will address several different methods that you can use to train your crew with. Attempt to start any training session with some important facts about the subject matter. This time can also be used to give your crew a heads up about some of the small details that you will be looking for during the training session.

Each Scenario Brings New Challenges
The rescue of a downed firefighter can be performed multiple ways, based on the situation that is presented to the rescuing firefighters. These different scenarios must be discussed at length and trained on to be able to function and make quick and correct decisions. Let's go over a few of the more common scenarios that rescuers may be faced with.

First is a lost firefighter or a firefighter that is low on their air supply or unconscious due to their air supply having been expended. This scenario will more than likely have limited visibility and low to moderate heat conditions. These conditions will allow for the RIT to change the air supply of the distressed firefighter and if necessary, convert the distressed firefighter's waist belt to a crotch belt. These activities take some time and can only be performed when conditions allow. With ongoing training, these tasks can be performed even faster.

The second set of conditions is not as favorable for rescuers. These conditions are limited to zero visibility and extreme heat. These conditions demand a rapid entry and exit. There is not time to change the downed firefighter's air supply or to convert a waist belt to a crotch belt. As a matter of fact, in conditions such as these, you as a rescuer will be lucky to gain access and locate the downed firefighter. These conditions include backdraft, flashover and collapse. Even though these conditions demand a rapid entry and exit, there is more to pulling the firefighter out than just a simple snatch and go.

With our first set of conditions (limited visibility and low to moderate heat) you have a little time to perform a few tasks that will improve the condition of the downed firefighter and improve your chances as a rescue team to successfully remove the downed member. First, as a rescue team, you have made entry with a search rope, thermal imaging camera, a hand tool (preferably a Halligan), an extra airpack and a general knowledge of where you are going and who you are going in after. Before making entry, make sure that the extra airpack is in the on position. You do not want to be fumbling around in the dark trying to turn that airpack on. That is time wasted that you just don't have.

Command must be notified once the downed firefighter has been located. At this point you must assume that the downed firefighter's air supply is low or out. With one hand on the downed firefighter's regulator and the other on the replacement airpack's regulator, switch the air supply. The reason for having a regulator in each hand is to assist with placement of the new regulator. By keeping a hand near the opening in the face piece, you will be able to place the new regulator faster and with more ease due to limited visibility. If you suspect that the downed person is not breathing, then also turn the purge valve into the open position. This can be done anytime a firefighter is in need of rescue if you wish.

Rapid Removal Method
Prior to physically placing the airpack on the downed firefighter (not to be confused with switching regulators, thus allowing for a full air supply in which to breath), one of the rescuers should convert the waist belt to a crotch belt. First, prior to unclasping the buckle, loosen both sides of the waist belt to the fully open position. While grasping both sides of the buckle, undo the buckle. Important: Never let go of either side of the buckle. In limited to zero-visibility conditions, locating the loose end of a waist belt is difficult at best. Time is saved by keeping a hold of both ends of the waist belt.

After the waist belt has been converted, begin to place the extra airpack on the downed firefighter. You should not waste time trying to remove the downed member's original airpack. Place the replacement airpack either on the firefighter's chest or legs. If on the chest, place the arms of the downed firefighter through the shoulder straps. Tightening the shoulder straps is not necessary. If placing the airpack on the legs, use the waist belt of the extra airpack to wrap around the legs. Again, do not let go of either side of the buckle for the waist belt. Either location of this extra airpack will work.

At this point, you can either use the original shoulder straps as a handle or you can place the Halligan through the shoulder straps and use the tool as a handle. Using a Halligan allows for two rescuers to pull the downed member with ease.

When attempting a rescue in less than ideal conditions, a rapid find and go is necessary. The number one rule to remember is that if you are not able to convert the firefighter's waist belt to a crotch belt due to conditions and you use the shoulder straps as a handle there is a very real chance that you can pull the downed firefighter's airpack off of his person. You now have removed his air supply and more than likely his face and respiratory protection. You are now guaranteed to be pulling out a dead firefighter. I am not saying not to use those shoulder straps, but you must be cognizant of any upward movement of the firefighter's airpack.

You can attempt a "Firemen's Carry," but due to the bulk of the rescuer's and victim's bunker gear and airpack, it is not very likely that you will be able reach all the way around and get a solid grip. You could attempt to use the downed firefighter's wrist as a handle, but that grip has never seemed to be a very solid one for me. Again, in extreme conditions, do what you have to do. But by training on a consistent basis, you will quickly learn what works and what doesn't.

When a rescue is necessary due to collapse, all bets are off. There are dozens of different scenarios that can present themselves to rescuers. There may be a collapse of a large piece of furniture, such as an armoire or entertainment system. There could be the collapse of a ceiling and/or roof. There could be the collapse of a floor, dropping the firefighter to a lower level. When attempting a rescue in conditions such as this, rescuers may be faced with the possibility of further collapse. Read the report on Firefighter Shane Daughetee's line-of-duty-death on January 26, 2007. His rescuers faced these exact conditions, limited visibility, high heat, granite countertops falling on them along with appliances.

Those are the basic facts on rescuing a downed firefighter. The second part of this article will deal exclusively with the actual training on rescuing a downed firefighter.

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LARRY MANASCO, a Firehouse.com Contributing Editor, is a captain with the Fort Worth, TX, Fire Department. He was an assistant instructor for FDNY Battalion Chief Salka's "Get Out Alive" hands-on training class. Larry has presented a webcast titled Company Level Training on Firehouse TrainingLIVE. He has participated in a Training & Tactics Talks podcasts on Radio@Firehouse.com. To read Larry's complete biography and view his archived articles, click here. You can reach Larry by e-mail at manascl@firehousezone.com.

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