Company Level Training - Rescuing a Downed Firefighter - Part 1

In order to help a downed firefighters, crews must be proficient in providing a new air supply to members and prepare for a quick and easy removal from tedious conditions.

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 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 To read Larry's complete biography and view his archived articles, click here. You can reach Larry by e-mail at