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Company Level Training - Firefighter Entanglement

The sheetrock that is covering the ceiling comes down on top of your crew. Slightly dazed but otherwise uninjured, you realize that burning debris surrounds you and your partner. In an attempt to withdraw from the structure, you are unable to proceed. You discover that you are hung up on something. What will you do next?

Here's the scenario:

You are assigned to the first-on engine or truck company. There is a one-story, wood-frame, residential structure, with heavy fire showing from the D side, and heavy smoke showing from the attic.

This house was built in the 1960s, therefore, it has sheetrock throughout the structure.

Upon making entry, either to extinguish the fire or to perform a search, the sheetrock that is covering the ceiling comes down on top of your crew.

Slightly dazed but otherwise uninjured, you realize that burning debris surrounds you and your partner.

In an attempt to withdraw from the structure, you are unable to proceed. You discover that you are hung up on something.

What will you do next?

This brings us to our next drill, firefighter entanglement. There are a myriad of construction features that present numerous risks of entanglement to firefighters. In this article, we will focus on the most common type of entanglement - wiring.

We are confronted by many types of wiring at almost every residential structure fire. Common wiring is used to run electricity throughout a home, while another type is used to add strength to the air conditioner ducting. Wiring is used in the new surround-sound system, the security system and more.

When a fire is burning above our heads, either in an attic or between floors, wiring presents a very real threat and should always be a concern. Wiring can entangle you from any angle, ensnaring any part of your body or gear. The S.C.B.A. is the most common item that gets caught. Your helmet, radio, flashlight or body are all prime candidates for entanglement.

I had a large section of sheetrock come crashing in on top of me as my nozzle man and I were making entry. Although the falling debris did not strike my nozzle man, he did have a wire, which fell from the ceiling, wrapped around his wrist, and prevented him from removing the wiring. As he shut off the nozzle to free himself from the wiring, the room flashed on us. Fortunately, we fell back on our packs, and he was able to open the line and knock the fire back. He removed the wiring after he backed out of the structure. We both received minor burns. What entangled him? Support wiring from a burned-out A/C duct.

For this drill you will need a few items, including blackout masks, wire cutters and some type of wire. (Avoid any aluminum wire as it tends to be too soft. Bailing wire works very well and can be found at any feed store. Most hardware stores also sell utility wire. I found 19-gauge, galvanized-stovepipe wire, in a 50-foot section, at Ace Hardware for $1.39.)

For a four-person crew, this drill will take about an hour. Have the crew get fully bunked out and have one crewmember get into a crawling position. While this firefighter is blacked out and unable to see, have the other crewmembers entangle him or her. They can run wire in between, around and through any part of the gear that they wish.

Having the crew in black out masks is vital to this drill. The purpose of this drill, which is to train firefighters how to effectively free themselves from entanglements in the field, is entirely dependent upon the participants' inability to see.

The goal of this drill is to provide practice for finding and cutting wires and all manner of entanglements from our gear. We do this drill near the weight equipment, so that we have something heavy on which to tie. Tie off to doorknobs, benches, weight equipment, topside hinges on a door or anything else that's handy.

The participating firefighter must be entangled in as many directions as possible - from above, in front and from the side. When wiring drops, its final destination is unpredictable.

Once you have completely entangled the firefighter, have him or her go through the process of calling a Mayday. Then the firefighter should use the swim technique to confirm what has entangled him or her. Have the firefighter attempt to find the pocket flap and remove the wire cutters from their pocket. This will prove to be the most difficult part of the exercise. Finding your pocket flap with a gloved hand while blacked out is very challenging. When I first started doing this drill, a couple of my crewmembers would have to take off a glove to retrieve their wire cutters.

Using the swim technique again, the firefighter should find the wiring and cut it away. Stress the importance of searching the entire area around the body to detect wires that may be in places that are difficult to reach. The areas around the lower back and feet are often not searched.

After removing all the entanglements, have the firefighter update Command. If possible, he or she should practice leaving the area via the same path used when entering. Caution your firefighters against proceeding further into the structure; where there is one wiring hazard, there will likely be more. By placing the S.C.B.A. in a position close to the floor, you can possibly prevent further entanglement. Air conservation should also be discussed.

This drill can be done in pairs. Entangle a firefighter, have the partner assist him/her in removing the wires. Stress the importance of cutting instead of pulling the entanglement away. Pulling on wires may make the entanglement tighter or more intricately wound.

This is also a good time to inventory items your crewmembers include in their gear. Some firefighters are walking toolboxes. This drill will reveal whether some firefighters are carrying non-essential gear. If your firefighters do not have wire cutters, get them some. This is a small investment on your part. Some tool manufacturers have lifetime warranties on their products, which will enable you to replace them at any time, for any reason.

Please send any ideas for future training drills, or suggested improvements and variations on this drill, to my e-mail: manascl@firehousezone.com. You and your department will receive credit for any ideas used in future articles.

LARRY MANASCO has been with the Fort Worth, TX, Fire Department for 11 years and has has served as a lieutenant for the past three years. He holds the classification of Fire Officer I and Hazardous Materials Technician. He currently works in one of the busiest engine companies in Fort Worth. He has worked for Firehouse World in San Diego where he was an assistant instructor for FDNY B.C. Salka's "Get Out Alive" H.O.T. class. You can contact Larry by e-mail at manascl@firehousezone.com.

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