When It’s Time To Go: Emergency Escape Techniques

Jim McCormack reviews two emergency escape methods that may help you get out alive if your primary escape is cut off.


When was the last time you faced an emergency situation on the fireground? Have you ever experienced a personal emergency on the fireground (out of air, trapped with no immediate exit, disoriented, lost, entangled)? For many firefighters the answers are: never and no. When was the last time...


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  • Door escape. If you encounter a door, it may lead to safety. If the door doesn’t lead into a closet then proceed through door and shut it. Shutting the door separates you from the fire and will buy you a little time to consider your next move. If no door is present (only an open doorframe), then continue searching until you find another door or window. Without a door, you can’t separate yourself from the fire.

  • First-floor window escape. When encountering a window during your search, you’ll have to break out the glass and clear the window. Remember, if you’re being chased out of an area due to deteriorating conditions, then you’ll have to remain low while doing this.

    Once you’ve cleared the window, straddle the sill and maintain control of your body by hooking one arm and leg inside the window. Next, while continuing to maintain control, reach down for the ground with your outside arm or leg and lower yourself out the window onto the ground. Don’t throw yourself out the window and make a special effort not to land on your self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) cylinder. This can be avoided by maintaining control during your escape. This technique can also be used when escaping conditions on upper floors.

2. Breaching a wall. If you’re unable to locate a door or window, or conditions don’t allow time, a wall breach may be the only way to get out of the immediate area. It’s important to know what kind of construction you’re dealing with.

When breaching a wall in frame construction with drywall or plaster and lathe, choose a location to breach and use a tool to break through the wall. Penetrate all the way through the wall to ensure there is nothing blocking the other side (failure to check this will result in a lot of wasted energy). Once you’ve cleared an opening large enough to get through, check the environment on the opposite side (including the floor) and make your way through the opening. Getting through the opening may require a reduced profile maneuver with your SCBA. Once you’re through, continue your escape from the area.

  • Breaching without a tool. If you must breach through a wall and you don’t have a tool, consider the mule kick. This technique basically involves facing away from the wall on your hands and knees and kicking the wall at the breach location. Once an opening is made it can be expanded and the escape continued.

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Photo By Jim McCormack


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Once you have located a door and made sure that it does not lead into a closet, proceed through the door and close it. The door separates you from the fire and buys you time to prepare for your next move.

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Photo By Jim McCormack


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Photo By Jim McCormack

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When performing an emergency escape from a first-floor window, make sure to maintain body control at all times. Hooking an arm and leg inside the window allows you to lower yourself and “roll” out the window.
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Photo By Jim McCormack


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Photo By Jim McCormack

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Once you have located a door and made sure that it does not lead into a closet, proceed through the door and close it. The door separates you from the fire and buys you time to prepare for your next move.

Jim McCormack has been a firefighter for 15 years and is currently with the Indianapolis Fire Department. He is the founder and president of the Fire Department Training Network, a membership network dedicated to firefighter training, and author of the books Firefighter Survival and Firefighter Rescue and Rapid Intervention Teams.