When was the last time you asked a firefighter recruit what his or her air pressure was while performing an evolution? How many fire chiefs and fire officers spend any time teaching recruits the importance of managing their air? How many recruits could state their average “working” air consumption rates, or even their “resting” air consumption rates? Would they even know what these terms mean?
With advancements in our personal protective equipment (PPE), we no longer feel heat, which was an indicator to us that it was time to get out. In addition, fires are burning hotter than ever before. The job of an interior firefighter is becoming increasingly dangerous when you combine the intensity of fires today, our advancements in PPE and the reduced experience of fighting fires. Firefighters are not seeing, feeling and experiencing enough fire to gain a good grasp of what they face when they actually get “work.”
How do we proactively educate and train firefighter recruits about air management? First of all, educate your recruits on just how important it is to be “air aware” at all times. Recruits must learn that their lives and those of their fellow firefighters are in jeopardy if they do not do this. We cannot be afraid to use past experiences to reinforce your point. It is crucial to model this mind-set for the recruits from day one of the academy.
Whenever the recruits are participating in evolutions in which they are wearing self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), they need to communicate their air pressure level with members of their teams and their academy instructors. While recruits are doing evolutions that simulate the fireground, they should be asked whether they have enough air to get out of the building should an emergency occur. Also ask them how long they have been working, how much air they have used and whether the conditions in which they are working have changed for better or worse.
By verbalizing these questions to the recruits, it should heighten their learning curve by saying, thinking and doing. Your department will have to decide what the benchmarks for this “mind-set” will be. This mind-set will need to be reinforced by all instructors. For example, you might have a weekly award system for the recruit team that is best able to correctly tell you their air pressure throughout the week. This will encourage the recruits to work together and to communicate more efficiently and effectively.
Clearly, a course that simulates tasks that are actually performed on the fireground better prepares recruits for their fire service careers. Some departments already do this type of training, but not to make their recruits “air aware.” Rather, it is done for physical fitness, skill evaluation and or as a team-building exercise. These are all good reasons to provide this type of training; however, teaching recruits to be “air aware” at the same time is invaluable.
The next step is to decide how to monitor the “working” and “resting” air consumption rates. Try the following:
2. Have recruits don full PPE and SCBA, then go on air and time their consumption rates with a stopwatch.
3. Follow recruits through evolutions and have them state their air pressure at the end of each task.
4. Once the low-air alarm sounds, write down the running time at which the alarm started to sound. Recruits may need to go through the course more than once in order to reach this stage of air consumption.
5. Have recruits stop and move off the course and follow your department’s policy and procedure for an emergency. Have them breathe down their air supplies until they run completely out of air.
6. Write down the time that the recruit runs completely out of air.
Allow recruits time to rehabilitate from the evolution, according to department policy, then have them put their complete PPE and SCBA back on. You will then have the recruits repeat the course, only this time, don’t stop them when their low-air alarms sound. Instead, have them continue to go through the course until they have run completely out of air. The instructor will record the time each recruit’s low-air alarm sounded and the time at which he or she ran completely out of air. This training is done to help the recruits realize just how much time and air that they have available to them once they are deep into a structure, and what can happen if they wait too long to call for help once they are lost, trapped or disoriented.
There are three constants that all firefighters bring with them to a fire:
The “air aware” training described above addresses these three constants, but is only one portion to the large equation of keeping rapid intervention team deployments from occurring. Never forget the following quote regarding training practices, habits and mentoring of fellow firefighters and recruits: “Train like your life depends on it – because it does!”
Jeff Seaton has been a career firefighter for over 10 years. He is currently a firefighter for the San Jose, CA, Fire Department, where he is also a rapid intervention and firefighter survival instructor, EMT proctor, Citizen CPR instructor and IAFF representative on the department’s Safety Committee. Seaton is a western regional director for the International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI) and is a California state-certified Fire Service Instructor. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.