From The Officer’s Seat

Mark J. McLees continues his lesson on using a rapid intervention rope bag to rescue a downed firefighter.


With the inherent dangers to firefighters that are associated with suppression activity, maintaining and improving our rapid intervention skills continues to be a priority. While numerous firefighters have lost their lives in building collapses, there are also cases of firefighter fatalities in...


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With the inherent dangers to firefighters that are associated with suppression activity, maintaining and improving our rapid intervention skills continues to be a priority. While numerous firefighters have lost their lives in building collapses, there are also cases of firefighter fatalities in which the inability to move the victim played a contributing role in the negative outcome.

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Photo by Mark J. McLees
Any sturdy hand tool can be used to create a sidewall anchor. Make the breach hole only big enough to pass the tool through.

The first part of this series on firefighter removal skills (April 2000) introduced the concept of a rapid intervention rope bag. It suggested one method of using the rapid intervention team (RIT) bag to remove a firefighter from a second floor through a window as the only viable way out of a structure. This installment, will address the scenario of a firefighter falling through a hole in a floor.

Two-Pronged Attack

Whenever a firefighter is down in a building, the RIT should develop a two-pronged attack in accessing the victim. Too often, we put all our efforts into one plan that ultimately fails before we try a different tactic. Professional firefighters who pride themselves on their rescue skills always have plans B, C and D. In a "Mayday" situation, both plans A and B need to be implemented simultaneously.

Our RIT size up-should include a complete walk around the structure. In numerous cases, walkout basements in the rear may offer access to the firefighter in trouble. In the rear of dwelling involved in a fatal fire in Pittsburgh, there were actually two floors below the visible grade of the front of the building. While an outside basement access to a trapped firefighter seems the logical direction to follow, our RIT skills tell us to also begin alternate access route. Perhaps the quickest escape route for the downed firefighter in a basement may be the hole through which he or she fell.

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Photo by Mark J. McLees
Solid-core doors are ideal, but a rarity in newer residential construction. If there are no doors in the structure to work from, a backboard will suffice.


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Photo by Mark J. McLees
Two wooden six-foot pike poles will accomplish the same effect if your department lacks a steel halligan hook.

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Photo by Mark J. McLees
Method 1


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Photo by Mark J. McLees
Method 2

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Photo by Mark J. McLees
The attic ladder not only aids in accessing the victim, but doubles as the anchor. If the edges of the hole are not jagged, the ladder can be used as a makeshift backboard to guide the victim over the edge.


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Photo by Mark J. McLees
The halligan should ideally be on the same side shoulder as the direction of the hauling rope. The two members should also be similar in height to prevent the hook from sliding off center.

Priority No. 1 is accessing the victim. The priority is to get a RIT member into the hole as soon as possible. The method is not as important as the speed by which this occurs. Sliding down a charged handline offers added protection to both members in the basement.

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Photo by Mark J. McLees
At the critical point, the pulley is maxed out and cannot slide any higher on the line. Performing this evolution on a scuttle for training actually is more difficult due to the added eight-inch lip.

Once with the victim, it is critical that the rescuer assess the vital signs of the victim. Depending on the situation, we may begin to treat in place or get out as fast as possible. These decisions are critical and require level-headed thinking. Is the building burning down around you? Is the victim pinned by debris or building components? Perhaps the victim's self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) is depleted - have RIT members brought a spare SCBA into the building?

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