Enlarging Openings For Firefighter Removal

Have you ever wondered how you would remove a downed firefighter from a burning structure? Do you realize the difficulty that would be encountered with lifting an incapacitated firefighter out a window?


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Photo By James Crawford

Have you ever wondered how you would remove a downed firefighter from a burning structure? Do you realize the difficulty that would be encountered with lifting an incapacitated firefighter out a window? I will discuss several options to assist the Rapid Intervention Team with removing a firefighter from a building utilizing a technique called "Enlarging Openings".

To ease and quicken removal time, a Rapid Intervention enlarged opening team should be established early on in the Mayday. This team will select and "open up or enlarge" an existing window or doorframe close to the rescue room.

Enlarged Openings can be made in metal and masonry structures but works best in wood frame construction. Use caution in selecting the opening for safety and do not choose the rescue room itself unless absolutely necessary. This will cause chainsaw bars to be entering through the interior walls close to the firefighter rescue creating an unsafe condition. Choose an adjoining room or area for the opening that is close and in as straight a line as possible with the rescue room so that the initial RIT that will be performing the drag will have as short a drag as possible with the least amount of turns.

The enlarged opening team should coordinate the opening with the interior RIT officer and IC. The enlarged opening process should be initiated as quickly as possible to ensure that the opening will be completed before the downed firefighter is dragged to the opening. Remember that the goal of the Rapid Intervention Team is to reduce the removal time wherever possible. To have the opening incomplete when the interior RIT drags the downed firefighter to it is defeating the purpose of the operation, all crews working the rescue must coordinate their efforts to be successful.

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Photo By James Crawford

Once the removal path and exit point has been selected, the enlarged opening must be made. It is best if an existing opening is enlarged. This will involve cutting less area due to most of the opening already existing. If no pre-existing opening is present at the exit point, an enlarged opening can be made into the side of the structure.

Whenever any enlarged opening is made, a safety person must be placed on the interior of the building to keep interior firefighters away from the chainsaw bar that will be coming through from the outside of the structure.

Before the team starts the opening, they must assemble the minimum following equipment; two fire service type chainsaws (one primary and one backup), an 8-ft. pike pole, a sledgehammer or Denver tool, a pickhead ax, and an A-frame or attic ladder. When the team is ready to make the opening, they must go on air before they start their cuts. A large volume of smoke will come from the initial opening. The team must be able to continue their cuts and complete the opening before the downed firefighter is dragged to this exit point.

Once the team is on air, the window glass must be removed first, (or if enlarging a door, the door must be removed first). Try to pull as much of the glass outward as possible to eliminate the downed firefighter being dragged through the glass on the way out of the opening. Ensure that drapes and blinds are removed also so as not to get hung up on the chainsaw or exiting RIT members.

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Photo By James Crawford

Next, send in the safety person using the A-frame or attic ladder. This safety person will sound the floor, check for victims and obstructions, keep the interior crews away from the saw operation, and visually assist the chainsaw operator from the inside. Now the cuts can be started. Always have a back up saw ready and use a back up person to guide the firefighter operating the chainsaw. This backup person can watch the ground behind the chainsaw operator for trip hazards.

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