One of the most effective ways to survive the hostile and dangerous conditions encountered at interior structural fire operations is to prevent yourself from getting into a serious life threatening predicament in the first place. Obviously there are many actions we can take or choose not to take that will have an impact on our survivability.
Just thinking about what you're doing and why you're doing it can have tremendous positive effect on most fireground operations. Not thinking about what you are doing, but just performing certain tasks because you've been instructed to, is a dangerous way to go through your firefighting career.
If you don't know why you're performing a function or tactic and you run into trouble or are otherwise unable to complete the job, you won't know what the consequences are to yourself or the other firefighters on the scene.
Every action you take, every tactic you employ and every move you make on the fireground should be well thought out and understood. If you know what to do but don't know why, ask.
There are literally hundreds of activities going on at working structural fires. Every firefighter whether working in an engine company, ladder company, squad or rescue will each be performing several tactics that are specific to their units goals . Engine company firefighters will be stretching hoselines, laying supply lines, operating master streams and advancing and extinguishing interior fires.
Ladder company firefighters will be performing forcible entry, search and rescue, ventilation and overhaul. Rescue and squad firefighters may be assisting with or performing any or all of the already stated tactics or they may be assigned special duties or functions by the incident commander. Firefighters performing any of these specific duties can find themselves in sudden dangerous situations at any time.
There are some tactics that all firefighters can take at all fire operations to reduce their chances of being injured in sudden dangerous occurrences or getting into situation that they cannot escape from. There are five basic tactics that if performed at every interior structural fire operation will dramatically increase a firefighters chances of surviving the operation.
These tactics are so basic that most of them are taught to entry level firefighters during basic training and are considered no-brainers to most firefighters. The problem is that many of these basic tactics are not being performed by today's firefighters. The reasons are many but the results are the problem, firefighters are being seriously injured and killed in situations that historically would have resulted in either minor or no injuries.
Lets take at look at these five tactics.
I. Staying Oriented
Simply put, this means knowing where you are, where you came from, where you're going and how to get out rapidly at any moment. Many of the firefighters killed inside structural fires just got lost. They may run out of air frantically searching for a way out, they may panic and rip the their own SCBA facepiece off or they may fall into a shaft or out of a wall opening, but the real reason that they died was that they were lost. Instilling in firefighters the importance of knowing exactly where they are inside a burning structure is paramount in assuring their survival when things go bad.
There are several levels of orientation that need to be understood before a firefighter can truly know where they are at any one moment. The first is the general location within the fire building. For example, if there is a fire on the second floor of a four story structure and a ladder company search team is assigned to operate on the floor above the fire, they will often climb the stairs until the reach the fire floor, which is where they can see the engine companies hoseline stretched and a smoke condition emanating from the fire area.