Firefighter Surival In The Water

In the event a firefighter suddenly and unexpectedly falls into deep water while wearing full turnout gear, the firefighter's survival is dependent upon the immediate actions taken during the first critical seconds of immersion.

It is the opinion of this author that the best horizontal position for the firefighter to assume when wearing SCBA is the supine position (on the back). This position allows the firefighter to assume a good horizontal position with the toes of his feet near the surface in order to trap air in his boots. It also provides the best advantage for seeing his surroundings, as well as for using the underwater arm movements. Should the firefighter need to dump his SCBA, the supine position allows the firefighter the best access to the SCBA straps. Should additional air need to be added within the turnout coat, this can easily be accomplished with the firefighter in this position by splashing water into the bottom of the turnout coat.

Some authorities recommend a prone (on the front) position. However, by assuming this position, the SCBA bottle prevents the firefighter from removing his head from the water, especially if he is still wearing his helmet.

Furthermore, by overcompensating and lifting his head higher out of the water, this tends to place the immersed firefighter in a more vertical position which results in his losing trapped air from the turnout coat.

We encourage all Fire and Rescue Departments to provide the opportunity for firefighter personnel to practice these survival procedures while wearing full turnout gear. These practical evolutions should be performed in shallow water under the watchful eye of an Instructor. After these skills are mastered and the firefighter is comfortable in the water with his gear, these skills should then be practiced in deep water. We recommend these skills be practiced by one firefighter at a time in the water along with an in-water Instructor. The in-water Instructor should have a buoyant device (i.e. Rescue Tube) available should the firefighter panic and/or lose his buoyancy.

As a practical evolution in Lifesaving Resources' Water Rescue Technician Courses, the student, while wearing turnout coat, bunker pants, and helmet, jumps into the water near the Instructor. While doing so, the student places one hand across and just above his eyebrow line so that the brim of the helmet does not slam into the bridge of his nose when the water hits the helmet's beaver tail. The Instructor directs the student to remove the helmet, empty it of water, and then slowly place it across his hips to feel the buoyancy. The Instructor then hands the student a boot and instructs him to empty the boot of water by inverting it and holding it over his head, and then slowly move it vertically into the water to trap air. After the student accomplishes this, the instructor directs the student to refill the turnout coat with air by picking up the waist and aggressively splash water and air into the coat while swimming on his back to safety.

For more information on Lifesaving Resources and their Water Rescue and Ice Rescue Technician training curriculums, access the Educational Programs Section of the Lifesaving Resources' web site at, or call 603-827-4139.