Day 50: ROCK-TENN SEARCH AND RESCUE

Monday, January 25, 2010: Today’s lecture started off with a free-wheeling discussion about some of the major considerations for conducting a search inside a large building. Up until now, our search and rescue evolutions had been confined to small...


Chief Mueller talked about the safety enhancements that have been made to the firefighting profession during his 30 year career. He also highlighted the fact that we lose over 100 firefighters a year nationally to fatal accidents and on duty medical emergencies. In spite of the advancements, it’s a dangerous job. The Chief also spoke about the need for specialized and higher education and becoming a student of the position you aspire to hold for promotions. Finally, he talked about the firefighter schedule, and that it is not as healthy or attractive as it would first appear. There is a tremendous amount of stress on the individual and the family because of our long hours and busy workloads. I’m glad he pointed out that the schedule is tough on the spouses and the families, because I know first hand that “families also serve.”
 
We received a few additional tools today: wooden door wedges, sprinkler wedges, and door straps. The sprinkler wedges are for stopping the water flow from an activated sprinkler head, and the wedges and straps are for keeping a door open during searches. The wedge can be used under the door or on the hinge side to wedge the door open; the strap (a small rectangle of canvas with two elastic “ears” sewed on the side. One ear goes over each doorknob on a door, with the canvas over the door latch. The tension in the elastic ears holds the latch “in” and prevents the door from locking behind you in a search).
 
And finally, the afternoon session arrived, so we packed up the reserve engines and Police vans and headed to 127 Raymond Avenue to the donated Rock Tenn building. We split into teams and practiced our large area search techniques. In addition to maintaining contact with a wall and sweeping a tool towards the center of the room, we added a hose line and a rope “tag line” to the mix, using the hose and rope to extend our search across large warehouse areas. We managed to find several victims, including Fire Training Officer “Hawk” Hawkins, who was posing as both a victim and an evaluator of our procedures. 
 
I must admit that when they finally told us to pull our masks off (we were searching with blacked out face masks), I was surprised to see how “big” the room was we were searching in. Where I thought we were coming through a wide hallway about 8 feet wide actually turned out to be about a 30’ x 20’ room. I guess that’s the result of my narrow perspective and still “hugging the wall!”
 
The second search seemed to go much better. Four of us were on a team searching the same 30’ x 20’ room using a hose line. We managed to work together pretty well, and pulled the hose down the right-hand wall to the corner, then ACROSS the room using the entire length of the hose, with our team spread out a few feet apart. We found Hawk, although I think I jabbed him with the pike pole I was using to maintain my contact with the wall.
 
On the third search, I was with several classmates in the upstairs office area, searching empty offices (no furniture) for “hose dummy victims.” We found one, and the team safely brought the “victim” down the stairs and out the front door.
 
Key lessons learned (for me) today:
 
·      It’s important to remain calm and relaxed as much as possible in order to conserve breathing air. Checking your remaining air level and communicating your status to the team leader is critical. Ideally, the team enters and leaves together, and if you’re the one sucking down air like it’s an endless supply, your crewmates will have to stop searching and get out of the building with you when your low air alarm sounds. I have really worked at getting into good aerobic shape, so I had no problem with air USAGE…but the constant monitoring was a great exercise of personal awareness. 
 
·      Air usage can dramatically JUMP when you locate a victim and are extricating them from the building. Just because they were “hose dummies” today did NOT mean that the adrenaline flow wasn’t going full tilt after finding and rescuing a victim. To us, they were all “real” fire victims, and (of course) they always lived because of our prompt, heroic actions! 
 
·      Shouting to teammates in a large room with an air mask on only muffled the voice and prevented accurately hearing what was being said. Using the radio was a far better option, as the audio seemed to come across louder. Our department was blessed to have a radio for every firefighter now, thanks to a Federal Homeland Security Grant.