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  1. #1
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    Question Advice/experience for newbie

    Hello everyone. I recently signed up as a volunteer with my local department. I've never even been in a fire house, so everything is so new to me. I'm 26, and yes, a female. We had drill last night and part of it was to put on all our gear, and learn how to put on our scba & how it feels. We walked around w/o our air to get the feeling for weight. Then my trainer had us put the air on and get a feel for it. At first it felt ok. We went upstairs to an obstacle room built to simulate walls, and tight places. He turned the lights out and the 3 of us would crawl and learn to follow the wall. We got deeper into it, and had to lay down and crawl through a hole. At this point I started to feel claustraphobic. I never thought I would feel this way, since I actually like small spaces, and crawling around. I'm not sure if it was all the gear, or the breathing. I was trying not to panic. I don't want to look like an ***. I just started to hum to myself and mentally get through it. When I was done, I had to get the air off. I almost wanted to grab at my face earlier than this.
    My question is if this is normal? I've never even touched any of this. I'm hoping I'll just get used to it, and I will go on my own and practice. I don't want to give up. Are there maybe any excerises anyone does or taught to thier firefighters? I'll be going into Fire 1 this summer, so I am just trying to prepare. And know what is normal, and what might not be. I know I could just ask my trainer, but I don't want to make him think I'm scared.


  2. #2
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    Being new to SCBA this is very common. I had a similar problem when I started SCUBA diving.

    If you are allowed to take home the mask, do so. And wear it. You will develop a feel for it. I have actually forgot to take mine off, and had other people tell me I dont need the SCBA anymore. HAHA

  3. #3
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    Hello and welcome to the fire service! I think what you experienced may be fairly common, especially if that was your first experience in full gear and everything. Usually, a blacked out survival course like you described is something recruits get halfway through the academy. I'm sure you were pretty overwhelmed with the new experience.

    Here are some of my suggestions to get over that hump:
    - Get comfortable in your gear. A full PPE set-up can weigh over 50 pounds and it restricts your movement. Start out putting everything on minus your mask and just walk around the perimeter of your station for a while. Get used to the extra stress. After you feel comfortable with that, put on the mask, but no air (it will probably fog up). Then go on air. You can try doing some basic exercises in your gear also.
    - Once you feel comfortable in your gear, set-up some exercises to replicate tasks on a fireground and do them on air. Exercises include: swinging a sledge hammer, pushing/pulling a pike pull, crawling under an obstacle, carrying weights up and down stairs and pulling up a rope with weight on it (to simulate hoisting tools/hose). Do this until you run your air bottle dry. You'll learn about how much time you have left when your low-air alert sounds/vibrates so you'll be confident you'll have enough to exit the IDLH environment (you should exit before the low air alarm activates, but just in case).
    - Next time you do an exercise like the FF survival you did last night, think about something important to you to keep going. For me, I focus on my wife and son and imagine that if I give up, I've let them down and will never see them again. Although urgency is important in these situations, remaining calm and in control is more important.
    - It's very important to never rip off your mask or go off air. This can kill you in a fire. If you're doing a drill and you're on air, when you complete the drill, remain on air and return your breathing to normal. For me, the cool rush of air in my mask helps soothe me.

    It should get easier as you get into it more. It sounds like it was a big night and your first experience you were thrown in head first.

    Good luck!

  4. #4
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    Sounds like you jumped in the deep end, fair play to you!

    My instructors gave me some good advice to fight off the panic. The first bit was to try and build a mental picture of the room you are in through touch and sound and communication with your partner.

    The second bit was to keep to your pattern on search whether left or right hand.

    They also said to if things became disoriented to forget about the senses you can't use like sight and trust those you have left such as touch and sound.

    Often I found the breathing rate going up and to control air use they recommended breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth. It worked for me.

    I am quite comfortable in the training scenarios (even when they tie your pack up to simulate entrapment). Not had to search in a real fire yet so I hope that the skills I am learning in training will translate. I guess until I face that first fire there will be those nagging thoughts as to how I will deal with much greater pressures of a live fire.

  5. #5
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    Thank you very much for your time, and advice.. I wasn't sure if this was something I should feel was overwhelming or not. I wasn't overwhelmed as far as the physical aspect, as much as I was with the unfamiliar feeling of the air, and my senses. It is physically demanding, and I will definetly try what you said about walking around, and doing some excercises. Especially for my body frame, I'm not used of the weight, but will work hard on it.
    I actually did start to breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth to try to calm myself, and slow my breathing. I couldn't wait for it to be over. lol. I won't ever take my mask off before I should though. I felt like taking it off, but made sure to ask if it was ok to before I did. I'll be going to the station and will practice doing it on my own, so that when I'm thrown into drills, I'll have more confidence.
    And I will focus on my other senses when any of them are taken away. I was so focused on feeling ok breathing and being enclosed, that I wasn't fully concentrated on following the wall with my hand. (which was one of the objectives) I just wanted out.
    I'll take all of your advice, and become more confident and comfortable with my equipment. Thank you so much. And any other advice is also always welcomed

  6. #6
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    rmarquila

    Way to go

    If you keep at it you will see and experience alot of strange things.

    I did a two week course in which that is all we did was scba and dark areas, and timed runs.

    I was new to scba's and dark spaces, so first run was in tunnels, and was like you almost freaked out and was ready to pull the mask.

    But, after a few runs it was like someone said above, did not seem like had a mask on, and was use to the dark, by visualizeing the room as someone stated above.

    just have to get use to it, yes some people cannot handle tight places, you will need to decide on that one.

  7. #7
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    I'm glad you decided to join your local fire dept. The best thing I can tell you is the more you wear, they better you are with it on. When I joined, three years ago, a female twice your age joined about the same time, and she had the same problem you did, and now she doesn't have a problem putting one on anytime any day.

    So, basically what I'm saying is the more you do with it, the better you get and the claustophobia will go away. If you need anyother information just let me know and I will be glad to help you out.

  8. #8
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    In my academy, we were shown how to don the SCBA properly, on a Friday, at the end of the day. On the following Monday, not 1/2 hour after lunch, my class was divided in two and sent to two stations. The first was "chop till you drop". You get dressed, go on air, then chop away at a log with a dull axe for 3-3 1/2 minute intervals. You do this x 5 rounds, resting off air but still masked up while the other half goes. You rehydrate through the hole. Whoever still has air left marches up and down stairs until they run out. I mean really run out. The instructors teach you to pull every last "drop" of air from the cylinder.

    The other station is going on air, marching around a five story tower, where the instructors will pick you out of the line to climb the stairs with various items, such as a 2 1/2 hose bundle, PPV fan, two water cans, etc. Same deal with running out of air. There were instructors on each floor asking questions to see if you were functioning well mentally under the stress. This was a humid 88 degree day. We were lucky, though. Earlier classes had to chop until they ran out of air, no breaks. Maze training, searches, etc came after that.

    Anyway, ask if you can take a pack home for PT, to get used to working on air. Do it blacked out for maximum benefit. You can use either wax paper or a construction paper cutout. At the least, try doing some conditioning circuits with the blacked out mask, even without being on air.

    Try going on a stepmill, with gear and on air, level 6, and see how long you can make your cylinder last. If level 6 with gear is too tough, then just use PT gear and the pack. Get used to heavy exertion while on air.

    For breathing control, try breathing ladders as described on www.firegroundfitness.com.
    Last edited by edpmedic; 03-26-2010 at 10:57 PM.

  9. #9
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    Some motivation for ya!

    http://vimeo.com/971867

  10. #10
    Forum Member fieryred943's Avatar
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    Default Congrats!

    It is nice to see more women getting involved in the fire service(vol or career). As a female of almost 11 years on a career department, you have my congrats for what you are undertaking. Wearing an SCBA for the first time can be a little unnerving. You are in a controlled enviroment and you are there to make your mistakes in training...not out in a call. The fact that you are willing to go in on your own time and you fought through the panic is a good thing. You weren't willing to let your fear take a hold of you.

    I use to scuba dive so I have had some previous mask wear, but when I put a scuba mask/tank for the first time it was a little freaky. I am very comfortable wearing an SCBA and going into a fire, and with more training it will become second nature for you as well.

    I took several different classes prior to fire college before, I made the final decision. I took a class in marine firefighting, fighting fires on deep sea tankers. I loved it and decided fire was for me...educate yourself with as much as you can. If you don't understand...ask someone, show a good energy when you are there. Any chance you get to put an SCBA on do it,you will only get better.

    Any questions you might have...feel free to ask. Cheers and congrats again

  11. #11
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    yes very normal, thing to keep in mind is control your breathing. stop and relax. i close my eyes and take a few deep breaths and push everything out of my mind. a clear head can work better under crappy situations. getting used to breathing with the scba takes time, but just going to the fire house donning it and watching tv is simple and you get used to it being on your face. then start to move around, walk, do simple things.. wash a truck on air. move to raising ladders and climbing stairs start small. not only will you gain confidence you will know how to regulate your breathing. then once your used to it. go threw a maze, first being able to see then blind. a tip i do when blind i close my eyes and paint a image of whats around me to what i hear and feel. doing that will help you get calm and if need to get out of the place your at. not sure if your dept or training center uses this but we go threw a tube with a bar going threw it at the end where u have to maneuver around it. take your time and do your best. a quote that ill all ways remember is what my instructor told me in FF1. if you should ever be in this situation, only thing your going to remember is me yelling at you to get threw this wall. and before you know it, your threw it and on the other side, never say you cant... and question everything. and dont take just one class and not take another. many classes have a few parts to them. geta feel for what you enjoy and feel comfortable with. i am comfortable with going inside of a building where many like to pump trucks and others like to vent. firefighting is about every one working together and doing only one thing. to protect life and property.

  12. #12
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    Thank you all very much for your encouragement and support.. It is greatly appreciated. Within the past few weeks I have gone to the dept on my own time and just walked around, got used to the scba. My dept also recently had a scba recert and I got to participate at the end. It included carrying hoses, tools, walking on ladder rungs, climbing a ladder up to a blacked out maze, going through a door frame, and tunnel. They walked me through the course and explained everythign to the T. How I should be feeling, what to look for, what not to do, what senses should be most apparent, etc. It was wonderful. When I climbed the ladder to go into the maze, I just closed my eyes and slowed my breathing. Tried to visualize what I was touching. We have one section of the maze that simulates downed wires and you have to get on your back and push through. I thought that I was going to freak out. I was very proud of myself for staying calm and working through the situation. At the end of the course we had a long black tube that we had to crawl through, it didn't have a bar at the end, but that is a great idea. It felt great to go through the course, and everyone was supportive and told me I did a great job. It's starting to feel much better.
    The next Fire1 is in June, so I am planning on attending, and learning so much more.

  13. #13
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    Its common for this to happen. I never had this problem, but I still wanted to get used to wearing a SCBA. I own my SCBA Facepiece which is a Scott AV-2000 which is very comfortable. In order to get used to the feeling, I walked around my house wearing my AV-2000 and my school book-bag with a 30 pound dumbell in it to simulate the weight of a SCBA frame and tank on my back. I did normal activities such as cooking, wathcing tv and typing on this website haha. The best thing I found was to attend a big brush burn that maybe a friend or relative has planned and bring your facepiece (If your department will lend you one or you own your mask like me), a book-bag or something you can strap on your back with about 25-30 lbs of weight added, and stand really close to the fire to simulate the amount of heat you will be dealing with. This is also great for practicing NOT to scratch your nose if it itches or try to wipe sweat off, and to get used to a little bit of fogging up. I still to this day, use this routine. I once did this in a suana for approx 20 minutes to boost my endurance. Not the best tips and definitely not tips that seem usual (often make you look weird), but who cares if you know that its the thing that works for you. I hope that I helped at least a little bit. Welcome to the world of firefighting.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Firefighter4life91 View Post
    Its common for this to happen. I never had this problem, but I still wanted to get used to wearing a SCBA. I own my SCBA Facepiece which is a Scott AV-2000 which is very comfortable. In order to get used to the feeling, I walked around my house wearing my AV-2000 and my school book-bag with a 30 pound dumbell in it to simulate the weight of a SCBA frame and tank on my back. I did normal activities such as cooking, wathcing tv and typing on this website haha. The best thing I found was to attend a big brush burn that maybe a friend or relative has planned and bring your facepiece (If your department will lend you one or you own your mask like me), a book-bag or something you can strap on your back with about 25-30 lbs of weight added, and stand really close to the fire to simulate the amount of heat you will be dealing with. This is also great for practicing NOT to scratch your nose if it itches or try to wipe sweat off, and to get used to a little bit of fogging up. I still to this day, use this routine. I once did this in a suana for approx 20 minutes to boost my endurance. Not the best tips and definitely not tips that seem usual (often make you look weird), but who cares if you know that its the thing that works for you. I hope that I helped at least a little bit. Welcome to the world of firefighting.
    Has your family tried to have you committed for a psych exam yet?

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by don120 View Post
    Has your family tried to have you committed for a psych exam yet?
    Lol. Nope because they know the purpose behind it. I barely know that I am wearing my SCBA when I have it on thanks to my strategy hahahaha.

  16. #16
    Forum Member Jonnee's Avatar
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    I don't know of anyone being born that is accustomed to a scba. Yes your were in an confine space for nine months but now that you have grown and are in the fire service there are some similarities.

    Having been an Instructor for many years the first thing we have done for new members after taking the scba out if the box and letting the member get familiar with the contraption they have only seen on TV or the movies. We go over each and every detail about the mask unit explaining in great detail the limitations as well as the uses and variables.

    I usually have one or two of my associates in the class to demonstrate the proper ways of donning the harness. We will do this for several times and then begin to get the new members into the action of putting the harness, less the cylinder, on and then off and repeat this over until they get the feel of the proper technique. Later we will add a cylinder so they can feel the actual weight as they again go through putting it on and removing it. This give the new member the feel and why the back portion is worn where it is so that the hips can absorb the weight and wear better.

    Let's face it, this is firefighting and everything we used is awkward and has some weight involved. That is one of the reasons we have a through physical fitness course each member has to endure while at the academy and after they graduate and begin work in a fire house.

    After a few repetitions of donning and doffing the harness we get into putting the face piece on and off. The face piece is put on and the member get the feel of this strange creature snuggling on their face and they spend some time looking at the inside of that face piece getting adjusted to this feel. We remind them after a month or so, you will put the face piece on and think nothing of it and wouldn't pay any attention to the inside any more.

    Finally we have the members put the complete scba on with face piece and go on air to get the feeling of the air being there and teach them to control their breathing and their nerves. We walk them around the class room and out to the apparatus bay and around until their low air alarm begins to activate. We then let them breath a minute or two then have them remove the face piece and breath normally. This goes on for several cylinders and usually on the third day we take them to the burn building and being dark on the inside this allows them to become adjusted to that type of environment. We also teach buddy breathing and how to react during a emergency or malfunction of the scba.

    We will during the course of the week give them a hand line and various other tools and appliances and operate with them while being fully dressed and on air. We often have the members working on the yard throwing ladders, pulling hose lines and other activities with the scba on and sometime doing this under full operation using air as they do these job related duties. Later during the phase of structure firefighting they get the scba back on and got more practice.

    Learning about and using the scba is just a 40 hours deal. it is continuous throughout the new members training. The more you use it the better you will perform and get use to wearing it. Its like wearing shoes for the first time, it takes getting use to it!!

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