Rapid Intervention Training: Moving an Unconscious Firefighter Across a Horizontal Surface

April 1, 2004
James K. Crawford discusses horizontal moving techniques that will create an easier situation for the rapid intervention team, victim and you.
Moving a downed firefighter across a horizontal or level surface can be extremely difficult, if not impossible, under certain circumstances. Using a fire station bay floor made of smooth concrete is an unrealistic training environment when conducting downed firefighter-dragging evolutions. The smooth surface does not create the friction, snags or realistic surfaces that we will have to encounter during a real-life situation, giving firefighters a false impression of what it will really be like.
Photo by James K. Crawford Photo 1. This is an example of the push/pull drag method of manually moving a downed firefighter horizontally using two rescuers.

Most real-life situations will put you in the position of having to drag a downed firefighter across a carpeted area, hallway or lobby as well as over debris. This will create a difficult situation when having to move a firefighter a long distance. If you add water to the carpet and the downed firefighter’s already heavy gear from the attack line, building plumbing or sprinkler system, you now have a serious weight issue. If the horizontal drag is not performed correctly or the use of other moving techniques are not used, the rapid intervention team will quickly tire.

Certainly, if a bay floor is the only location you have for this type of training, you must use whatever resources are available to you. If this is the case, try to obtain a large piece of carpet that can be rolled up and placed in storage and used to simulate a carpeted floor. This will at least give you a somewhat realistic approach to drag training. The carpet will have to be anchored before any drag training is started. An acquired structure with carpeted floors would be the ideal training environment for these evolutions. Ensure that all dangerous materials and debris have been swept up before starting this training. Syringes, glass, utensils, and other sharp objects or debris do not belong in this training scenario and could cause serious injuries.

Photo by James K. Crawford Photo 2. Make a figure-eight knot in the end of the rope and slide the loop over the upper fork of the claw.

Push/Pull Drag

One of the most common downed firefighter moving techniques is the push/pull drag. This completely manual technique is physical, but productive when performed properly (see photo 1). The advantages to this downed firefighter moving technique include:

It keeps the rescuers and victim relatively low to the floor, out of the thermal danger associated with standing up in a structure fire. It keeps the rescuers and victim lined up fairly straight so that maneuvering narrow hallways or tight areas is not as difficult. It allows the rescuers to utilize their stronger muscles to affect the drag. Photo by James K. Crawford Photo 3. Pull the rope toward the adze. Make a half hitch and turn the loop over the adze. After the assessment and any required rescue pack changeover are completed, the rescue pack is laid on the victim’s upper thighs and secured to his or her self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) waist belt using a carabineer or existing waist strap. The victim’s SCBA should be converted into a body harness to ensure it is not pulled off during the drag. The waist belt is disconnected and extended, run around the victim’s leg and through the crotch, and then reconnected. One rescuer will be positioned at the victim’s head and loosen an SCBA shoulder strap just enough to get a gloved hand under the strap, then use it as a handle to pull with. If the shoulder strap continues to loosen up excessively while dragging, tie an overhand knot over the shoulder strap using the excess shoulder-adjusting strap. This rescuer will pull from a squatted or one-knee position using the upper body and leg muscles, steering the victim through the removal path to the exit. Photo by James K. Crawford Photo 4. Pull the rope over the adze and back toward the claw. The second rescuer will be positioned parallel on the outside of one of the victim’s legs. This leg is then lifted up and placed over the inside shoulder of the second rescuer. It is important for the second rescuer to get down as low as possible and place his or her shoulder into the buttocks or upper-rear-thigh area of the victim. This will allow the rescuer to maximize efforts to push the victim’s weight instead of simply bending the leg. Rescuer two will then reach around the victim’s leg with one arm and grab hold of the upper thigh. The rescue pack can also be grabbed, letting you manage the pack. Another option is to place both legs of the victim over each of your shoulders and drive with your legs. Care must be taken when training with live firefighter victims. This technique, if performed improperly, can pull hamstring muscles, causing injury and severe pain. It is important for the instructor to monitor the victim’s legs during the practice drag to ensure they are not being bent too far. The second rescuer can now use the stronger leg muscles to drive himself or herself and the victim’s weight toward the exit while the first rescuer pulls and steers. Photo by James K. Crawford Photo 5. Make another half-hitch in the rope and turn it over the upper fork of the claw beside the figure eight. Move the victim only six to eight feet at a time. This will let the rescuers reposition themselves after each movement. A proper cadence should be used to make the push/pull drag more efficient such as “ready-go” or “ready-pull.” Using the cadence “1-2-3-pull” simply uses too many words adding to the overall removal time over the length of the drag, defeating the purpose of the rapid intervention team. Mechanical Advantage Pulling System When the push/pull drag is not working due to the weight of the victim or because team members are worn out, only a single rescuer is available, or wet carpet and debris are impeding the drag, a mechanical advantage pulling system can be quickly rigged onto the firefighter to assist with the horizontal pull. Some simple equipment is required to accomplish this procedure. A section of rope approximately twice the length of the pull is needed. If the rope you have is shorter than the length of the drag, you will have to keep moving the anchor point and pulling until you reach the exit. This method also is required if there are numerous turns in the removal path. You may also tie two personal ropes together. The knot created by tying the ropes would have to be assisted through the carabineer when it arrives at the victim. In addition to the rope, a carabineer, halligan bar and sledgehammer or other striking tool are needed. Photo by James K. Crawford Photo 6. The completed anchor system using a halligan tool. First, determine the exit and pulling path, keeping in mind that the path must be a fairly straight line from the exit to the firefighter. You must now create an anchor point at the exit that will absorb the weight of the pull. The halligan bar is used for this purpose. Place the halligan bar in a windowframe or doorframe, or breach a hole in a wall. The halligan bar is then passed through the hole and turned sideways so that it will bight into the opposite wall surface creating the anchor point. A figure-eight knot or carabineer is placed onto the halligan bar before it is positioned into the anchor area. Tie an eight-inch loop into the anchor side of the rope and place your boot into the loop. This will create a “foothold” so that you do not slide towards the victim and will hold you in place. If those anchoring means are not available, a procedure of striking the halligan bar into a wood floor to use as the anchor point must be used. Select a point near the exit; hold the halligan bar with the horn or point piece against the floor and the claw end pointing toward the victim. Using the striking tool, have another team member strike the horn into the floor until the tool is close to being flush. If you are working alone, swing the halligan horn into the floor forcefully. Now, a knot system must be tied onto the halligan bar that will hold the weight of the firefighter. There are several different ways of doing this, all of which work well and none is really better than another. The goal is to select the knot system that is quickest and easiest for you to tie. I will explain my method, which I feel is the easiest for me: In the end of the rope, tie a figure-eight knot and slip the loop of the figure eight over the upper fork section of the halligan claw (see photo 2). Pull the rope toward the adze end of the halligan and make a half-hitch. Turn the half-hitch over the adze (see photo 3). You can turn one more half hitch or use a clove hitch over the adze if you desire, but it is not required. Pull the rope back down to the claw (see photo 4). Make another half-hitch and turn it over the upper part of the claw fork in front of the figure eight already in place or pull it completely over the claw (see photo 5). You now have created an anchor point using a halligan bar that will support the weight of a firefighter victim pull (see photo 6). Extend the rope to the downed firefighter. Place the carabineer on the SCBA shoulder strap closest to the floor. Run the rope through the carabineer and back to the anchor point (see photo 7). You can now sit down and place your feet against the adze end of the halligan bar, using it as a brace (see photo 8). Pull on the rope until the firefighter is pulled or moved to the anchor point. This is a basic 2:1 mechanical advantage pulling system, which means you will reduce the weight of the firefighter in half. This will make the pull fairly easy, even with one firefighter doing the work. Remember that the type and condition of the floor will have an impact on the ease or difficulty of the pull. Another method is to run the rope through the victim’s SCBA shoulder strap instead of using a carabineer, allowing the rope to slide along the underside of the shoulder strap. I’ve found that using the carabineer causes less friction and creates an easier pull. Try not to pull on the rope using a hand-over-hand method; instead, bend your body toward the victim as far as you can while grabbing hold of the pull end of the rope and then sit back as far as you can pulling on the rope. This method will not tire your arms as quickly as pulling hand-over-hand. Another pulling option is to place the pull end of the rope over your shoulder at the anchor and turn away from the victim. While in a crouched or crawl position, use your stronger leg muscles to crawl away from the anchor and victim with the rope pulling the victim to the anchor point. Depending on the size of the area you are in, you may have to return to the anchor several times to complete the drag due to running out of space while pulling. This system can also be rigged at the top of a staircase to assist in moving a firefighter victim up a set of steps. You can also build a portable wood-floor prop so that you can practice this evolution (see photo 9). Try all of the different methods and find what works best for you. Other Drag Methods Photo by James K. Crawford Photo 7. Securing the carabineer to the downed firefighter’s SCBA lower shoulder strap. The rope is then snapped to the carabineer and brought back to the anchor point. Other means of dragging a firefighter victim to a removal point exist. Knowing all of these different options will allow for the largest margin of error if previous methods are not working. Learning only one method is surely setting yourself up for failure. One such option is the simple girth hitch made of webbing and used around the upper torso of the victim. A 20- to 24-foot section of one-inch tubular webbing is joined together using a water knot creating a large loop. This can be stored in your turnout coat pocket, pants pocket or rapid intervention team bag. One loop end is passed under the armpits of the victim. Pull the opposite end of the webbing through the loop end coming from under the armpits. Pull out the slack, which will form and complete the girth hitch. Ensure that the girth hitch is to the side of the victim’s head near the SCBA or back. This will stop the webbing from being pulled up into the victim’s helmet dislodging their facepiece. You can then either use the webbing as a pulling device or connect a carabineer to the webbing and drag the firefighter, using the mechanical advantage pulling system. This method works well with a firefighter who is not wearing SCBA or who has removed the SCBA, or the harness has burned away. Photo by James K. Crawford Photo 8. The firefighter then sits down and braces his or her feet onto the adze while pulling on the rope. This will move the downed firefighter toward the anchor point. Another option of moving a firefighter horizontally, as well as vertically, is by using a tool called the Sling Link Multiple Application Service Tool (MAST) device. The MAST is a series of five large, color-coded nylon loops connected together. The two red loops are slid over the firefighter’s legs, the two yellow loops over the arms and the single green loop pulled over the head. This forms a harness that can be used for dragging an unconscious firefighter along a horizontal surface. By attaching a carabineer, the mechanical advantage pulling system can be used along with a well-placed anchor. With the MAST in place, the firefighter can be lowered or raised vertically as well. Again, this system is very useful if the victim is not wearing an SCBA. The MAST can be used for a variety of other functions by altering the position of the loops. Numerous other methods of moving an unconscious firefighter across a horizontal surface exist. You may have even developed your own methods. We must all become proficient at as many of these horizontal moving procedures as possible to increase the chances of survival for a downed firefighter. Conclusion Photo by James K. Crawford Photo 9. Props can be built to simulate wood floors and stud walls to make this training more realistic. The plywood sheet can be removed and replaced after it becomes worn. Scrap lumber may also be used to create an anchor prop for the halligan bar. Moving an incapacitated firefighter across a horizontal surface over a long distance will tax any rapid intervention team. It is labor intensive and will wear the team members down and consume an enormous amount of air. Knowing and perfecting horizontal moving techniques will create an easier situation for the team, victim and you. Most importantly, it will reduce the removal time allowing the team to get the firefighter victim out of the dangerous environment to emergency medical care. The main goal of rapid intervention is to get the firefighter out of the building or situation as quickly as possible after a Mayday is declared. Knowing these removal methods, and others like them will ultimately mean the difference between keeping the firefighter victim in the building longer or having them on their way to a trauma center. We all must know and practice these removal procedures to be able to assist a firefighter in trouble, not just the rapid intervention team member. Keeping basic equipment in your turnout gear such as carabineers and personal rope is a must. Keep striving to implement new rapid intervention techniques within your fire department and train like your life depends on it, because it does. No one is coming in for us but us. James K. Crawford, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a firefighter with the Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire, assigned to Truck Company 33. He is a fire instructor for the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy and the assistant chief of training with the Pennsylvania Air National Guard Fire Department-Pittsburgh. Crawford has over 25 years’ experience in the career and volunteer fire service, and is the founder of rapidintervention.com and Rapid Intervention Training Associates, both dedicated to firefighter rescue training. He may be contacted by e-mail at [email protected] or by calling 866-UGoWeGo.
About the Author

James Crawford | Magazine Staff

James K. Crawford is a Lieutenant with the Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire assigned to Truck Company #8 in the East Liberty section of the city and a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine and Firehouse.com.

He is a Fire Suppression Instructor for the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy and the Assistant Chief of Operations for the 171st Air Refueling Wing Fire Department, Pennsylvania Air National Guard.

Jim is also a Search & Rescue Manager with the Pennsylvania USAR Strike Team One (PA-ST 1). He is a graduate of the Pittsburgh Fire Academy and the Air Force Fire Academy spending four years on active duty as a firefighter.

He has over 25 years experience in the career and volunteer fire service. Jim teaches nationally on the subject of firefighter rescue and is the President of Rapid Intervention Training Associates and founder of RAPIDINTERVENTION.COM

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