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Are You a Survivor?

Fri, 26 Aug 2011|

Battalion Chief John Salka of the FDNY talks about current fire service issues in his keynote to FDIC Online 2011.



Welcome to FDIC Online. I'm John Salka, a battalion chief for the New York Fire Department, and an instructor at the FDIC. And I'm here today to talk to you about a program called, are you a survivor? Are you a survivor is a program I put together and I've been teaching all over the country at FDIC and other places, and it's about firefighters and how they can stay alive. The program was originally conceived by several other folks that I've met in my travels around the country and at the FDIC. And we decided to put it together as a program and deliver it to firefighters from coast to coast. And what it is is it's a look at, it's an analysis of the things that are going through firefighters' minds and the things that are happening to firefighters' bodies. When they get into panic and distressful situations. The title of the program "Are you a survivor?" is exactly what it is. It's the question, are you a survivor. Some firefighters survive traumatic, deadly situations and others do not. We're gonna talk about a couple issues here. We're gonna talk about a. That affect your ability to survive a dramatic situation at a fire or an emergency. what, we're gonna start with talking about muscle memory, for those of you that, that are familiar with the term muscle memory is a, it's an aspect of, it's actually training and, and, and, it relates very well to, to what work at FDIC and FDIC online. Because training is very important to firefighters. And what muscle memory is, is. It's the ability of you as a firefighter to perform properly under stressful conditions. Let me give you an example. A firefighter is in a fire situation, making a search and rescue in a smoky building. Suddenly he becomes disoriented, suddenly he starts to run low on air, suddenly he is faced with a distressful situation. Now obviously some tactics have to be performed at this point. Fire fighters are gonna have to have certain skills and abilities to get themselves out of trouble. Well, if muscle memory is, is properly in place, if you've been trained properly and that's what muscle memory is, it's it's a training function. If you've been trained right, even if you're panicking, even if you're quote, unquote, losing your mind, you should be able to fall right into the right regimen and perform the skills that you need to get out. For example, the Get Out Alive training program that we taught at FDIC for many years, teach firefighters how to breach through walls. How to dive out windows. HOw to first on to a ladder. How to keep themselves oriented in a room and slide out on a rope. All of those skills, all of those abilities are tactics that you probably going to be performing in a distressful situation. If you haven't been trained right. If you haven't been trained to the level of having muscle memory you may not be able to perform your life saving skills when the time, in a bad situation. What muscle memory is, it's the repetitive, repetition of skills and abilities that firefighters can perform and learn and practice and repractice that enables them to have that sort of cemented in to their subconscious. So now, when you get lost. Now when you start running low on air. Now when there's a potential building collapse you can sort of just revert into automatic pilot and start performing your skills. This has all been learned with police work and with military folks. All people who work under adverse or possibly, deadly or panic conditions. So, for example, you're a fire fighter or you're a trainer and you're training some fire fighters and you're training them on. Entanglement procedures. Fire fighters going to a prop or going to a, a, a building, a training building, and you have some things set up so they get tangled up. Well when they first get tangled up, the fire fighter should stop, acknowledge, well I'm tangled. And he probably has a couple of quick fixes, a couple of quick things he can do to get out of his, predicament. Well if the first one or two quick fixes don't work, the fire fighter probably is gonna have to revert to. Transmitting a Mayday, calling command and letting know he's having trouble. He's not given up, he's not gonna lay down and die. But he's gonna let them know he's having trouble, so they can, you know, send some assistance to him, the [INAUDIBLE] team. But he can still try and get out of that bad situation. Now when you're training a firefighter to do this, if you tell him look okay you'd give a Mayday right about now. Mayday, Mayday, Mayday, they're on their way now let's get back to getting out of this entanglement. If you just sort of blow through that may day section of that antagoment drill there's a great chance that the firefighter, when he does actually get entangled in a real situation, is going to do the same thing. He's just going to blow through it or he may actually just forget to do it all together. So the muscle memory practice, the muscle memory element of training is to put all the proper sequences, all the proper components of a training evolution. In there. And not to leave stuff out. I'm a trainer myself. And those of you that are instructors or, or trainers, you know, sometimes you have time limitations, sometimes you have prop limitations, sometime you have personnel limitations. And you're trying to get all the training in on that one night session or in that two-hour training drill that you set up. Don't pull stuff out. Don't pull important components of an evolution out to try and get the whole evolution done, because what you're doing is you're training your fire fighters improperly. They're going to have an improper sequence imbedded into their memory and when the time comes that they're performing something under hazardous conditions or under a panic situation, there's a very good likelihood that they're not going to perform things properly. A police story. It, it, we're, we're, we're firefighters, but, But, a police story, A great example of this muscle memory, There was a police officer, one time, was engaged in a, In a situation where a, Where a perp, where a criminal got the drop on the cop. He had the, had the gun to the cop's head. The cop was in uniform. He, he, you know? There was nothing he could do but put his hands up. Eventually all the rest of the cops got there and a SWAT team and they rescued the cop. He got out of it uninjured. But he was pretty upset by the fact that somebody with a gun was able to hold him hostage, and he couldn't, couldn't make any maneuvers. He couldn't get out of it himself. Well, when him and his partner looked it up, they researched it in the in the FBI academy and the police academy. They found a couple of maneuvers that they could do, couple of arm thrusts and leg kicks that they could get out of a situation like that. They started practicing. This police officer and his partner started practicing it regularly. In the station house while getting dressed one partner would come up to the other guy, you know, and put his finger to the back of his head and say, heh, I got ya buddy, put your hands up, and, and they, and they would do the skill, they would practice the skill, they would do the arm swing and the leg thrust and they would get out. They even got the point where they developed, you know, and put together a couple of wooden guns or a couple of plastic guns so they could actually have the gun when they practiced with each other. And these guys, any time one of the potters would go to the other potter and put the gun to the back of him, he would quickly turn around, do the leg swing, and the arm thrust and disarm the guy. Very quickly, most of the time within a half a second. He'd give him the gun back very quickly and tell him do it again, do it again, do it again. And they would do it all the time. They even brought a wooden gun home. One guy told his son, look, when I'm sitting at the computer at night working on my computer. Come up to me, put the gun up to my head and tell me, you know, put your hands up, and the cop would go through his motions. He would do the arm thrust and the leg swing. Boom, he would take the wooden gun away from this kid, hand it back to him very quickly and tell him, here, do it again. Well, this worked out really well, and this one cop about a year later ended up in the same exact situation where a perpetrator had a gun to his head. The cop didn't even have to think. Now the muscle memory is kicking in. He practiced this thing so many times he didn't have to think, gee what do I do now? Do I do the arm, or do, do the leg. He went into the whole maneuver. Quickly disarmed the perpetrator, grabbed the gun away from him in less than one second. And, do you know what he did with the gun? He handed it back to him cuz every time that, that police officer trained, with his partner, with his son, at home, he always handed the gun back at the end, at the end of the evolution. And, that's what he did that day, when, when he had to face a choreal under a panic situation. That's why I'm talking to you about are you a survivor? If you practice and train properly. And, for those of you who are trainers, if you're training your firefighters properly. Train em completely. Train em with every evolution, every part of the evolution, every element of the evolution even if it takes a little bit longer. Even if it seems like it's the uninteresting part of it. Make sure you put all your evolutions together completely so when they do have to perform it in a real life situation it's gonna come out properly. Some other research that was done on the books that I read when I put, are you. Together, related to hikers and hunters. Folks, that, that, that work and play and hunt, you know, out in the wilderness, out in the woods, on trails and things of that nature. And the, and the, and the folks that wrote the books that I read started talking about hunters, and hikers, and outdoorsmen that have been discovered lost. In others words a hunter's out in the woods or a hikers out in the woods and get's turned around, suddenly. He is out there for six or eight hours maybe in to the darkness of night when he planned on going out for a one hour run. Well lot's of these folks are located and some things are discovered when they are looking for and locating people that are lost in the woods. Number one, for some reason, humans after they become lost not ten minutes lost guys lost for, like, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour, two hours. When folks really get lost in the woods, for some reason, humans, people, start to run. We're not quite sure why, but they start to run through the woods. So when they find hunters or hikers that are lost for a half a day or a day. They were all scratched up from running through branches. They also start to, for some reason, disrobe and take their clothes off. The first thing they find when there, when there's a missing hunter is the hat and the coat. Maybe it's because they're exerting themselves when they're running. They start to overheat. They start taking their clothes off. So they actually start, they find a trail of clothing. Another thing that happens when people get lost out in the woods, and again,. This is these are panic situations. They start to forget stuff. There were several examples in the book of a hiker out in the woods that's going out for a two or three hour hike and he ends up in the woods for a, for a day and a half. When they find this hiker, he, he's okay physically, he's dehydrated, greatly dehydrated, he's a little bit scratched up, he, he's a little bit cold and, and they're wondering why he's dehydrated because they look in his backpack. But he's got a gallon of water with him. Here's a, here's a hiker that was out in the woods. He became so panicked that he forgot he had water with him. So we can apply all these lesson that we learned with hikers. We can apply lessons that we learned with police officers. Third story is navy pilots who are landing on aircraft carriers. Pilots who are landing on airports that are moving, floating through the ocean. Sometimes they do it at night. Some of the real strict rules for Navy pilots are, is you just have to think of your scenario. Just go through your landing scenario. Don't think about anything else, don't think about what it's gonna be like after you land, don't think about what you're gonna do once you get on deck, 'cause if you think about anything, even just one item, outside of your landing scenario,. You hit the back of the aircraft carrier and you don't make it onto the veck. So, so we take these lesson that we've learn from, from folks like that. And we can, we gonna apply them. And we do apply them to training fire service personnel. When you train your people, make sure you train them completely. Make sure you train them with all the, all the proper elements of the evolution that you're going through. Now another point element of this that you need to remember is, it needs to be realistic. So, so here we are, again, I talked earlier about training a fire fighter who is in an entanglement situation. It could be training fire fighters who are lost, disoriented inside an occupancy. It could be training fire fighters on how to cut a roof, it doesn't have to be survival stuff, it could be any tactical evolution that you're involved with. When you're training fire fighters, not only must you remember. Most of memory. But you must remember to, to eventually escalate the training to realistic condition. So obviously the first time that you're training firefighters lets use a SCBA familiarity. Wearing your SCBA is something that you put on every run, its something that's gonna kep you alive in hostile atmospheres,. You should be very familiar with the SCBA. How to properly adorn it. How to properly [UNKNOWN] and take it off. How long your airs gonna last. And of course the emergency procedures. SCBA emergency procedures. There's basically two of them. The quick release or get this thing off yah, if you're tangled up and the reduce profile. Slide the mask next to yah, in case you gotta get through a narrow opening that you could, couldn't get through with the bottle on your back. Well in teaching those two evolutions, there are several steps that have to be taken for firefighters to perform them properly. And you generally start it, maybe standing in a room where the apparatus floor. All standing around in a circle looking at each other. Put your SCBRs okay, is everybody ready? We good? All right, do this. Loosen your right shoulder strap. Put your, put your right hand on the waist strap. Rotate the bottle around. Whatever the series of, of steps is that you do, you do it in a lighted, well heated. Comfortable area. Well, after everybody gets that out for me, now, you tell me, okay guys, get on your knees. Now we get everybody on their knees and we'll go through that same scenario again. Then the third time we will do is okay we're gonna put our face pieces on. Then the next time you do it, we'll put our face pieces on and we're gonna obscure them a little bit. Before you know it you have them laying down on the ground, face down, on air with obscured face piece doing it which is. Very likely situation are gonna be in if they actually have to perform it at the scene of a fire. Once we get that, and this is still just stage one of the training. Once we get everybody to, to sort of maximize and, and get that down solemnly, then we're gonna take them out to the training building or out to the training academy and we're gonna put them into maybe some heat and some smoke. Maybe even some sounds. Maybe some radio transmissions or some saws running. Or some people saw you yelling and screaming about urgent situations that are going on. You, you gotta maximize the training situation. You can't train people in, in an air conditioned firehouse, on a nice, smooth, concrete floor. And get a skill down, and then expect them to perform that same skill on the floor of a vacant wooden building, that's a 1000 degrees with heavy smoke and other firefighters are on them screaming and yelling about, you know, bail out or Mayday. So that's another realism effect that you have to add to your training. Another very interesting thing, and actually, this is one of the things that first caught my attention. In this whole audio [UNKNOWN] subject is, I was at a conference, and out of state conference, doing a presentation, and while I was waiting for my time to do the presentation, I was reading through the organization that ran it, it was the chief organization somewhere. They had a local magazine or newsletter there, and I was reading an article by a fella about firefighter survival, and I do a lot of firefighter survival training and have done for a long time. And this firefighter was talking about firefighters. But, not just firefighters. Humans in general, but we're applying it to our skill here. Firefighters who get panicked. And, and we've all probably bene in a situation where we got panicked. Maybe you got lost for a little while. Maybe, maybe you saw something happen. Maybe you started running low on air. If you get to a panic situation that raises your heart rate, now I'm not an EMT or a medical professional, but if your heart rate gets up to about 175 or 180 beats a minute because of panic. Now we can all get on a treadmill and get our heart rate up to 180 but the effects are not the same. It will not happen if you're on a treadmill. But if you're going through a building, even going through a training evolution. And you start to panic. If you start to get physically upset, and mentally distressed about something that's going on, and if your heart rate reaches that, that cutoff of 175 or 180, I read it in the article and I, and I had to read it again to, to believe it, you can't hear. You actually start to lose your hearing. Now, now when I read this for the first time I said, it's gotta be a mistake. I read it again and sure enough, the, the [INAUDIBLE] right. And he was basing his findings and the stuff that he was writing in that magazine based on some other folks' investigations that they had done and research. It turns out be-, the physiological response as a human, whether it's a human in the woods who encounters a tiger maybe 100 years ago, whether it's a, a police officer on a beat encountering a robber coming out of a store, or whether it's a firefighter being distressed about being disoriented. Or running low on air inside a burning building. If you're distressed to the, to the, point that your heart rate gets to about 180 beat a minute you're gonna have a very difficult time hearing [NOISE] in addition, not, not, a singular problem, in addition, you, you'll feel the vision dramatically narrows. They've done test, after test, after test. Another police story. They've done tests with police officers who were on shoot outs. Who ended up being either assaulted or shot by a perpetrator. A criminal that approached them from the side during the shoot out. It was determined that the police officer probably didn't hear anything because his hearing was negatively affected by his panic, and his field of vision from being normally out here was narrowed down to just a lane or an arrow in front of him and he didn't even see the guy coming with the gun next to him. We can expect these same results to fire fighters. When you get lost in a building, when you get disoriented. When you start to panic because you think you're running low on air or you become trapped or entangled, those same things can happen to you. Those same physiological changes can happen to you. And you can have people calling you on the radio, and I've done some, some firefighter fatality research. And I've looked into firefighters who were distressed. And were later found dead at the scene of the fire. Who didn't answer radio transmissions. And they find the radio's perfectly well. The, the radio's in good shape, the radio's on the proper channel, the radio's has a good battery. Why didn't the firefighter answer? Well this might be the answer. The, the answer might be the firefighter was so panicked that the point where the, other people were calling him on the radio to see if he needed assistance. He may not have even heard them. All of these elements are value of survivor. This muscle memory and these physiological changes that happen to you when you're getting into distrustful situations are all very important for us to remember. It's important for all of us as firefighters and officers, all of us that crawl through burning buildings, all of us that encounter dangerous situations whether it be in a fire building or a collapse situations, or even automobile accidents, any type of situation. But trainers in particular. Those of you that are trainers, those of you that are country instructors, you might even just be the training officer for your local, small, one station volunteer fire department somewhere, you're still the guy. You're still the trainer, you're still the one that's, that's tasked with getting your fire fighters up and running, able to do the job. Stay safe, come home from every run, alright? So these are things we want to think about, are you a survivor is a, is a big program it's a, it's a, it's a fairly new concept. There's not a lot of training programs out there like it. I actually have not seen another one and the reason I put it together was because I started to collect this information from these other sources and the couple of presentations that we've done on it so far in different areas. Have been very well received. People, particularly traders are starting to look at this and modify. I realized myself over the years, that I probably made some training errors in excluding or omitting boring or not very interesting parts of an evolution because I wanted to get to the important part about whether it be disentitlement or the SCBA emergency procedures or bailing out a window for a, you know, for survival skill. So it's important for all of us as firefighters, particularly important for those of you that are instructors or training officers. Big departments, little departments. Remember muscle member. Go research it. Go look it up. Go Google it. The information is out there. There's a lot of books out there. The books are not written for firefighters, although some do address. You know, fire officers and chief officers and company officer and the decisions we make and the things that are going through our heads when we run into dangerous or dramatic or devilry situations. But it's very important for us to consider this new element of survival. This are you a survivor question. Are you a survivor? We need to pay attention to that. Included into all of our training evolutions, make sure we do a full complete evolutions, make sure we escalate our evolutions, to real live conditions, real live fire conditions, real live free conditions, and provide the proper training to our fire fighters that they need to survive the next fire that they go to. And stay safe out there. Thank you.

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