Article and photos by Mark van der Feyst
Conducting a rapid search is one of the functions that a truck company will undertake on the fireground. Combine search operations with the rescue and removal of occupants and you’ll see why the truck company is essential to firefighting operations. This task is not just reserved for a dedicated truck company, as in a traditional setting, but for the first-arriving units on scene—this could mean an engine, a rescue, a quint, or even a water tender/tanker. Regardless, if the conditions warrant a fast attack of the fire, a search can be commenced, and removal of occupants can take place.
The conditions of the fire will dictate whether an occupant inside a structure will be a viable victim rescue or removal. Residential occupants do not wear structural firefighting gear as part of their normal attire and so are exposed to a higher degree of heat, fire, and smoke then a firefighter would be. This decision must be made within the first few moments of arrival, which will set the tone and pace for the operation.
Once a victim has been located, they need to be removed. This removal should be quick, using the nearest exit point. The quickest exit point in most areas of a residential structure will be a window. This will provide the rescue team a short distance to drag the person to the window and incorporate another team on the outside to ladder and remove the occupant down to safety.
The laddering of the window may be completed by one firefighter or by a team of two. If two firefighters are assigned, then there will be ample help to bring down the occupant. If only one firefighter is available to ladder the window, then the interior rescue team may need to assist in the ladder descent. This is where one firefighter will heel the ladder at the bottom while the interior team will send one firefighter out onto the ladder to receive the occupant as they are passed out.
Passing the victim out a window will be the tough part for the interior team. The amount of work it will take to elevate a person from the floor to the window sill will be enough to fatigue the crew, and this does not factor in dragging the victim to the window to begin with. If both firefighters are required to do this with only one firefighter laddering the outside window, the occupant will have to be placed or staged on the window sill so that one of the interior rescue team firefighters can climb over the occupant and onto the ladder. The firefighters will now be ready to receive the occupant with the one interior rescue firefighter helping to push and guide them out.
The easiest way to bring a person down a ladder is to have them lie horizontal across the arms of the rescuer. This position allows the firefighter to maintain control of the person at all times while descending down the ladder one rung at a time. This position can be easily set up with either the head or the feet being passed out first. The firefighter on the ladder will guide the occupant into the correct position, as seen in photo 1.
In photo 2, you can see how the occupant ends up on the ladder, draped horizontally across the arms of the firefighter. It is important that the occupant be firmly supported in two key areas: under the arm pit and in between the legs. The hands on the firefighter will be firmly grasping onto the beams of the ladder, allowing him to slide them down as they descend. By placing the arms under the arm pit and in between the legs, you are ensuring the occupant will not slide out from underneath the firefighter and fall to the ground. An unconscious victim will be floppy and not be able to support themselves to help you. You will have to do all the work.
The occupant should be positioned so that they are “sitting” or lying right in the gut of the firefighter. By having them in this position, the arms of the firefighter will be at 90 degrees as opposed to having the occupant high up in the chest area of the firefighter and their arms being almost straight out. This will provide for better control and be less fatiguing on the firefighter.
In photo 3, you can see that the occupant is a little bit crooked and not oriented completely horizontal. Depending upon the size and weight of the occupant, the firefighter may have to adjust the position of the occupant so that they are balanced on the ladder and on their arms. This can be accomplished by sliding one of the firefighter’s hands down the ladder beam to adjust accordingly. Once the balance point is located, the occupant will slide down the ladder much easier.
Once at the bottom of the ladder, how do we get the occupant off and away to awaiting medical personnel? In photos 4 and 5, you will see how we will accomplish this. The firefighter will drop the leg side of the occupant onto the ground by removing their hand from that area. They will take that free hand and reach under the other arm pit side so that they can grab both of their own hands. Once a firm grasp has been implemented, the firefighter can drag the occupant away from the ladder.
Practicing this technique will benefit the firefighter with becoming proficient and comfortable with executing this type of rescue.
Mark van der Feyst has been in the fire service since 1999 and is a full-time firefighter in Ontario, Canada. He is an international instructor teaching in Canada, the United States, and India, and at FDIC. Van der Feyst is a local level suppression instructor for the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy. He is also the lead author of Residential Fire Rescue (Fire Engineering Books & Video).
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