By Michael G. Brown
There is a lot of talk about firefighter survivability these days; rapid intervention teams (RIT), firefighter down, and urban rescue permeate many of today’s fire station chats. If you’re placed in charge of a RIT team, how much “power” does your team bring to the table? How much force could your four- person team exert on, say, a 2,000-pound heavy wooden roof truss that has entrapped one of your fellow firefighters?
FEMA’s Urban Search and Rescue Program Lifting and Moving Module figures a firefighter/rescuer in good physical shape to be fully capable of repeatedly lifting 50 pounds over a 12-hour shift. Granted, you may be supervising three other enormous brutes that are capable of lifting 1,000 pounds on a dead lift in the gym. But on closer examination, 50 pounds force (lbf) is a pretty realistic figure. Remember, your people will be wearing a complete protective ensemble with breathing apparatus, they will be working in a less than perfect environment, and they will probably be less than in perfect condition themselves just getting to the site of the entrapment.
Accepting a national standard 50 pounds per firefighter/rescuer, we can calculate any potential force multiplier required to get the load off our fellow firefighter. It doesn’t take much practice to be able to start field calculating the approximate weights of materials. If the truss entrapping the firefighter is estimated to be 2,000 pounds, and your four- person team brings 200 pounds of force (50 X 4 = 200) to the lift, there is probably no way you will free your firefighter friend. Valuable time could be lost on countless failed attempts to lift the truss. Knowing in advance your team’s capability (200 lbf), it is readily apparent a force multiplier of 10 will be necessary to make the lift (200 X 10 = 2000 lbf). Knowing this in advance can save you a lot of time and will probably result in the successful rescue of your downed member.
10:1 mechanical advantages are easy to put together on the fireground: Each member using a six-foot pry bar in the first class lever configuration could easily lift the truss. 4″- X 4″- X 14-foot timbers can be found almost anywhere and can also be used to lever the truss off the member. Most truck companies have a set of pulleys and ropes that can be used to build a 10:1 mechanical advantage pulley system that, with your team, could lift the truss off the member.
Bottom line: Before a firefighter entrapment occurs, think through what kind of force your team really brings to the scene and plan ahead for various force multipliers that clearly demonstrate your leadership abilities are more than just brawn–you’ve got plenty of brains up there too.
MICHAEL G. BROWN, a 26-year veteran of the fire service, is a battalion chief with the Virginia Beach (VA) Fire Department. He was a charter member of Virginia’s Department of Fire Programs Heavy and Tactical Rescue Team and was assigned to develop and produce the training curricula for the rope rescue and confined space rescue programs. Brown was co-founder of the Tidewater Regional Technical Rescue Team, one of the first regionally organized specialized rescue teams in the country, which became FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Team Virginia Task Force 2. He is certified nationally as a FEMA rescue specialist instructor and holds the position of task force rescue team manager. Brown is a corporate partner of Spec. Rescue International, a technical rescue training and consulting company.