Critical Steps to Successful Egress

As is true of all fireground tasks, the way to ensure successful egress from a fire building is to be fully prepared to take actions before the call to respond is received.

Preparation includes knowing how to use our equipment to maximum advantage so that we do not create problems or delay action. It means knowing those buildings in your area that pose special hazards. And, of course, it entails training-training that makes us comfortable with our equipment, that develops in us good operational habits so they are second nature to us should things go bad.

In addition, our training should instill in us the confidence to try new ideas and to come up with a unique spin on tactics that work and push out the edge of our comfort zone so that we can stay calm and effective when things go wrong.


Obviously, the best way to handle a firefighter emergency is to avoid it. Properly and thoroughly sizing up helps us maintain safety and efficiency on the fireground. Other factors that can control “surprises” on the fireground include being proactive and not waiting for a problem to develop before throwing ladders and forcing doors.

There must be an appreciation of the importance of the rapid intervention team function. Team members should be standing by ready to intervene immediately if needed. They should have adequate tools and a breathing air supply and should be performing ongoing size-ups and monitoring radio traffic.


The team must know what is going on at all times. Obviously, the sooner we know that someone is in trouble, the better. Maintain crew integrity. Watch out for each other. The incident commander should call for regular timely personnel accountability reports (PAR). Remember that the No. 1 Rule is, “I am No. 1”: I am of no use to anyone if I am hurt or in trouble. Remember the risk vs. benefit analysis. Always be thinking, should we be here or is there a better and safer way to achieve our goal?


Forget the “bull in a China shop.” Needless, reckless moving and throwing of contents waste energy, risks hitting other firefighters or victims, may disrupt occupancy contents and cause falling objects or other problems, and may change the floor plan, which may lead to disorientation of firefighters and occupants.

Don’t fight the building; it will win. When you encounter an entanglement, don’t think you will be able to fight your way out. Those little wires are stronger than you think; if they attach to something, you probably don’t want to pull the object down on top of you.

Call for help early. Time is air, and you can always return resources if you end up not needing them.

Stay calm. Panic breeds bad decisions and consumes precious air. This goes back to training.

The following techniques can help to free you from an entanglement:

Swim Out. This technique can help free you from most entanglements you may encounter. When you first feel an entanglement, immediately stop and back up just a little. This will let slack into the entanglement and allow you to remove it when you find it. Perform a sweep with one arm, starting at the top of the helmet, down your profile, up behind the SCBA, and back to the front. Dispose of any obstacles you find. Repeat the process with the other arm, using the same full-circle motion (photos 1-3).

Photos by author.





Ground Wedge. Use this technique for an unusually risky entanglement hazard. Lie on one side with the SCBA flush with the ground; this greatly reduces your profile. Extend the arm of the shoulder highest from the ground up over the head to rest the hand on the ground. This allows you to “wedge” beneath any encountered obstacles. Use your free hand to maintain contact with a hoseline or tagline or to assist with handling the entanglement hazards as your feet push you forward. This technique provides slow forward movement but can prevent entanglement when you encounter an unusually tough obstacle (photos 4-8).










Pack Removal. Use this technique to free yourself from stubborn entanglements. Remove the SCBA from your back to better access it and remove entanglements from it. Observe the following precautions: For belt-mounted regulators, keep the regulator in your left hand to protect it, and keep the left shoulder strap of the SCBA on the left arm, to maintain control of the SCBA and prevent it from pulling on your mask and breaking the seal. For mask-mounted regulators, keep on the shoulder strap from which the airline originates (photos 9-12).









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Training evolutions can be as simple or involved as you like. They may include some rope, a table, or anything else you have around the station. We constructed a tube out of old office cubicle panels and cut slots in the top and bottom to hold panels made of 2 × 4s (photo 13). Some of the panels are strung with insulation, ropes, wires, and conduit (photo 14). Others are constructed with gypsum board. The panels are changed between evolutions to keep firefighters guessing about what they will encounter as they enter. They get to practice a variety of techniques as they make their way through the tube (photos 15, 16).









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Training for the worst-case scenario will help make difficult circumstances “almost routine” and help firefighters become accustomed to working outside their comfort zone should it become necessary.

ROBERT ROWLEY, a member of the fire and EMS service for 12 years, is a firefighter/medic with the Henrico County (VA) Fire Department He is also a captain for the Centerville Volunteer Fire Department and a Virginia state fire instructor and officer.

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