By Brian Zaitz
You are on the second floor operating with your crew. Suddenly, conditions change and your doorway for escape becomes blocked by fire because of a flashover in the next room. You find a window and take it out. You look and there is no ladder. Conditions are deteriorating quickly and you need to bail. What are you going to do?
Although many firefighters might say they would never find themselves in this situation, or that we should train to avoid these circumstances, the reality is that, no matter how much we train or how good we are, we may sometimes find ourselves jammed up on the fireground. When this happens, hopefully you and your crews are prepared with a bailout or firefighter self-rescue system and have are proficient in its use. And yes, this is a basic skill that all firefighters who enter a structure should know how to do.
When performing a bailout, it is imperative to know the operation of your equipment. Although the concept and principles remain the same, there are slight nuances in design to each set. The initial step is to clear the window; note that when taking the window you have created a potential new flow path, so time is of the essence for escape. Once the window has been cleared, anchor yourself into the windowsill and prepare to bail out (Figure 1 in the drill linked below). When going out, stay low and keep your left hand on the anchor to set the anchor in place and provide a support for your decent (Figure 2). If you do not have a bailout system, this same maneuver can be done to escape the IDLH room. Hang outside the room, staying low to allow the smoke and products of combustion to escape above you. Once outside, crews can quickly deploy a ladder to your location for the completion of the self-rescue (Figure 3). Once outside the building, drop below the windowsill and situate yourself. The anchor is now locked and you are outside the fire room. Although this is excellent, it is not the time to slow down, as others of your crew may be bailing out, too, so continue to move quickly to the ground (Figure 4). Set your legs in place and begin your descent. Most devices work off a simple trigger-type release to lower yourself. The harder you squeeze, the faster your go. Make sure you have control your descent as you go (Figure 5). Once on the ground, ensure crew accountability and let command know of your location.
As stated before, no one plans to find themselves in a situation where they need to bail out. But with today’s construction, fuels, and fire growth, the chance is higher that we are going to be operating within seconds of potential disaster. We must prepare ourselves to both be aware of changing conditions and what procedures to take to ensure our safety on the fireground. Get out and practice, it can only make you better!
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Brian Zaitz is a 14-year student of the fire service, currently assigned as the captain/training officer with the Metro West (MO) Fire Protection District. Brian is an instructor with Engine House Training, LLC as well as instructor at the St. Louis County Fire Academy. Brian holds several degrees, including an associates in paramedic technology, a bachelors in fire science management, and a masters in human resource development. Brian is currently and accredited chief training officer and student of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program.
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