Lessons Learned From Mask Confidence Training

BY ANTHONY AVILLO AND MIKE NASTA

Bread and butter operations are the back-bone of the fire service. Primary search, ground ladder raises, hose stretching, and other routine Firefighter I tactics are the everyday tasks by which the job gets done. It is, therefore, not surprising that they are also related to the greatest number of fireground casualties. Outside of cardiac-related deaths, more firefighters are probably killed and injured performing these standard operations than all other casualty-causing factors combined.

Following are lessons we have learned from conducting numerous mask confidence courses, particularly at H.O.T. training at the Fire Department Instructors Conference. We used abandoned dedicated buildings for the exercise described here. Numerous firefighter traps inherent to this type of building were created. They included loose and hanging electrical wires and miniblind obstructions, holes in the floors and walls, missing stairs, collapsing ceilings, and an attitude-adjustment device for firefighters less than receptive to what we were trying to accomplish.

SAFETY GUIDELINES

The follow guidelines, which should be standard operating procedures, were emphasized during the exercise.

  • Wear your protective equipment properly. This should go without saying. During the exercise, anyone wearing his gear improperly suffered. One of our pet peeves is wearing the chinstrap around the back of the helmet. We see this all the time and can never understand it. We have observed that most firefighters who wear the helmet this way have to constantly readjust it or pick it up when it falls off. When you are crawling, it falls off when you look down because of gravity. It falls off when you look up because the SCBA cylinder hits it. These firefighters spent more time fixing their equipment than getting tasks done. Anyone wearing his helmet in this manner had it continually poked off his head by a halligan hook. We allowed the firefighters to redon the helmet until they were in the “missing floor” area. At this point, if the helmet was not properly secured after having been knocked off several times, it took the path of least resistance between the joists and wound up on the floor below (see “Don’t lose contact with your tool” below). Anytime you lose your helmet, you are a liability to yourself and your fellow firefighters.

    Constructing a mask confidence course is not difficult. You don’t even need a dedicated building. A garage, shed, or other suitable area will suffice. All it takes is some wood, nails, and creativity. You are limited only by your imagination.

    ANTHONY AVILLO, a 15-year veteran of the fire service, is a battalion chief with the North Hudson (NJ) Regional Fire & Rescue, where he is a consultant to the Division of Training and a member of the Arson/Origin and Cause Division. He is a New Jersey state-certified Level II Fire Instructor and an instructor at the Bergen County Fire Academy. He was a lecturer and H.O.T. instructor at FDIC 2000 and FDIC WEST 2000.

    MIKE NASTA, a 15-year veteran of the fire service, is a captain with the Newark (NJ) Fire Department, assigned to Ladder 5, and an instructor at the Bergen County (NJ) Fire Academy. He was a lead instructor at FDIC 2000 and FDIC WEST H.O.T. training.


    Creating a diminished clearance can be as easy as cutting a diagonal in a door. It forces the firefighter to stay low to pass it and to decide whether or not to remove his SCBA. Here, most firefighters do not have to remove their SCBAs. If you don’t have to, you shouldn’t. (Photos by authors.)

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    To pass this obstacle, it is necessary to use the reduced profile SCBA maneuver. You can make it even more challenging by stringing some wire between the studs. Note the absence of the floor decking just two to three feet past the obstacle. Firefighters must be taught to probe areas at all times.

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    Not all openings are at floor level. Firefighters must be taught to feel all areas when searching. Blinds placed in the opening further entangle and frustrate efforts. Above the “peaked roof” is the debris-laden attitude adjustment device. Just one pull with the halligan hook and ellipse. It’s never a good idea to mess with the instructor, especially with a hood over your head.

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    Using the “knee-replaces-the hand” method to traverse joists no matter what the firefighter’s orientation is the safest way. Note that contact with the wall is maintained. The tool, however, should be in the other hand to sweep outer areas. Also, the tool will be easier to control if the hand is slid all the way down to the head of the ax.

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    The cylinder, not visible, is properly positioned in line with the body. The tool is also in a good position-any farther, and it would drop in the hole. Once passing the obstacle, the firefighter must immediately redon the SCBA before moving. If he slides too far from the wall, he could fall through the floor. Feet first is preferable here.

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    The swim technique. Note the relationship of the cylinder with the floor. There is much less chance of snagging the SCBA on the wires if the body is turned sideways.

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    The tool hooked over the sill allows the firefighter to slide away from the danger area while controlling his descent. He can remain there for an extended period of time awaiting rescue. In this case, this is far superior to holding onto the sill with the hand.

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