National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System: Self-Survival Procedures

Self-survival is an essential skill for firefighters to be trained in and excel. The likelihood of a firefighter needing self-survival skills is as unpredictable as the next dispatch for a working fire. Therefore, being bombproof when it comes to self-survival is a critical task. In moments of high stress, where fear becomes an overwhelming emotion, maintaining a cool head can be the difference between life and death. One effective way we all learn procedures and processes or memorize lists is to form a mnemonic using the first letter of each word in the list. For fireground survival, “GRAB LIVES” is an effective mnemonic for remembering lifesaving elements. In this week’s featured firefighter near-miss report, the elements of “GRAB LIVES” come to life to support a successful outcome.

“…units were dispatched to a structure fire. Engine [1] gave a report of a 2-story wood frame house with heavy smoke coming from the roof. Engine [2] reported on the scene and dropped a firefighter off at the hydrant and laid supply line into Engine [1]. Being the acting officer on Engine [2], fully dressed with all PPE and handheld radio, I proceeded to the front door of the structure to assist Engine [1]’s crew with pulling slack for the 1 3/4″ pre-connect. Engine [1]’s crew had not located the fire and was searching for the origin of the fire. There was zero visibility upon ascending the stairwell and there was no heat. I took 2, possibly 3, steps onto the second floor and unknowingly walked between two 2×4 studs of a framed unfinished wall…After making my way around the room, I ended up over the fire room. Engine [1]’s crew had located the fire and had begun extinguishment. There was a lot of heat in that area and I quickly moved away to an area (that I did not know at the time) which was right where I had stepped through the studs. I then called a MAYDAY over the radio, activated my PASS device, and waited on the RIT team…”


Gauge, Radio, Activate PASS, Breathing (as in control breathing), Low (as in stay Low), Illuminate (shine your light), Volume (as in make noise), Exit (as in search for an exit), Shield.

These tools and actions support survival for the trapped, lost or disoriented firefighter. Once you have read the entire account (CLICK HERE) and reviewed the power point presentation linked through the “GRAB LIVES” mnemonic, consider the following:
  1. What do you consider to be the most important element for firefighter survival and why?
  2. Have you ever been lost, trapped or disoriented during firefighting operations? If yes, what conscious steps did you take to safety?
  3. When you are on scene assigned to RIT, how many potential rescue scenarios do you and your crew review as you are standing by for deployment?
  4. What is your best practice regarding air supply limits and time to exit the structure?
  5. Discuss the elements of “GRAB LIVES” with your crew. Are there any other elements that deserve inclusion? Is there an additional mnemonic that can be created?
Keeping your head under pressure, when that pressure involves your survival, is no easy task. Survival depends on intense training, frequent repetitive review and periodic performance under realistic scenarios. In order to save lives, including your own, remembering “GRAB LIVES” will give you nine tips for survival.


Submit your report to today so everyone goes home tomorrow. For more on the value of near miss reporting for the fire service, read “Tailboard Talk: Near Miss Reporting.”

Note: The questions posed by the reviewers are designed to generate discussion and thought in the name of promoting firefighter safety. They are not intended to pass judgment on the actions and performance of individuals in the reports.

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