SAVING OUR OWN: DESIGNING A FIREFIGHTER SURVIVAL TRAINING AID

BY RICK LASKY

The need to train our firefighters to survive on the fireground will always rank at the top of our training priorities list. However, the realism of the fireground emergency (“Maydays,” firefighters lost or trapped, and so on) will always be difficult to recreate in a drill scenario. Without an instructor`s ability to set the “mood” for the drill, it becomes just another obstacle course.

As more and more fire departments across the country expand their firefighter survival and rescue training programs, instructors, prior to putting the drill together, will need to take time to “set the table” for the hands-on evolution. Rather than jump right into a hands-on drill that requires a firefighter to remove himself or a downed firefighter from a situation, every so often provide a lecture prior to the practical portion of the drill. For example, present a case study that involves a line-of-duty death or serious injury and explain how it relates to the subject at hand. Discuss and compare buildings in your area–their construction and their traps. Take pictures or slides. Provide drawings of the building`s layout or floor plans that relate to your subject.

MORE

SAVING OUR OWN: THE RAPID INTERVENTION TEAM CHECKLIST

SAVING OUR OWN: APPROACHING A DOWNED FIREFIGHTER

SAVING OUR OWN: TECHNIQUES FOR FIREFIGHTER RESCUES

Probably the most important thing to remember when using a particular case study is, don`t let it turn into a finger-pointing session or one that assigns blame. What is important is stressing to the group that in most cases when a rescue attempt was made, those members attempting the rescue did so to the best of their abilities. As reactionary as we can be in the fire service, firefighter survival training should attempt to take that reaction to an event or tragedy and bring it full circle to the proactive side by training our members: first, not to get into that particular situation and, second, how to get themselves out of it.

Many fire departments have access to a training facility that allows them to train in some of the areas of firefighter survival. Whether it is a training tower or buildings used for various other drill topics, keep in mind that many fire departments do not have these opportunities. Their sharpness depends on their creativity.

TRAINING PROPS

As we continue to discuss the various techniques for removing downed firefighters, our need to design training props and aids plays an important role in the process. Most training facilities provide us with many, if not all, of the following: windows, stairs, floor, and roof hatches. All of these, as simple as they appear, can be used in survival training. Creating SCBA confidence mazes and adding entanglement drills work well to build self-rescue skills. The ability to create good training props generally relies on the following:

Funds to purchase materials for training.

Resources available. Many business owners are willing to lend support by donating funds or materials.

Time available to personnel to build the prop.

When things are really going good, buildings set for demolition that can be acquired for training purposes.

Somebody with basic carpentry skills.

Refer back to number 1 (funds) again!

These are just a few considerations. Sometimes, much more might be needed. Throughout our travels with the “Saving Our Own” program, we have been to facilities that have offered almost everything as well as to those that did not. The thought came to mind a while back to create a training prop (see illustration on page 11) and a list of materials needed (above) that would allow an instructor to train in as many of the firefighter rescue techniques as possible, but one that wouldn`t cost most of the budget to do so.

We came up with a training aid that allows for the following firefighter rescue skills stations:

Removing a downed firefighter from a tight room and window, a situation similar to the one in Denver, Colorado, that claimed the life of Engineer Mark Langvardt.

Moving the downed firefighter up a stairwell.

Removing the firefighter who has fallen through the floor, similar to the incident in Columbus, Ohio, that claimed the life of Firefighter John Nance.

Removing an unconscious firefighter from a second-floor room through the window and down a ladder.

Bailing out using the emergency ladder to escape an advancing fire.

Bailing from a window and performing an emergency rappel using a personal rope.

Performing the interior wall breach to move from one room to another or to the outside.

All of these exercises can be done at one location without the worry of losing time in moving from building to building or location to location. The entire prop is no more than eight feet wide by eight feet deep and a little under 16 feet high and is built out of treated lumber. Probably one of the best features about this prop is that it costs between $700 and $1,000 in materials, depending on where you buy your building supplies. Some fire departments have been able to get the supplies donated by a local lumber yard. After using one of your carpenters, maintenance will most likely consist of using a wood preservative once a year, as for a deck or fence.

Nothing beats being able to use a “real” building to train in. Whether we`re burning in them, tearing them apart, or using them for firefighter survival training, they allow for the realism that is an asset to any drill. This training prop is just one more way to help you with delivering your firefighter training program. Stay safe! n

For additional information on the “Saving Our Own” program, contact Deputy Director Dave Clark at the University of Illinois Fire Service Institute at (217) 333-3801.

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(1, 2) Pictures of all four sides of the prop. (Photos by author.) (3) The Hanover (VA) Fire Academy constructed this “Saving Our Own” prop for a class it sponsored. The prop has been used several times since.

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(4, 5) The first-floor room provides the area for training in removing a firefighter from a tight space. (6) The stair rescue can be performed without interfering with the other evolutions. (7, 8) A hinged floor hatch makes it possible to remove a firefighter from a lower level. (9) The second-floor window provides the means for rescuing a firefighter using a ladder. (10) The emergency ladder bail is accomplished through the same second-floor window. (11) Firefighters practice the wall breach through a half wall covered with gypsum board. (12) From this side, students can observe members working inside the room.

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