A firefighter rescue situation that has presented itself many times in the past is the need to remove a downed firefighter from a room through a window. This rescue scenario has frustrated and angered many firefighters mainly because no matter how hard they tried they were unable to get one of their members out of the window. If they were successful, it most often took a very long time and at times did not end favorably.

There are a variety of reasons many of these rescue attempts were unsuccessful. We know that none of them failed due to rescuers` lack of will or brave and heroic efforts. Many of these incidents resulted in firefighters placing their lives in peril in their effort to save their downed or trapped comrade. Every time we read or hear about an incident that claimed the life of a firefighter or, worse yet, the lives of several firefighters, we want to know what happened. Could this happen to me or my company? Did they miss anything? Many times a tactical error is made that results in the injury or death of the firefighter. Some of these errors include the following:

Failure to get a good “read” of the building or the fire. Size-up!

Failure to ventilate.

Wrong size attack line.

Poor communications.

No accountability.

Not enough help.

The list goes on. However, there are times when we do what we are supposed to do, follow all the steps, have enough people to do the job, and still end up with things going bad. The idea is not to point fingers but to learn from such incidents.


There is a big difference between saying we can get a firefighter up and out of a window and actually accomplishing it. Many of us realized this after reading Dave McGrail and Jack Rogers` article regarding the death of Engineer Mark Langvardt of the Denver (CO) Fire Department (see Fire Engineering, April 1993). We in the fire service owe the Denver Fire Department and other departments a sincere thank you for sharing their incidents with all of us so that we can learn from them.

Engineer Langvardt ended up trapped in a room on the second floor of a commercial building. After numerous unsuccessful attempts to remove him through the window, members gained access to Engineer Langvardt by breaching an interior foyer wall. Remember that all these attempts were made in extremely high heat and dense smoke. Removing a firefighter from a room with few obstructions and a clear path to the window is hard enough, but try to do it in a 28-inch-wide area with a 42-inch-high windowsill and a window that is only 20 inches wide. (This size window is not unlike most residential casement-style windows.) Don`t forget about the added weight of the victim`s SCBA and turnout gear, especially if it`s wet. All these factors add up to a frustrating rescue.


Let`s look at the case of a downed firefighter in a room where your only way out with the firefighter is the window due to a floor collapse or rapidly advancing fire. Access to the window is a narrow, tight space, and the rescuers must work single file instead of alongside the victim. The access to and area around the window is limited due to shelving, file cabinets, clothes washers and dryers, heavy furniture, and a variety of other obstructions. We all know “that firefighter” who could probably go in alone and lift the downed firefighter up and out of the window to waiting firefighters, but unfortunately this is not the norm.

What we need to do as part of a team is use a method that will get the firefighter up and out as quickly as possible. The “Saving Our Own” program teaches several methods that accomplish this task. Your firefighters can determine which one works best for them after drilling with them. Or you may discover a different method that works well for you. We have found two methods that work best.

Method 1: Three-Rescuer Team

Whether a ground-floor or second-floor window is involved, the first few steps will be the same.

Step 1. Rescuer 1 enters the window into the room. He must consider the floor`s structural stability. Also, if high heat is pushing out of the top of the window opening, the rescuer should attempt to stay as low as possible when moving through the window (see photo 4).

Step 2. After making it into the room, rescuer 1 positions himself so that the victim is now between him and the window. Rescuer 1 attempts to move the victim slightly away from the window (see photo 4).

Step 3. Rescuer 2 enters through the window and positions himself with his back against the wall located just below the windowsill. The idea is to try to create a “ramp” to move the victim over. Otherwise, he`d be trying to lift the victim straight up and out, which can be extremely difficult. You might want to consider using a door or a backboard as a ramp instead of rescuer 2, but at times these may not be available (see photo 4).

Step 4. Rescuer 3 takes a position just outside the window. This rescuer, when given the command, will attempt to reach in and grab the victim, most likely by the victim`s SCBA shoulder straps, and pull.

Step 5. When all three rescuers are ready, rescuer 1 gives the command to lift the victim. At this point, rescuer 1 lifts using the straps on the victim`s SCBA harness and, as the victim moves up and out, lifts the waist area and then the legs. As rescuer 1 lifts, rescuer 2 begins to lift from the sitting position by lifting up on the victim`s SCBA cylinder and waist. The main objective for rescuer 2 is to hold the victim in place after each lifting attempt so that the victim doesn`t slide back to the floor after each attempt. This could tire the team very fast. As rescuers 1 and 2 begin to lift, rescuer 3 (outside the window) attempts to grab the victim`s SCBA shoulder straps and pulls up and outward (see photos 5, 6, and 7).

Note: All three rescuers need to work as a team and lift together. Also, communications will be difficult, so rescuer 1`s orders to lift will need to be loud enough for everyone to hear. For a second-floor rescue, as more personnel arrive, additional ladders can be placed on each side of the window, allowing for three rescuers to carry the victim down the ladder (see photo 8).

Method 2: Rope and Ladder

The idea is not to turn this into a technical rescue job–usually time won`t allow it–but instead to try to keep it basic.

Step 1. Rescuer 1 enters the room as in method 1. If this is a second-floor window, set the tips of the ladder being used to enter the window just below the windowsill.

Step 2. Rescuers 2 and 3 raise a second ladder, placing the tips just above the top of the window.

Step 3. Rescuers 2 and 3 then pass the rope up on the outside of the second ladder and over the rung closest to the top of the window (see photo 9).

Step 4. After passing the rope over the rung, rescuers 2 and 3 feed the rope into the room, where rescuer 1 ties the handcuff knot (see Training Notebook, March 1998).

Step 5. Rescuer 1 places the knot on the victim`s wrists and orders the slack taken out of the rope (see photo 10).

Step 6. When rescuer 1 gives the command to haul, rescuers 2 and 3 begin to pull the rope. At this point, depending on the availability of additional personnel, a fourth rescuer can position himself on the first ladder and assist with the removal (see photo 10). Once the victim clears the window, rescuer 4 can help guide the victim to the ground. If staffing is limited, rescuers 2 and 3 can remain at the base of the ladder, heeling it as they haul. As additional personnel arrive, they can heel the ladder, allowing rescuers 2 and 3 to move away from the ladder as they haul (see photos 11, 12, and 13).

At times, due to the weight of the victim or the age and wear of the victim`s SCBA shoulder straps, you might need to tie a knot in the loose ends of the straps just under the buckles.


A question that is often asked when drilling on this is, Why can`t we just breach and take the wall out from the windowsill to the floor? The answer is, in the heat of the moment, this is often forgotten about. Also, it depends on the building`s construction: Different types of construction may make this difficult and time-consuming. If time is on your side and the building construction will allow you to do it, by all means do so and make it easier on yourself.

A safety note: We cannot stress enough the importance of proper lifting techniques prior to and throughout the entire drill. Stretching prior to the drill might also help reduce the risks of a back injury.

There is much we can learn from people such as our brothers in Denver. Practice these techniques until you are proficient in them and, as always, before you need them.

(Left) This small window made it difficult to rescue Engineer Mark Langvardt at a Denver, Colorado, building fire. [Photo courtesy of the Denver (CO) Fire Department Safety and Training Division; all other photos by Rick Lasky.] (Right) This casement-style window is common in many residential structures.

(Above) This training prop provides rescuers a tight space and small window with which to work.

RICK LASKY, a 17-year veteran of the fire service, is a battalion chief with the Darien-Woodridge Fire District in Darien, Illinois, and is currently assigned to the Training/Safety Division. He is an instructor for the Illinois Fire Service Institute (IFSI) and the Illinois Fire Chiefs` Association and the creator of the IFSI “Saving Our Own: Techniques for Firefighter Rescues” program.

SAL MARCHESE, a 21-year veteran of the fire service, is a lieutenant with the City of New York (NY) Fire Department and is currently assigned to Tower Ladder 142 in Queens. He is a member and past chief of the South Hempstead (NY) Volunteer Fire Department and an instructor for the Illinois Fire Service Institute (IFSI) and for the IFSI “Saving Our Own: Techniques for Firefighter Rescues” program.

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