Ten Tips to Prepare for the Next Alarm


Scenario: It’s 0710 hours at the station and you’ve just set your gear by the apparatus; you’re ready to start the shift and run some calls. But … are you really prepared? Is your gear placed on the apparatus properly? Is all of your personal protective equipment (PPE) (i.e., gloves, hood, mask, and so on) accounted for? Have you checked your self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA)? Is your flashlight charged and working? All of these precautions, as elementary as they may seem, can keep you from getting seriously hurt or killed.

We’ve all been there: You’re at the station on no sleep, you’ve just returned from vacation, and you’re trying to get motivated and back into the swing of things. Or, maybe you’ve been detailed for the day. You think to yourself, “I’ll make sure all of my gear is straight after I clear my head.” Then, 30 seconds later, your company is dispatched to a reported working fire with trapped occupants.

By then, it is too late. You now have to assume that all of your PPE and SCBA are ready and the previous night’s shift checked and confirmed that your whole SCBA unit was working. You have now just played Russian Roulette with your own life and, possibly, the lives of your crew.

Take pride in checking your gear and apparatus; it is critical that you and your company are ready for the next alarm. Following are some simple tips for checking and preparing your PPE that may better prepare you for the next time the bells go off.

1 Account for all of your PPE at the start of each shift. Realizing that you are missing a glove or protective hood while en route to an emergency is unacceptable. If you cannot operate, you could potentially place your entire company out of service. Remember, we operate as a TEAM. Place your gear on the apparatus in a manner in which you can quickly and safely don it (photo 1).

(1) Place your PPE on the apparatus in a manner that will allow it to be donned more quickly and easily. This also ensures accountability of your personal effects. (Photos by author.)

2 Check your own SCBA at the start of each shift. Some departments rely on the driver/operator to do so for each position. However, it’s your life and your responsibility. Ensuring your air cylinder is full and all components are operating properly are musts before and after each use. Check the SCBA waist and shoulder straps as well. Leaving the straps slightly pretensioned and separated by the seat assembly can allow for quicker donning, especially for smaller firefighters. Also do this with your SCBA face piece. Leaving a longer tab to pull will make it easier to tension the strap for a good seal, especially with a gloved hand (photo 2). Note: Donning your face piece and protective hood with your gloves on is a lost art in the fire service. Practice this!

(2) Shoulder and waist straps should be slightly pretensioned and positioned in a manner that allows for fast and easy donning of SCBA. Certain manufacturers’ seat and harness assemblies can vary, which will dictate how this is done.

3 Preconnect your mask to your regulator.This eliminates an additional step when preparing to enter a building or any immediately dangerous to life and health situation. Obviously, this is dictated by your department’s current SCBA model, but if your department still uses a belt-mounted regulator, preconnecting the low-pressure hose prior to use eliminates another step in the donning process.

(3) The face piece assembly tabs are slightly tensioned, which allows for easier donning. Adding a large “slip-ring” to one of the face piece tensioning clips makes it easier to secure the face piece to the pack harness when not in use, depending on the SCBA’s make and model.

4 Place your accountability tags on the apparatus each morning.This should be one of your first actions when you are assuming duty; your officer should not have to ask you for them. Accountability starts with YOU (photo 4).

(4) Placing accountability or PASS tags on the apparatus at the start of each shift is a must when assuming duty. This lets your company officer know his crew is accounted for at the beginning of each tour.

5 Carry at least three to four door chocks with you at all times.Count the number of doors you pass through on your next medical call before arriving at the patient. Then ask yourself, “If this building were on fire, would I be able to keep all these doors open to ensure my way out?” You will be surprised. Carrying a door chock on your helmet allows for the chock’s fast and easy deployment. Remember, you may not always be in a position to access your coat or pants pockets (photo 5).

(5) A rubber strap cut from an inner tube tire is an easy, cost-effective way of securing a door chock to your helmet.

6 Preadjust your helmet chin strap.Or, position it where it can be quickly accessed. It’s not an ornament! Leaving it tensioned around the front or back makes it difficult to access and use. Your helmet’s falling off on the fireground is not only embarrassing but could result in severe injury or death.

7 Place your gloves in or with your coat or pants. For easy donning, eliminate the “glove strap” or holder. Although glove straps are considered convenient for holding gloves, they can become separated from you while you are donning PPE or operating on the fireground. These straps can also become entangled, as most are attached to the outside of fire coats. One way to carry your gloves for quick access is to have your gloves protruding slightly out the coat pockets (photo 6).

(6) Securing your gloves in this manner (protruding slightly out of the pocket) eliminates the need for a “glove strap” and keeps the gloves somewhat visible so you can easily account for them after each use.

8 Have a working, portable radio. If the radio is equipped with an auxiliary microphone, use some form of radio strap assembly. Keeping the radio in your coat pocket makes it difficult to access and could hamper your ability to activate the emergency activation button, if so equipped. Wearing the radio and strap assembly under your turnout coat can prevent entanglement. Straps worn outside of turnout gear have become caught in debris and completely torn away, rendering the radio unusable or inaccessible (photo 7).

(7) Wearing your portable radio (equipped with an auxiliary microphone) under your turnout coat with the mic exposed can eliminate a possible entanglement hazard and makes the microphone attachment easier to access for transmissions. It also places the microphone away from the user’s shoulder/neck crease, eliminating accidental fireground transmissions.

9 Carry an easy-to-use flashlight. Many turnout gear configurations have specific sections designed to carry some form of personal flashlight. Some firefighters prefer a larger “box style” light with a quick-release strap. Figure out what works best for you, and carry it at all times. A flashlight not only allows you to see but can also help others see you.

10 Carry a piece of webbing with your PPE. Webbing can be used to secure hoseline to a railing or banister; to control a door before and after forcible entry; and, depending on its length, as a drag strap/harness to remove a downed firefighter or trapped occupant. Although you can debate what lengths of webbing to carry, it is really a matter of preference and intended use. Fifteen feet (around seven feet when doubled over) of one-inch webbing (flat or tubular) is a good length to accomplish a multitude of tasks (photo 8). One-inch webbing works best for these applications; two-inch webbing is much harder to manipulate, even for simple tasks, in low- to zero-visibility conditions. Do not use this webbing in any life safety or rope rescue incident, except in self-rescue bailouts.

(8) Webbing carried for personal use can vary in length depending on its intended purpose and personal preferences. You can always shorten the webbing with simple overhand knots when needed. However, carrying a piece too short can prove inadequate when attempting simple tasks.


These are just a few ideas that can better prepare you for the next emergency. Regardless of how you check or prepare your PPE, create a system—and stick to it! Knowing that all of your PPE and equipment are accounted for and working can have a positive psychological effect as you start your shift. We have all been on calls where a crew member has forgotten something or could not account for some of his PPE. Don’t let that member be you.

DONALD L. WEDDING is a 16-year fire service veteran and a career firefighter with the Fredericksburg (VA) Fire Department. He is also a firefighter-technician with the Falmouth (VA) Volunteer Fire Department and a certified fire instructor III and officer III with the Virginia Department of Fire Programs. He previously served with the District of Columbia Fire Department and was a career firefighter in Spotsylvania County, Virginia.

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