Think F.A.S.T.: Firefighter Advanced Survival Techniques

Think F.A.S.T.: Firefighter Advanced Survival Techniques

Mayday! Mayday! Firefighter down in the rear! We got six firefighters … Mayday! Mayday in the rear! We need EMS in the rear. We got a whole company in the rear; they had to jump. One, two, three, four, five, six who jumped in the rear! We need massive EMS here! Massive injuries!

This is a radio transmission none of us on the job ever wants to hear-one of our own calling a Mayday. Even worse, conditions are deteriorating so badly that the only alternative for survival is jumping from a window. On the morning of January 23, 2005, six Fire Department of New York (FDNY) firefighters jumped out of four fourth-story windows of a tenement at 236 East 178th Street in the Bronx, New York, and fell 50 feet to the pavement. Two of them died from their injuries. Another four barely survived, sustaining massive injuries that kept them in the hospital for months and effectively ended their careers. Another firefighter died at an unrelated fire in Brooklyn, New York, that same afternoon, making that day the first since 1918 that firefighters had died in two separate incidents in New York City. The day on which these dual tragedies occurred has come to be known as “Black Sunday.”

Historically, the fire service has been reactive, not proactive. We are reactive when fellow firefighters die in the line of duty, and we create a drill in their memory with the objective of teaching firefighters how to survive in similar circumstances. These drills include the Nance Drill, Denver Drill, Pittsburgh Drill, and so on. Learning from the lessons of previous incidents and modifying tactics and policies as necessary are among the best ways the individual firefighter to the incident commander can be proactive about fireground survival. There are an unlimited number of ways firefighters can increase survivability on the fireground. However, if they wait until they arrive at a fire to think about survival, they will have already lost some of their best opportunities to enhance their safety and chances of survival.

Line-of-Duty Deaths (LODDs) and Long-Term Effects

Fireground safety is not just about dying in the line of duty as described above. It includes also a significant number of injuries. Occupational hazards such as falling through floors, structural collapses, jumping out of windows, and a lack of basic survival skills drive up the injury statistics every year. Although, according to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), LODDs have been trending downward for decades, it is not a reason to be complacent. Line-of-duty injuries, on the other hand, have been rising.Between the years 2004-2014, there were 80,000 to 90,000 firefighter injuries. Annually, we are losing approximately 100 firefighters in the line of duty. Being caught or trapped was the leading cause of firefighter deaths, accounting for 23.8 percent of fatal injuries. Stress and overexertion was the second-highest cause of fatal injury, 21.8 percent. Trauma was the leading type of fatal injury, at 32.1 percent. Heart attacks continue to be a concern, at 19 percent of the fatal injuries. There are also substantial long-term effects from fireground injuries-drug and alcohol abuse, long-term health issues, and suicides are killing firefighters just as much as the hazards of the job.

(1) Know what is on the roof! <i>(Photo courtesy of Gregory A. May.)</i>
(1) Know what is on the roof! (Photo courtesy of Gregory A. May.)

Following the attack on the World Trade Center (WTC) in 2001, an alarming number of firefighters who responded to the scene and contributed to cleanup efforts began to exhibit consistent signs of respiratory problems. Symptoms ranged from severe distress to a general cough, which became known as the “WTC cough.” Still to this day, firefighters and other first responders are still suffering from the same respiratory ailments, as well as psychological trauma. In early February of last year, three Memphis firefighters were sent to the hospital for smoke inhalation after losing their way in a warehouse fire. Multiple Maydays were called. These firefighters still have ongoing respiratory problems. In April 2014, four other firefighters in the same department were injured when a wall collapsed on them. Although their injuries may seem nonthreatening (minor knee injuries), they may cause physical disabilities in the future.

Why Firefighter Survival Training?

Firefighter survival training begins by training on the basics so firefighters can become familiar enough with them to eliminate confusion on the fireground. In addition, members will be better prepared to initiate deployment; improve coordination and accountability; complement incident command; keep radio communications to a minimum; and, most importantly, improve firefighter safety. We can reduce the long-term effects of injuries sustained on the fireground and recover from LODDs.

Firefighter survival training will help to ensure more favorable outcomes. Take for instance the Houston (TX) Fire Department (HFD). On March 29, 2007, the department responded to an arson fire in a six-story occupied office building, which eventually claimed the lives of three occupants and necessitated the rescue of one firefighter who became trapped on the fifth floor. The firefighter rescued was Captain Eric Abbt, a long-time instructor at the local fire academy where survival is taught. Abbt was a student of the very first HFD “Saving Our Own” program. Following this class, he served as a lead instructor for the program and has been teaching firefighter safety and survival programs at the Houston Fire Academy for the past seven years. Abbt has recovered fully from this event and continues to serve with the HFD in addition to his duties as the chief instructor for the Houston Fire Academy. Had it not been for his survival training, he may not be alive today.

The Psychology and Physiology of Survival

None of us ever wants to admit defeat. It is not in our nature. It is even more difficult for us because of what we do. We go in, give aid, support, sacrifice, and sometimes even give our lives to save others. We are supposed to be the invincible ones; for the most part, we are. But ultimately, we are all human; we act and react differently to situations both on and off the job. Pressure, stress, and pain are pretty much unavoidable. Stress can be physical, mental, or a combination. How each of us deals with these stresses, such as through self-medication and isolation, separates us from our families, loved ones, and careers.

Man has been able to survive many changes in his environment throughout the centuries. His ability to adapt physically and mentally to a changing world kept him alive while other species around him gradually died off. The same survival mechanisms that kept our forefathers alive can help keep us alive! However, these survival mechanisms can also work against us if we don’t understand them and anticipate them.

<b>(2) </b>Clean and inspect gear after every fire. <i>(Photo courtesy of Florida Fire Rescue Fire Marshal’s Office.)</i>
(2) Clean and inspect gear after every fire. (Photo courtesy of Florida Fire Rescue Fire Marshal’s Office.)

Mental attitude is an important component of a survival situation. Having survival skills/training is important, but having the will to survive is paramount. Without the drive to survive, acquired skills would serve little purpose and invaluable training would go to waste. Before you understand your physical and psychological responses to a survival situation, you must understand a little about stress. Stress is not a disease you cure or eliminate. Stress is often best described as our reaction to pressure.

In response to physiological stressors, the body either prepares to fight or flee. This preparation involves an internal SOS sent throughout the body. The body releases stored fuels, the breathing rate increases, muscle tension increases, blood clotting factors are activated, pupils dilate, and heart rate and blood pressure increase. This protective mechanism can help a person survive a threat, but, if not managed properly, it can easily cause a person to freeze or submit to the situation. This “fight or flight” response cannot be maintained indefinitely. Eventually, the body’s defenses will begin to fail. When that happens, a state of exhaustion or paralysis ultimately overwhelms the firefighter. Physiological stressors that may overtake the firefighter include fear, anxiety, anger and frustration, fatigue, isolation, and lack of control.


Fear is a normal emotional response to any dangerous situation and has the potential to cause illness, injury, or death. Fear can encourage or immobilize a firefighter in a survival situation. Most firefighters will operate with some degree of fear under these adverse conditions. There is absolutely no shame in this. Each firefighter must practice to not be overcome by fear through realistic training. By facing their individual fears and shortcomings in training, they will gradually gain the self-awareness and confidence required to continue working despite fear.


Anxiety is the uneasy and apprehensive feeling we get when faced with a dangerous situation. When used properly, anxiety can encourage and motivate a firefighter to act and survive. If not managed, it can have a devastating impact on the firefighter and cause confusion and loss of cognitive thinking.

Anger and Frustration

Frustrations may arise when a person continually fails to achieve a goal or an objective. There will be many events in a survival situation that will frustrate or anger a firefighter. If a firefighter allows the level of frustration to build, eventually it will result in anger or rage. Anger will cause a firefighter to become impulsive, unproductive, and irrational during a survival situation.


A firefighter may easily become extremely fatigued during a survival situation. Forcing yourself to continue surviving isn’t easy. It is imperative that you train and prepare yourself mentally and physically daily to stay in the fight and press on.


As firefighters, we learn individual skills, but we are trained to function as part of a team. Being in contact with others provides us with a greater sense of security. Isolation is one of the most significant stressors you can experience in a survival situation. You must develop a degree of self-sufficiency and faith in your ability to survive alone. Survival situations are a prime example of misery loving company!

Lack of Control

Many firefighters have trouble operating in settings where everything is not clear-cut black or white. The only guarantee in a survival situation is that nothing is guaranteed. It is extremely stressful to operate in a setting or an environment where you have very little control of your surroundings.

The fire service has taken a solely technical approach to survival training. Classic survival programs offer totally safe, predictable, and scripted scenarios. Today’s firefighters are being trained in a low-stress, low-energy environment where there are no consequences for poor decisions. The International Association of Fire Fighters has warned us that we are creating a training culture of success and positive outcomes, which fails firefighters when things really go wrong. Technical training must always be supplemented with stress and psychological management techniques. Real life survival situations are at their core life-or-death scenarios; therefore, address feelings, stress, and human emotions during training. We believe that mental preparedness has become the most vital missing link to any successful and effective modern fireground survival training program.

(3) Position, arrange, and remove. The purpose of this drill is for the firefighter to learn how to maneuver the body through a reduced profile while on SCBA air. <i>(Photo courtesy of Robert Ramirez.)</i><b>
(3) Position, arrange, and remove. The purpose of this drill is for the firefighter to learn how to maneuver the body through a reduced profile while on SCBA air. (Photo courtesy of Robert Ramirez.)

The reality of a firefighter survival situation is that the environment in which we operate and survive is high-energy, highly dynamic, and unyielding to our plight. In real life, these situations will be so chaotic and turbulent that cause and effect will be totally unknown; therefore, we must continue to fight without any measure of certainty or assurance of success.

Your mission is simply to stay alive. As you can see, you are going to experience an assortment of physical and psychological changes in a survival situation. When a firefighter cannot manage these changes, it can lead to freezing and submitting to the environment. Preparing yourself daily to overcome and work through these natural responses will greatly increase your chances of survival. Learning and practicing stress management techniques can enhance your capability to remain calm and focused as you work to stay alive. We cannot control our survival circumstances, but we can control our response to those circumstances. Slow down, do not panic, and control your emotions. Remember, “the will to survive” can also be considered “the refusal to give up.”

Emergency Traffic vs. Mayday

The rescue of lost or trapped firefighters in a burning building is especially time sensitive. There is a very narrow “window of survivability” for a firefighter who is out of a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) air supply or trapped by approaching fire. Individual firefighters are taught to immediately radio command if they become lost, trapped, or in need of assistance. Company officers should not delay reporting lost firefighters or the inability to account for crew members. Command and sector officers should always assume that a missing firefighter is lost in the building until they can locate him. Command should initiate an action plan to incorporate a high-priority rescue effort per department standard operating procedures (SOPs).

MAYDAY Radio Message

Lost or trapped firefighters should radio the message “Mayday” to report being in trouble and needing rescue. Any member can use “Mayday” to report a lost firefighter. All Mayday reports should receive priority radio traffic, meaning all nonessential radio traffic should cease. Reserve the term “Mayday” only for reports of lost or trapped firefighters. Use “Emergency Traffic” to report other emergencies or high-risk hazards. These two terms are meant for completely different situations. We sometimes forget the basics of reporting emergencies over the radio.

In most departments, “Mayday” typically is used in the following situations:

  • By personnel when lost, trapped, or in trouble.
  • By the company officer, sector officer, or other member who cannot account for an assigned firefighter operating in a hazard zone.
  • By a member who witnesses or has confirmed that a firefighter is lost or in trouble.

When calling a Mayday, give a LUNAR report:

  • Location-where you are in the building or what your assignment was.
  • Unit-the apparatus to which you were assigned.
  • Name-your name; take the guessing out of the game for command.
  • Air-what your heads-up display tells you.
  • Resources-what you need or think you need. Don’t forget to activate your personal alert safety system (PASS).

Mayday training is taught in every minimum standards class, yet firefighters are afraid to use this term. Why do we not call Maydays? Pride and embarrassment are among the most common reasons. We give this term the “kitchen table test.” Am I going to get harassed at the kitchen table if I call a Mayday and I am not trapped or lost? Most firefighters fail to realize that Maydays can be canceled; an LODD is permanent. When a Mayday is called, all crews need to stay disciplined. Fire attack needs to continue, but a separate channel must be established to handle the Mayday. Once the fire goes out, things tend to get better and conditions drastically improve.

Back to the Basics

Like many aspects of our job, we can always refer to basic firefighter skills to get us home at the end of our tour. With regard to firefighter survival, following are some of the most common components we sometimes overlook on the fireground. We have to practice mental awareness, pay attention to detail, and not become complacent. I have often heard firefighters say, “This won’t happen to me” or “This won’t happen in our department.” These are usually firefighters who are ignorant and complacent and who haven’t been humbled by the fire service. If you think basic training is all you need to get through 25 years of the fire service, think again! This goes for the rookie firefighter up through the rank of department chief. This is a condensed version of the most common fireground topics and the roles they play in firefighter survival in a highly hazardous situation.

Building Size-Up and Construction

Building size-up and fireground conditions are everyone’s responsibilities. If you see something, say something. Do not let changing smoke conditions go unnoticed; use your radio and tell command. If you see hazards, burglar bars, locked doors, or second floors without ladders, tell someone and make the building safe for everyone operating on scene.

Know your zone. Make it a point to get out daily and drive around your zone. Zone familiarization will benefit the entire company. Conduct tactical surveys and preplan walk-throughs of your district. Every firefighter should know what buildings are in the first-due zone, including the target hazards, as a minimum. Discuss with your crews how your strategy and tactics will differ for residential and commercial structure fires. Note the building type and construction. Does the building have sprinklers? If the building has a standpipe, is the standpipe wet or dry?

Look at the roof and what is overhead. Note the live loads and dead loads. Are there heavy heating-ventilation-air-conditioning (HVAC) systems on the roof? If so, will they come crashing down on you and your crew under heavy fire? Remember that as we put water on the fire from elevated master streams, we add weight to the building, creating a potential for collapse. Again, the bottom line is to be proactive vs. reactive. Drive around your zones on a regular basis and know what you are up against should you have to return for a fire.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Bunker gear plays a major role in making us safe. Your gear should be clean, holes should be patched, and the self-fastener should work to protect the skin. If you encounter heat or extreme fire conditions, you will want your gear to provide the maximum time of protection before it begins to wear down. Most bunker gear is rated to keep a firefighter alive for 14 seconds in a flashover. That may not sound like much time, but it may make the difference between your making it out of the building or not.

A firefighter in our department not too long ago told us he didn’t want to trade out his worn bunker gear for new gear because his worn gear “looked cool” and he wanted his gear “black.” Another firefighter said his gear was like “an old pair of jeans.” He did not get the replacement gear because his old set felt comfortable. Routinely conduct gear inspections, and replace old gear in a timely manner. This is the responsibility of the company officer as much as it is of the firefighter.

<b> (4) </b>Position, arrange, and remove. As in photo 3, the firefighter is tasked with moving his body through a reduced profile while on air. <i>(Photo courtesy of Robert Ramirez.)</i>
(4) Position, arrange, and remove. As in photo 3, the firefighter is tasked with moving his body through a reduced profile while on air. (Photo courtesy of Robert Ramirez.)

Most firefighters carry tools of the trade in their gear. Some firefighters carry the proverbial “kitchen sink.” They can fix any problem, reset any type of alarm, and have every type of screwdriver or pliers known to man. However, when it comes to survival, the one tool most firefighters need but do not carry is a pair of wire cutters.

Every building has wires, especially overhead in the attic spaces or drop ceilings. Wires are the enemy (much like fire); like any enemy, you can defeat it with a good offense. Wire cutters should be the first tool firefighters place in their bunker gear pocket. How many screwdrivers do you really need to carry? If you need a screwdriver, get one from the toolbox. If you are in a collapse, you can’t run outside to get a wire cutter. Thus, carry it in your pocket! Some officers conduct routine tool inspections to ensure their crews have their cutters in proper working order and rust free.


Your SCBA is your lifeline in a fire. Conduct SCBA drills regularly, before an emergency occurs on the fireground. You should know where the buddy breathing hose is on your SCBA, how to use and connect it, and how to activate your PASS alarm. Conduct basic air-consumption drills in house; prep time is minimal. You don’t need fancy props or training buildings. You simply need a firefighter, a mask, and an SCBA. Do you know what to do when you are down to half a bottle or your low alarm sounds? How many breaths until your vibra-alert stops? How long do you have before your mask hits your face-14 breaths? 20 breaths? What will you do after you take your last breath? Are you going to take off your mask to breathe out of your coat? Or will you use your glove or hood as a filter while you crawl low to the ground trying to get the last remaining air in the building?

(5) The entanglement prop. (Photo courtesy of Robert Ramirez.)
(5) The entanglement prop. (Photo courtesy of Robert Ramirez.)

Practice donning and doffing your SCBA. Can you take off your SCBA in tight spaces and put it back on in the same tight spaces? Again, these are basic skills that are taught back in minimum standards, but firefighters become complacent and do not routinely train. When your life (or someone else’s) depends on it, do you really want to risk not knowing your equipment?

Personal Escape Systems/Bailout Kits

More and more departments are issuing personal escape systems (bailout kits) for training and as part of members’ PPE. Various systems are available. Some departments may not use these kits because of the lack of money. A basic bailout kit can be put together with approximately 50 feet of rope and two carabiners, costing less than $75. This is the most basic of personal escape systems on the market, but something is better than nothing.

There have been countless documented incidents of firefighters being trapped and being forced to “bail out” of an upper-floor window to survive. Deputy Chief John Quatieri of the Chelsea (MA) Fire Department says his department is always searching for new equipment to keep its firefighters safe. “The Black Sunday fire in New York City prompted us to equip our entire department with personal escape ropes,” he adds. (Note: This was the incident mentioned earlier in this article. Six FDNY firefighters were forced to jump from the fourth floor of a burning apartment building to the concrete below. Illegally constructed drywall partitions, built by the landlord and two tenants, were to blame for trapping the firefighters. Two of the firefighters died on impact; one landed on his feet and broke every bone in his body from the waist down. He died years later. Only one of the six was able to return to work.)

Another fire department issued every apparatus position (engines, ladders, and rescues) a personal escape system. Most of the firefighters wear the system as designed. However, we have heard firefighters say, “I will never have to jump out of a building” or “I will put this in my gear if we go into a high-rise fire.” What surprises us the most is that some of these firefighters really believe they will remember this piece of equipment in a stressful situation or think the escape systems are only used in high-rise fires.

Mindset of Rapid Intervention Teams (RIT)

Far too often, we have seen companies standing in front of a structure unhappy that they are assigned as the RIT. Maybe you have felt this way yourself. Firefighters want to fight fire, and we know that the RIT is not going to do this. It is too easy for firefighters with this mindset on the fireground to lose motivation and focus. The RIT should never display this type of unhappy mindset. Although serving as the RIT is not always the glamorous assignment on the fireground, and thankfully is rarely deployed, this team is tasked with one of the most important jobs in the fire service-saving our own! Displaying the necessary frame of mind and determination is the first step in becoming a successful RIT.

RIT does not stand for “rest in truck.” RIT plays into fireground and firefighter survival on every call. When assigned to RIT, we should be making certain the building is safe. We need to be proactive and not reactive. Some of the other duties we should be doing on arrival as the RIT are the following: complete a 360° survey of the structure, remove burglar bars, throw an extension ladder for a secondary means of egress, and open locked doors. If power has not been secured, secure the power to the structure.

If your department does not have a RIT SOP, work to get one, and have a plan. Have the tools to complete the job, and create a RIT setup with all of the necessary tools to help save a fellow firefighter. In Fort Lauderdale, when our units arrive on scene and are assigned to RIT, we place all of our tools (hooks, rope, bottles, and saws) on a 24-foot extension ladder and drag the ladder up to the scene. We have all of our tools on the ladder and ready for deployment at a moment’s notice.


Line-of duty deaths do not discriminate. Everyone is responsible for going home and training to ensure crews are safe. Someone once remarked that since he was a veteran firefighter, he did not have to train. To think like this is ignorant. Professional football players train daily. Are they not veterans of their trade? They still train on the basic maneuvers daily to make them the best at what they do. Our profession as firefighters is no different. Rookie or veteran training benefits everyone. When you think you know it all or do not need to train, you are a danger not only to yourself but to your crew as well. This is not acceptable in our profession.

The more you train, the more you are comfortable in uncomfortable situations. Drills can be simple tabletop exercises where you discuss situations and ideas with your crews around a cup of coffee. Drills should also consist of more complex skills and scenarios in which crews are working in gear and under stressful situations and maneuver in and out of their SCBAs.

(6) A rescuer is being lowered into the hole during the Nance Drill. <i>(Photo courtesy of Mark Rossi.) </i>
(6) A rescuer is being lowered into the hole during the Nance Drill. (Photo courtesy of Mark Rossi.)

An easy, but good, drill is to black out the SCBA mask and have the crews run through their emergency procedures. Have the crews put on and take off their SCBAs and set and reset their PASS devices. Have your crews get used to working in the darkness wearing their fire gloves and retrieving miscellaneous tools from their gear. Some firefighters use their leather extrication gloves to train and their fire gloves in a real situation. Always “train as you play.” It won’t do the firefighter any good if he can’t maneuver in his fire gloves. Be creative, but be simple in the drill. Do not create drills that are unachievable. Build crew confidence by starting out with simple evolutions and building up to more complex scenarios.

Training to enhance fireground survival should include regular review of and drilling using department policies or guidelines for rapid intervention as well as self-rescue and air management. Other skills that provide increased survivability include practicing size-up profiles, learning new techniques with the current assignment of tools, and discussing various tactical options for likely incident scenarios.


As an example of teaching new techniques and training on firefighter survival to firefighters of all ranks, we developed a training program called “Firefighter Advanced Survival Techniques” (known as the F.A.S.T). This training encompasses several components of firefighter survival. Below is a brief description of each drill. These drills are relatively easy to set up; they can be modified to fit your needs.

Position, Arrange, Remove (PAR)

Firefighters will learn techniques to breach a wall with and without a hand tool. This skill is necessary when a firefighter must move from a room where conditions are deteriorating to a more tenable area. Because existing egresses such as doors and windows may be difficult to locate or open, firefighters may be required to breach a wall. Then, the firefighter can pass through the space separating the studs. This skill can be taught using an actual wall within a building or with a prop made of 2 × 4s. Teach this skill to a small group of firefighters at a time so that each has sufficient time to practice the skill.


The RIT should be prepared for the possibility of rescuing a down firefighter from an entanglement situation in all types of structures. A drop ceiling suspended by wire and ductwork is prevalent in commercial occupancies. Residential occupancies can also present entanglement hazards from heat ductwork and electrical wiring. The RIT should be prepared to rescue a down firefighter from these situations, as well as work through these situations while trying to locate or gain access. The RIT should be equipped with cutters capable of cutting large-diameter wire and cable. On a well-equipped RIT, all members carry wire cutters. Be cautious, however, of energized wiring.

Bailouts with Personal Escape Systems

When it comes to just plain “cool” firefighter training exercises, self-rescue has to be at the top of the list. The use of rescue rope and descent control devices is definitely a growing trend in the fire service, especially when time is of the essence in getting off the top of a building and using the ladder isn’t feasible or practical. Escaping a roof in an emergency situation or trying to help another injured firefighter off a roof can be quite the feat unless trained on extensively.

Nance Drill

When faced with a down firefighter who has fallen through the floor, the RIT needs to be cognizant of additional floor collapse because the RIT will be placing more weight on an already compromised floor. If the only means of rescue is to raise the down firefighter back up through the floor, the RIT should consider cutting another hole in a more structurally sound area or bridging the floor with materials (doors, tabletops, ladders, and so on) to distribute weight. This drill is based on the incident involving Senior Firefighter John Nance from Columbus, Ohio, who fell through the floor and could not be rescued.

(7) The preconnected high-rise attack line is used to simulate the lowering of a rescuer into a hole through which another firefighter fell during the Nance Drill. <i>(Photo courtesy of Mark Rossi.)</i>
(7) The preconnected high-rise attack line is used to simulate the lowering of a rescuer into a hole through which another firefighter fell during the Nance Drill. (Photo courtesy of Mark Rossi.)

The two primary methods of rescuing a down firefighter who has fallen through the floor are the rope method and the hose method. Structure fires typically have a hoseline nearby. A RIT does not necessarily start this hose technique of rescuing a firefighter who has fallen through the floor. If a hoseline is in place, the hose team can start the operation while the RIT is making its way to the down firefighter. The RIT can use this hoseline to its advantage when time is of the essence. A hoseline provides the RIT with a rapid means of retrieving the down firefighter. If the down firefighter is uninjured, a bight of hose can be lowered to him; he can then step into the bight or place the bight under his arms so he can be raised through the floor. If the down firefighter is injured and unable to perform self-rescue, a RIT member would use the hoseline as a pole and slide down to the injured firefighter. Other RIT members are used to anchor the hoseline. The RIT member secures the down firefighter in the bight of the hoseline and calls for the RIT to raise the line. The bight of the hoseline is then sent back down to the RIT member, who is then raised.

Denver Drill

The Denver drill is a confined-space rescue drill based on a scenario that occurred on September 28, 1992. Engineer Mark Langvardt of the Denver (CO) Fire Department died in the line of duty. After becoming separated from his crew as the result of a floor collapse and being trapped in a small storage room on the second floor of a commercial occupancy, Langvardt was overcome by toxic gases and smoke. The storage room, measuring six feet wide × 11 feet deep, was filled with cabinets and business equipment on both sides, creating an aisleway only 28 inches wide with an exterior window at one end. The drop from the windowsill to the floor was 42 inches. Firefighters entering the storage room through the second-floor window had to crawl over Langvardt, who was lying face down in the aisle in the fetal position, his head pressed against the interior of the front wall just under the window. Because of the restricted size of the aisle, there was room for only one rescuer to bend over the victim and lift, making conventional windowsill lifts and removal techniques next to impossible.

The method involves stationing one rescuer at the base of the window, serving as a “ramp” for getting the victim up to the sill to an awaiting firefighter at the window entrance who will assist in the removal.

Air-Consumption Drills

One of the most misunderstood concepts about SCBA use involves the different bottle sizes and the amount of air each size will provide. All firefighters must understand the amount of working time they’ll get off each size bottle. Many factors determine working times, and members must be aware of them before being introduced into a hostile environment. A consumption drill is the best way to determine how long a specific bottle will last for you. Although there are many great SCBA drills that you can use to determine consumption rates and improve your confidence in your SCBA, we think the most effective drill every SCBA user should perform when learning the basics is to breathe a bottle all the way down to nothing. This drill is a firefighter survival skill everyone should experience.

If you’ve worn an SCBA, you’ve probably had your low-air alarm activate. But have you ever had to breathe that very last breath of air from the tank? If not, you need to. That last breath has a huge impact on your mental process, even during a training exercise in a nonhostile environment. The breathing apparatus also has a very unique sound and feel to it when pulling down that last breath of air. Know the signs and sounds, and count how many breaths until you run out of air. Each brand of SCBA has a different feel to it, so take the time to know your brand.

(8) The air-consumption prop is a survival prop built to mentally and physically challenge the firefighters in a dark and confined space. Crews work together in teams of three to search a collapsed structure and then exit the prop through hurricane-enforced glass. (Photo courtesy of Mark Rossi.)
(8) The air-consumption prop is a survival prop built to mentally and physically challenge the firefighters in a dark and confined space. Crews work together in teams of three to search a collapsed structure and then exit the prop through hurricane-enforced glass. (Photo courtesy of Mark Rossi.)

There is no other call more challenging to fireground operations than a Mayday-the unthinkable moment when a firefighter’s personal safety is in imminent danger. Firefighter fatality data compiled by the USFA have shown that firefighters “becoming trapped and disoriented represent the largest portion of structural fireground fatalities.” The incidents in which firefighters have lost their lives or lived to tell about a close call have a consistent theme: Inadequate situational awareness put them at risk.

Firefighters don’t plan to be lost, disoriented, injured, or trapped during a structure fire or an emergency incident. But fires are unpredictable, volatile, and ruthless, and they will not go according to your plans. What you know about a fire before entering a burning building may radically change within minutes once inside the structure. Smoke, low visibility, lack of oxygen, structural instability, and an unpredictable fireground can cause even the most seasoned firefighter to become overwhelmed in an instant.

Don’t be a statistic! Survival is everyone’s responsibility. Train! Train! Train! Go over past LODDs and review the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health fatality reports. Do they have common themes? Are we putting crews in harm’s way? If so, are we risking a lot to save a lot, or are we risking a lot to save a little? Be proactive, not reactive, when it comes to firefighter survival.


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DeStefano, David. On the Line “AAA: Triangle of Incident Survivability” June 2013.

U.S. Fire Administration online: Feb. 4, 2011. “One-Handed Cutters,” Eric Wheaton.

MARK ROSSI is the training officer in the Fort Lauderdale (FL) Fire Department, where he has served 10 of his 15 years in the fire service. He is a fire instructor for Coral Springs Regional Institute of Public Safety, where he is one of the lead instructors for the Firefighter Advanced Survival Techniques (F.A.S.T.) program, and a Florida fire instructor III and live fire training instructor. He has had articles published in fire service magazines. He has bachelor’s degrees in finance and fire science and an MBA from the University of Florida.

GREGORY A. MAY is a fire administration captain in the Fort Lauderdale (FL) Fire Department, where he has served 15 of his 22 years in the fire service. He is a fire instructor for Coral Springs Regional Institute of Public Safety, where he is one of the lead instructors for the Firefighter Advanced Survival Techniques (F.A.S.T.) program. He is a Florida fire instructor III and a live fire training instructor and has a B.A. degree in organizational leadership from St. Thomas University.

ROBERT RAMIREZ is a lieutenant and training officer for the Margate-Coconut Creek (FL) Fire Department, where he has served 14 of his 16 years in the fire service. He has been a rescue squad officer member of FEMA FL-TF2 since 2006 and has served on several deployments, including the Haiti Earthquake of 2010. He is a lead instructor for the Firefighter Advanced Survival Techniques (F.A.S.T) program at the Coral Springs Regional Institute of Public Safety. He is a Pro Board and certified Florida fire instructor and live fire training instructor and a state-certified fire officer.

Training Minutes: Firefighter Self-Rescue
The Big Three
Firefighter Training Drills: The Survival Essentials

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