Tips for Safety and Firefighter Rescue


It never ceases to amaze us how adept firefighters are at finding ways to improve or modify existing ideas, practices, or tools. The examples below illustrate that point very well. Again, these are not our tricks but ideas we have seen or learned from others, which we want to share. Before using any of these suggestions, make sure they are approved by your department’s administration. Run them by your officer or discuss them around the kitchen table. Remember that modifying tools or using them for a purpose for which they were not designed may void the manufacturer’s warranty and could expose you to potential injury.

Put notches on door chocks. This is probably the most ingenious thing we have seen yet. It has been around for awhile, but not everyone may have seen it. The late Lt. Andrew Fredericks, Squad 18, Fire Department of New York, who was killed on 9/11, is credited with devising this simple but effective modification to the standard wooden door chock. By using a grinding wheel and making two wedge-shaped notches, one in each side of the wooden door chock, you create a door chock that is virtually impossible to dislodge from the door jamb (photo 1). To insert the chock, give it a one-quarter turn, and insert it above the middle hinge of the door. Once it is in, turn it back to its original position. The door and door frame will bite down on the notches, “locking” it in place (photo 2). Using an inexpensive and disposable door chock eliminates the need to use one of your firefighting tools as an overpriced door chock.

1. Photos by authors.



Modify the SCBA strap when rescuing a downed firefighter. We aren’t sure of the exact origin of this one; we learned about it following the tragic death of Bret Tarver at the Southwest Supermarket fire in Phoenix, Arizona, on March 14, 2001. This modification of the firefighter’s SCBA waist strap (described below) makes it much easier for rescuing firefighters to drag the downed firefighter. It also helps to maintain the thermal protection provided by the firefighter’s personal protective equipment (PPE), since most of it cannot be removed once the strap has been modified.

To modify the waist strap, first extend both sides of the waist strap all the way out. This is best accomplished by holding onto the buckle with one hand and releasing the tensioners with the other (photo 3). It is best to do this to both sides of the waist strap before unbuckling it. Second, with one end of the waist strap in each hand, unbuckle it and run one strap over the top of the firefighter’s leg and the other strap under the opposite leg. Next, bring the two ends together in the crotch area and rebuckle the strap (photo 4). By doing this, you can use the shoulder straps of the SCBA to drag the firefighter without the SCBA or other PPE unintentionally being pulled off the firefighter while he is being removed from the building. If the waist straps are not long enough to connect to each other, improvise by using a piece of webbing. (See Tricks of the Trade, January 2007.)




Use dry 13⁄4-inch hose to lift a firefighter out of a hole. Under the heading of “good ideas can come from anyone,” we have this trick. While conducting the Nance Drill at Collin County Community College Fire Academy in McKinney, Texas, one of the recruits remarked that “it would be easier to pull the firefighter up and out of the hole with a length of dry 13⁄4-inch hose than with the rope.” He was right! Replace the rescue rope with a 50-foot section of 13⁄4-inch hose (photo 5). Lower the middle of the hose down to the rescue team. Have the rescuing firefighters position the loop under the base of the SCBA and then in front of the firefighter’s shoulders (photos 6, 7). If you have a small piece of webbing, you can use that to lash the two ends of the hose together near the firefighter’s armpits. Now with a minimum of two firefighters on each of the running ends of the hose, hoist the firefighter up and out of the hole. This same procedure can also be used to lower the rescuers down into the hole.







Place an orange flag on an open overhead compartment door. “Dear Chief: Many things have transpired since last we spoke ….” You know where this is going. How many times have we heard of an overhead compartment door being completely ripped off the apparatus as it leaves the fire station, usually causing extensive damage to the station as well? One simple trick we have used for years is to affix an orange safety flag to the inside of the door (photo 8). When the driver checks the side-view mirrors, the flag will be hanging down in plain view and remind him that the doors are open/up (photo 9). The flags are inexpensive and easy to mount to the apparatus doors with a strip of plastic and a few self-tapping sheet metal screws. Use the appropriate length of screws, and check with the apparatus manufacturer before drilling into the doors. A little prep time here can save a lot of problems down the road.




Add a loop on your helmet for hanging a remote microphone. If you use a remote microphone on your handheld radio, you might be interested in this one. Tie a small loop of cord (or a braided shoestring) approximately two to three inches in diameter to your helmet, where the chin strap attaches to the underside of the helmet (photo 10). You can clip your remote microphone to the loop, and it will be conveniently positioned for transmitting or receiving radio messages (photo 11). You may want to experiment to see which side works best. It will vary depending on whether your department uses voice amplifiers on its SCBAs. Other electronic equipment may also make one side preferable to the other.





Turn flashlights off. We have learned that most of the time, especially early in the incident, flashlights are much more helpful if they are turned off—yes, off. Flashlights are for searching, locating, and identifying things inside the structure. They aren’t “driving” lights on a 4×4 that have to be turned on and left on for the duration of the incident. It is amazing how much the halo from the flashlight can obscure your vision. Like driving with your high beams on in the fog, the light from the flashlight reflects off the particulate matter in the smoke (photo 12). Most of the time, we are crawling down a smoke-filled hallway looking for a faint orange glow (photo 13). The light, especially if the firefighter behind the nozzle man has his light on, will greatly reduce the crew’s ability to locate the fire. They also may not observe light coming in around doors or windows. Even at night, if we do a good job of lighting up the exterior of the structure, our crews inside can see the light from the outside and recognize those windows and doors as potential egress points if things suddenly go bad.




Clamp locking pliers on garage door tracks.One simple method of preventing an overhead garage door from coming down behind you is to clamp a pair of locking pliers to the rail (photos 14, 15). Affix them to the rail as snugly as possible and as close to the top of the track as is practical. Remember to pull the safety release on the garage door opener if one is present. This will prevent accidentally activating the door opener and keep it from trying to force the door closed. Another benefit of this method is that we do not “lose” one of our firefighting tools (ax, pike pole, halligan, or ladder) because it is needed to prop open the garage door.




Remove crossbars and panic hardware from aluminum doors. Removing the panic bar hardware from commercial doors ensures that crews will have an unobstructed entrance to and exit from the structure. Accomplishing this can be frustrating. The key is the direction from which you strike the crossbar to remove it. Often, we instinctively try to remove the bar by hitting it on the top in a downward motion with a flathead ax or maul. The trick is to remove the glass and then go to the side opposite the crossbar and strike it with thrusts parallel to the ground, much as if you were trying to force a door with a battering ram (photo 16). This allows the threads of the screws, which are made from a harder material, to be pulled through the softer aluminum door frame (photo 17). This works much easier than trying to break the screws or force them to tear through the door frame.




Use the pike pole on vent-enter-search (VES) to help orient the searching firefighter. Something else you may wish to try is this: When performing VES, have the outside firefighter take an eight-foot pike pole. If the size and layout of the room being searched permit, the reach of the pole can be used to push the door to the room closed to reduce the amount of heat and smoke entering the area. The firefighter can lay the handle end of the pike pole in the center of the room while maintaining a firm grip on the hook end (photo 18). If for some reason the firefighter performing the search becomes disoriented, he can return to the middle of the room, find the handle of the pike pole, and follow it to the window (photo 19). This is an additional level of safety. Now the firefighter at the window will have a light shining into the area, his voice to help keep his partner oriented, and the pike pole as a physical guide to the point of egress.




STUART GRANT, a 28-year veteran of the fire service, is a battalion chief with Dallas (TX) Fire Rescue. He is certified as a master firefighter and fire instructor with the Texas Commission on Fire Protection. He is assigned as Battalion 3 and is a leader of Texas Task Force 2. He has served in many capacities within the department, including academy commander, hazmat officer, paramedic, and rope rescue member. He has been a H.O.T. instructor and speaker at FDIC and is an instructor at Collin County Community College in McKinney, Texas, and at the Texas A&M University Municipal Fire School. He has two associate’s degrees and a bachelor’s degree in fire administration.

LES STEPHENS, a 16-year veteran of the fire service, is a battalion chief with the Garland (TX) Fire Department. He is a certified master firefighter and an instructor with the Texas Commission on Fire Protection. Stephens is assigned to Battalion 2. He has served as his department’s training instructor and is an instructor at Collin County Community College in McKinney, Texas; FDIC; and Texas A&M University Municipal Fire School. He has an associate’s degree in fire protection from Tarrant County Community College.

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