My shift at the painesville Township (OH) Fire De-partment has developed an SCBA confidence course that can be set up in your apparatus bay in less than 10 minutes at almost no cost to the department. The course has eight evolutions geared toward firefighter safety and breathing apparatus confidence. All of the components are readily available in most fire stations. Equipment required for the course setup includes 10 feet of rope (preferably 8 mm or smaller), a roof ladder, a hinge hook or other door-blocking device, 50 feet of hose, a nozzle, a personal safety rope with carabiners, personal webbing, a knife, a hand tool, and a simulated wall for breaching and reduced profile maneuvers. You must buy the 2 2 4 2 8s; that is where the $10 comes in (photo 1).

1 (Photos by author)

For all evolutions, the firefighter’s mask is blacked out, and he must maintain contact with his hand tool at all times. If a firefighter must put the tool down for any reason, he must place it between his legs or kneel on it. If the firefighter loses contact with his tool, the instructor should take it and see how long it takes for the firefighter to realize he has lost the tool.


The course starts with the disentanglement evolutions, which can create a fair amount of stress for the firefighter right at the beginning. It then progresses to the last two evolutions involving self-rescue, which is when the firefighter is the most fatigued.



Evolution 1: Disentanglement. The firefighter is entangled in a rope and is given enough slack so he can crawl forward for about five feet, at which point he must perform the following:

1. On realizing that he is entangled (indicated by the entanglement rope running out of slack), the firefighter must stop crawling and back up, to take the tension off the rope, and then call to his partner for assistance.

2. Swim Disentanglement Maneuver. After backing up to relieve the tension of the entanglement, he sweeps one arm up and forward from his hip to his head in as large an arc as possible. He repeats this with the other arm if necessary. If he encounters an entanglement, he must not pull on it, since this may make it worse. If this does not work, the firefighter should turn approximately 15 degrees to one side (from the 12 o’clock to the 2 o’clock position) and repeat the above maneuver. For more information on this technique, see “Conquering the Entanglement Hazard,” Fire Engineering, May 1996.


If the firefighter is able to grab the rope in which he is entangled, he should then take out his knife or other cutting tool and open it (photo 2). This exercise demonstrates the importance of carrying a knife or other cutting tool in a pocket where it can be accessed with one hand while wearing gloves and the ability to open the knife with gloves on. In an actual incident, if there is any question of whether the entanglement involves live electical wires, the firefighter should not cut them!


3. Quick Release Maneuver. The firefighter must then perform the Quick Release Maneuver to remove the entanglement. At all times, the firefighter must maintain contact with the SCBA strap on which the regulator is mounted. In this maneuver, the firefighter loosens the SCBA waist belt and unbuckles it, loosens and dumps the SCBA shoulder strap that does not have the regulator mounted on it, loosens and maintains contact with the regulator shoulder strap, rotates his body so he is now facing his SCBA (photo 3), removes the entanglement while maintaining contact with the regulator shoulder strap, and crawls forward away from the entanglement (photo 4) once he has freed himself. This ensures the firefighter will not reentangle his SCBA. At this point, the firefighter may properly redon his SCBA and move on to Evolution 2.


Evolution 2: Ladder Crawl. Holding his hand tool, the firefighter must traverse a supported 14-foot roof ladder (31/2 inches off the floor on cribbing) and not fall off. This simulates crawling over a weakened floor (photo 5).


Evolution 3: Bay Door Wedge. The firefighter arrives at an open bay door and must identify the door tracks and wedge the door using a hinge hook or whatever device he would be using when encountering an open fire door in an actual fire. A firefighter should always carry some device for propping open doors. If the firefighter does not carry anything in his gear for this operation, he must describe what he is going to do to secure the door so he can safely pass through it. Using his hand tool to prop open the door is not an option, since this may be the only tool he is carrying (photo 6).


Evolution 4: Coupling Identification. Encountering a pile of hose, the firefighter locates a coupling and identifies the direction out of the building (photo 7).


Evolution 5: Nozzle Identification. The firefighter finds a nozzle, opens or closes it, and sets it on the appropriate pattern as directed by the instructor (photo 8).


Evolution 6: Wall Breaching. On finding the simulated wall and describing the proper wall-breaching techniques, the firefighter uses the Swim-Through-the-Hole Technique (if no wires impede the opening) or the Reduced-Profile Technique to go through. The wall is 48 inches high and 48 inches wide and has three studs 16 inches on center. To breach the wall, the firefighter makes the initial hole in the wall, drives the tool through the other side to make sure nothing is blocking the other side of the wall (e.g., couch, washing machine), finishes cleaning out the opening, and verbalizes that he is taking out a stud to widen the hole. If the firefighter is able to take out a stud, he should be able to crawl normally through the opening without having to adjust the SCBA as described below.


After breaching the wall but before crawling through the opening, the firefighter sounds the floor on the other side of the hole and places the tool on the other side of the hole within easy reach. If he should get stuck in the opening, the firefighter would want the tool within easy reach; he should always go through the hole headfirst.


1. Swim-Through-the-Hole Technique. The firefighter sits down with his back to the opening and places his SCBA bottle through the hole. He reaches back with one hand (like a backstroke) and gets that shoulder through the opening (photos 9, 10). With his bottle and one shoulder through the opening, he should be able to rotate his body around through the hole so he comes out on the other side with the SCBA intact (photo 11).


2. Reduced-Profile Technique. The firefighter reduces his profile by dumping the nonregulator SCBA shoulder strap; reaches back with the opposite hand and grabs the bottle valve; and with his other hand grabs the waist belt on the side of the remaining shoulder strap (photo 12). The firefighter then pulls the bottle toward the side with the remaining shoulder strap as he is pulling the waist strap in the opposite direction. This reduces his profile and keeps his waist belt and regulator shoulder strap intact. He goes through the hole headfirst on either his right or left side (photo 13) and redons his SCBA (photo 14).


Evolution 7: Handcuff Knot. The firefighter takes out his personal rope and ties a Handcuff Knot in it (photos 15, 16). For more information on tying a handcuff knot, see “Rapid Removal of an Unresponsive Firefighter from a Peaked Roof,” Fire Engineering, March 2003.


Evolution 8: Self-Rescue Harness. The firefighter puts himself in a harness using his personal webbing (photo 17). He then requests that carabiners be lowered into the hole, attaches them to his harness, and calls to be hauled out of the hole (photo 18). For more information on how to apply a self-rescue harness, see “Rapid Removal of an Unresponsive Firefighter from a Peaked Roof,” Fire Engineering, March 2003.


This training course, although easy and inexpensive to set up, provides lessons that could be invaluable in an emergency.



Norman, John. Fire Officer’s Handbook of Tactics, Fire Engineering, 1991.


Bombardiere, Brad, and Randy Rau, “Conquering the Entanglement Hazard,” Fire Engineering, May 1996.

Sitz, Tom, “Rapid Removal of an Unresponsive Firefighter from a Peaked Roof,” Fire Engineering, March 2003.

Firefighter Safety Seminar, Concord Township (OH) Fire Department, 1999.

TOM SITZ is a lieutenant and 18-year veteran of the Painesville Township (OH) Fire Department.

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