As the FIRE officer or firefighter who finds a downed firefighter inside a building, your first action should be to transmit to the incident commander (IC) the location of the downed member. Each department should have a procedure for transmitting “Mayday” and “Urgent” radio messages. If your department does not have such a procedure, it should develop one. Without it, a chaotic situation could become a disaster. This type of fireground emergency demands instant action from the IC.

On receiving such a call, the IC is then responsible for coordinating the downed firefighter’s removal by dispatching a FAST (firefighter assistance and search team) to the location or by reallocating the staffing from the companies at the scene.

Photos by Nancy Miles.


If you are part of the team that discovers a downed firefighter, first transmit the Mayday and then determine if the member has air in his SCBA. By turning the purge valve located at the facepiece to the “on” position, you can determine if there is still air in the SCBA (photo 1). If the SCBA is empty and you are the FAST team equipped with an extra SCBA, get the downed firefighter on new air. As with any rescue, you must determine if you have the time to perform this procedure. If fire and severe heat are jeopardizing you and the downed member, your first priority may be to get the individual to a safer location before checking on his condition.

Removing any victim from a fire building can be difficult. Getting the proper grip to drag the victim is not easy; a fully equipped firefighter can be even harder to manage. One strategy is to convert the downed firefighter’s SCBA into a harness. This simple act can give you the leverage you need to successfully move the firefighter to a safe location until help arrives to remove the injured member from the building.


1. Fully loosen both sides of the waist belt of the downed firefighter’s SCBA (photo 2).


2. Unbuckle the waist belt. Hold both halfs of the belt throughout this procedure (photo 3).


3. Take one end of the waist belt and put it behind the firefighter and bring it up between his legs (photo 4).


4. Take the other half of the belt and bring it to the front of the individual and connect it to the part of the waist belt between his legs (photo 5).


5. Tighten both sides of the waist strap.

If done correctly, the whole procedure can be done very quickly and save precious time during removal. Converting the SCBA into a harness provides rescuers with something substantial to hold onto.


One-rescuer method:
1. Convert the SCBA to a harness.

2. Position yourself at the head of the downed firefighter. Slightly loosen both shoulder straps. Grab both shoulder straps and pull the victim in a backward motion (photo 6).

Two-rescuer method:
1. Convert the SCBA to a harness.

2. Position one firefighter on his hands and knees at the head of the downed firefighter. Grab the shoulder strap with one hand. Loosen the strap a little to get a good grip.

3. The second firefighter takes a position at the feet of the downed firefighter and places one of the downed firefighter’s legs over his shoulder. He then wraps his arms around the raised leg as high on the thigh as possible (photo 7).

4. As the firefighter at the head drags, the second rescuer at the feet pushes the downed firefighter until they reach a safe location.

The procedures should be used when conditions demand an immediate removal from a hazardous area. If the situation is not as critical, determine the victim’s degree of injury, especially a spinal injury, before attempting to move him.

JOHN MILES is a lieutenant with the Fire Department of New York, assigned to Ladder 35 in Manhattan. Previously, he served with Ladder 34 in Manhattan and Engine 82 in the Bronx and as a volunteer firefighter with the River Vale (NJ) Fire Department and the Spring Valley (NY) Fire Department.

JOHN TOBIN is a 29-year fire service veteran and a senior captain and training officer with the River Vale (NJ) Fire Department, where he previously served as chief. He has a master’s degree in public administration and is a member of the Bergen County (NJ) Fire Academy Advisory Board.

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