“SAVING OUR OWN” TRAINING AND REINFORCEMENT

Back in the “Ohio State Fire Instructor” course I took in 1984, I was taught, “Statistically, 75 percent of what you learn is lost (forgotten) if you don’t reinforce it within two weeks.” It makes sense to me! Take any manipulative task, perhaps not even fire related. You are taught to tie a “bowline on a bight.” You can tie the knot after the session is over. Then you put down the rope and do not practice the knot again for weeks, months, or years. How do you think you’ll do tying a bowline after, say, two months? Probably, most of us wouldn’t do too well.

Now, let’s take the “bowline on a bight” thing and learn it, and then not practice or think about it for six months. Then, in the height of a working fire, with all the excitement and adrenaline, we are told to tie a bowline on a bight to lower an injured firefighter. How successful do you think you’d be?

Several years ago, Chief Rick Lasky of the Lewisville (TX) Fire Department came to Toledo to teach us the “Saving Our Own” (SOO) program. We ran every firefighter through the program. Except for the Entanglement drill, I do not believe we have “formally” reviewed the evolutions Lasky taught us. That is not to say that some officers have not run their crews through the evolutions. We put several “platforms” designed by Lasky throughout the department, and they are available for use. But formally, we have not provided additional reinforcement of all the concepts.

Beginning in June 2006, I was reassigned as chief of training. Daily, we send a fire apparatus to the shop for preventive maintenance. Each crew on each apparatus goes through this process about four times a year. In June, we began having a shift training officer meet the crew at 0800 hours at the shop to run them through an evolution. In theory, each crew should get through four evolutions annually.

John “Skip” Coleman, deputy chief of training and fire prevention, Toledo (OH) Department of Fire and Rescue, is author of Incident Management for the Street-Smart Fire Officer (Fire Engineering, 1997) and Managing Major Fires (Fire Engineering, 2000), a technical editor of Fire Engineering, and a member of the FDIC Executive Advisory Board.

Question: Does your department practice the “Saving Our Own” evolutions on a regular basis? How? Who participates? What aspects are reviewed for performance and modification?

Robert Shelton, firefighter,Cincinnati (OH) Fire Department

Response: Several years ago, I was privileged to attend the SOO H.O.T class at FDIC in Indianapolis. Lasky and Chief John Salka, of the Fire Department of New York, conducted the class. The lessons I learned there I have carried with me.

Several years ago, the Cincinnati Fire Department (CFD), in cooperation with the Chicago Fire Department and the Illinois Fire Services Institute, worked on a program to incorporate the SOO evolutions plus advanced rescue techniques. The result of this collaboration for the CFD was the Rapid Assistance Team (RAT). Initially, the members of our training bureau and some of our company commanders (captains) and district chiefs attended the training. On their return, five of our 13 truck companies were trained in the RAT concept, and the training went online. A RAT truck was assigned to all reported one-alarm fires, increasing our one-alarm response to two engines, two trucks, two district chiefs, one advanced life support ambulance, and one RAT truck.

We now have eight RAT trucks. In training these companies and the remainder of our department in these procedures, our members constructed several props to drive home the need for this training and to keep us proficient. We have a full-size house with working utilities and residential and other props constructed in the back of one of our fire stations. We also have mobile props that can be taken to any firehouse that wants to practice RAT techniques. These props include the Nance drill (rescuing a firefighter who fell through the floor) and the Denver drill (removing a downed firefighter through a window), practiced frequently among the RAT companies.

The company commander of that truck determines how often practice is conducted. Many companies practice some aspect of RAT for a morning drill. Our training bureau distributes a drill outline that covers a few months at a time; RAT evolutions are included within the drill outline.

Our training staff is very progressive and is open to suggestions that will enhance firefighter training, safety, and survival. Our training staff and L-48 safety committee review what we are doing and how we can improve it on a regular basis.

The goal is not only to save our own and prevent another line-of-duty death in Cincinnati but also to ensure that should something go wrong at a fire trained firefighters are ready, willing, and able to go to work at a moment’s notice to save our own.

Rick Lasky, chief,Lewisville (TX) Fire Department

Response: We believe in this concept and practice firefighter rescue dills regularly. A couple of departments, writers, and lecturers out there do not believe in this type of training or the RIT concept. Fortunately, there are only a few. We will continue to train our members on how to rescue themselves or other trapped firefighters. We will not allow anyone to bully us into not training our firefighters to survive. Time and time again, we read of successes involving a RIT team’s rescuing a lost or downed firefighter. It is a shame that in today’s fire service with all of the hurdles we have overcome and the accomplishments we have had, we still have some who don’t believe in the concept. The evidence that this type of training is needed is out there and documented. Maybe what the people in the examples used by the RIT opponents were doing doesn’t work. We who have trained in firefighter rescue and the RIT concept have never stated that you can rescue any firefighter, any time, with just two firefighters making up your RIT team, unless you are extremely lucky. We all acknowledge that “rapid intervention isn’t rapid.” Actually, it has been quite the opposite. But, apparently, a couple of these people have never listened. My question to them is, What would the families of those firefighters rescued by a RIT or firefighters who have saved themselves through this training say to the naysayers? I think it’s probably pretty important to them. Nothing is foolproof!

Our department schedules a firefighter rescue drill at least once a quarter. All personnel attend. The drill can be hands-on or a tabletop of an incident gone wrong. All of our new firefighters are put through a variety of firefighter rescue drills before they are assigned to a shift. As for what works and what doesn’t, we allow those involved in the drill to modify it if they feel it is necessary, as long as they share the revisions with the other department members. We’re always open to ideas.

John Salka, battalion chief,Fire Department of New York

Response: Firefighters participate in our “Firefighter Survival” evolutions, which were developed and became part of the department’s training bulletins in 1999 under the title “Unconscious Firefighter Removal.” This training bulletin covers numerous related issues such as the FAST (Firefighter Assist and Search Team) concept and several of the most common situations from which unconscious firefighters need to be removed. One- and two-firefighter drags are described, so a downed firefighter can be removed horizontally to an exit or area of refuge. Tactics for removing a firefighter up a flight of stairs, out a first-floor window, out a second-floor window using a portable ladder and rescue rope, and hoisting an unconscious firefighter up through a floor opening are all described and explained using photographs and detailed text. All of these tactics are spelled out, including the roles of each FAST member and how to tie the required knots. The use of webbing is also described and demonstrated in this bulletin.Many FDNY companies practice and review these important evolutions during their daily drills and at weekly multiunit drills, where several companies train together outside the firehouse. There is also a traveling FAST Unit Training vehicle that visits different areas of the city with a hands-on drill in which an engine and truck company enter their firehouse basement to locate and retrieve a downed firefighter manikin. The training team positions the manikin and sets up barriers and obstacles for the FAST unit to encounter while searching for the “missing member.” Saving our own is a broad term for the many firefighter survival tactics available today. The important thing is that we all stay on top of our game and are ready to put these tactics to work if necessary.

Jeffrey Schwering, lieutenant,Crestwood (MO) Department of Fire Services

Response: Our department is actively involved in these evolutions; however, we must approach this from more than one direction. St. Louis County consists of 42 fire departments with a variety of training ideas.

On a department level, we are involved in company drills, such as SCBA confidence drills, air management, and thermal imaging camera usage, all aimed at SOO. Formal drills are conducted a minimum of four times a year. Many of our company officers conduct informal drills with their companies throughout the year as well. All members evaluate departmental drills to see what works and what needs to be improved.

On a larger scale, we are involved with our neighboring departments, engaging in timed RIT drills in donated single-family structures. These drills are conducted twice a year and are critiqued by all personnel involved; they have resulted in numerous positive changes within our departments.

We are currently involved with several neighboring fire departments in training all of our members in Large Area Search Team (LAST), developed in Kansas City, Missouri, after a line-of-duty death. The “On Deck” concept, developed in Phoenix, is also on the table for the future.

We will continue to be proactive in training. No one way of SOO can or should be deemed the “best” way. We must use all of the training we have at our disposal. By using the correct training at the proper time, “everyone goes home” at shift change.

Gary Seidel, chief,Hillsboro (OR) Fire Department

Response: The State of Oregon has implemented a statewide Mayday communications model through our Fire Service Delivery System, Department of Public Safety Standards and Training (DPSST). This model ensures that departments within the state are on the same page when it comes to emergency communications in efforts to save our own. Additionally, within the Portland-Metro five-county region, we have standardized our rapid intervention team procedures, which include standard operating procedures, equipment, apparatus cabinet marking, and adaptors for all SCBAs.

Individual departments decide on how often to hold SOO evolutions. In Hillsboro, Mayday training is done quarterly. We focus on the following:

  • communications-clear text (i.e., emergency traffic, abandon, withdraw, evacuation, cease operations, Mayday-Mayday-Mayday, PAR, CAR);
  • recognizing the alert tones;
  • when to make the call;
  • what to do when the call comes in;
  • how the IC will manage the call;
  • crew integrity (personal accountability system);
  • the rapid intervention crew-standard operating guidelines (SOGs); and
  • hands-on training module: search and rescue techniques, self-rescue, disentanglement, an obstacle course, locating and rescuing our own.

All suppression personnel participate in this training. The hands-on portion focuses on the assigned area: rapid intervention, search, rescue, or incident command, for example. Performance reviews and modifications to SOGs come from lessons learned from our post-incident/training analysis.

Joel M. Thacker, chief,training and safety,White River Township (IN) Fire Department

Response: We conduct organized scheduled training on SOO and firefighter safety and survival at least once a quarter. Our personnel review present and past line-of-duty deaths (LODD) and close calls to learn what worked and what did not, so we can better prepare for a real-life RIT scenario. SOO props for searching and rescuing a downed firefighter have been built and placed in a small structure behind one of our stations. These props include the Nance and Denver drills, reduced profile using SCBA, window hang, and wire box. The building is prepiped for a smoke machine, to simulate an environment with poor visibility. Our company officers conduct SOO training in addition to the training already scheduled throughout the year. Even though our engine companies carry the RIT tools and equipment, all department personnel participate in SOO training. Recently, we trained with mutual-aid companies in RIT so each agency is familiar with the other departments’ personal protective equipment (PPE) and RIT equipment. This is to ensure that as many companies as possible are ready to fill the role of RIT on the scene of an incident. Aspects such as equipment, RIT size-up, and operations are reviewed and modified so all companies will respond and function in a similar manner for consistency.

Brian Singles, firefighter,Hampton (VA) Fire Department

Response: We do not practice the SOO evolutions on a regular basis; however, during Spring and Summer 2005, we conducted mandatory RIT training for all career members from the most junior firefighter to the fire chief. The majority of participants thought that it was one of the best training sessions we had in a very long time. This past February through March, we completed phase II of RIT training, which also was well received by most members.

In my opinion, we need to do this type of training at least once a year, and it should be part of the program for all new recruit firefighters during their fire academy. I believe it is beneficial for all firefighters to have at least a basic knowledge of how to rescue a downed firefighter the proper way and to have an idea of what it would be like if they got into a situation where they needed rescue.

SOO should be on the minds of all firefighters during all types of incidents, from the pot-on-the-stove fire to the three- or four-alarm warehouse job. You just never know when it will happen to you or your crew. In fact, the current fire chief of Hampton came from a fire department that lost two of its own in 1995 in a fire when a bow-string truss roof collapsed on them while doing their job. I am pretty sure the fire chief wouldn’t mind having SOO or RIT, or whatever your fire department calls this kind of training, on a regular basis.

Ron Terriaco, captain,Concord Twp. Fire Department,Lake County, Ohio

Response: Our department practices SOO drills such as policy reviews and having fire-fighters in our training building get into a position where they have to call for a Mayday. This training not only helps the firefighter know when to call a Mayday and initiate survival training, but it also trains the incident commander in how to handle the Mayday call when it is received. The other months of the year, our firefighters train on entanglement drills and low-profile SCBA maneuvers. A survival maze [brought to us by Lieutenant Tom Sitz of the Painesville Twp. (OH) Fire Department] is set up ready for training use and bailout drills.

Each of our firefighters and officers participates. Our department trains on these drills and many other topics an average of two hours a day. Our officers review the drills to make sure they are done correctly and safely. We also send firefighters to outside survival and RIT training to keep up with current techniques.

Jim Grady III, chief,Frankfort (IL) Fire District

Response: Our department does not practice SOO evolutions frequently. The techniques are practiced during our annual SCBA performance requirements and search/rescue training. The shifts practice different techniques while on duty as part of the shift officer’s optional training but not on a consistent basis. This question actually opened our eyes to the need for setting aside time for a more structured training schedule and incorporating this training within a regular cycle. The training is open to all and is mandatory for RIT members.

Currently, we are concentrating on having our personnel develop a better understanding of building construction and fire behavior. The objective is that a better understanding of these two cornerstones will make our personnel more aware of conditions, keeping them out of trouble. This is directly tied to enhancing training on incident management and incident safety officer programs.

Michael Stanley, lieutenant,Aurora (CO) Fire Department

Response: George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” This means we cannot move into our future without first looking into our past. In 2005, there were 107 reported line-of-duty firefighter deaths. If their deaths are not to be in vain, we must make sure that neither we nor our coworkers die in a preventable accident.

It is crucial that we base SOO drills on firefighter fatalities. Our department conducts a yearly in-service that focuses on lessons learned. Past examples include the Denver and Nance drills. Every uniformed member participates so that as many people as possible are exposed to these evolutions. Many times, the ingenuity of participants reveals a “better” way to rescue the downed firefighter. In addition, company officers routinely hold in the station drills that consistently reinforce safer operations.

The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation sums it up best: “Duty and responsibility … Make EVERY DAY a TRAINING DAY … so that … EVERYONE GOES HOME!”

Eric Dreiman, lieutenant,Washington Twp. (IN) Fire Department

Response: Our department starts this training right from the academy. We devote several days during our fire academy to SCBA emergencies, RIT, Mayday, and flashover training. Our companies receive ongoing training on RIT and Mayday operations at regular intervals throughout the year. Most of our training on these topics is hands-on, with a minimum of classroom instruction. We conduct training in operating our radios, including the activation of the “emergency button.” Firefighters are placed in situations that cause them to actively problem solve. They are taught that declaring a Mayday early is vital to their survival. To wait only uses valuable air and time.

We also conduct command-level training in managing a Mayday. We try to conduct this training with the department’s staff officers, battalion chiefs, and officers who routinely fill in as battalion chiefs. In addition, we train in a flashover chamber and other live-fire structures to allow for the review of fire behavior and rapid fire spread. After conducting several of these types of training over the past five years or so, I still get positive comments from the participants. The firefighters know that this is the type of training that is going to keep them alive and help them make it home to their families. It is imperative that every department give its personnel the knowledge and tools they need to keep themselves and their coworkers safe. To do any less is a disservice.

Marty Ogan, training officer,Nampa (ID) Fire Department

Response: Starting with the recruits at the fire academy, we stress the importance of working as a team. We spend two days on just SCBA confidence building, three days on RIT training specifically focused on situational awareness-knowing where they are in the building and the location of the closest and fastest way out. We also use the Denver drill, an SCBA confidence course, and bail-out bags.

I believe that many of the skills taught at the academy can be used as part of RIT training-i.e., forcible entry, ladders, rope rescue, confined space, thermal imaging camera.

We have developed SOPs on the deployment of RIT on the fireground, which covers equipment needed, size-up, expanding RIT into a group, and command structure.

We are working on developing training standards for recurring training. At this time, we try to incorporate RIT training into any training we do in acquired structures. As an example, we were able to train on the breaching of cinderblock walls in commercial buildings scheduled for demolition.

Stan Mettinger, captain,Brooksville (FL) Fire Department

Response: In the past year, we had the luxury of using for training an abandoned K-Mart building scheduled for demolition. The training was performed in conjunction with the county fire department and another fire district in our area, both of which provide mutual aid for us. The focus of the training was on rapid entry and searching for downed/missing firefighters. Everyone in the department participated.

Activities included deploying a team of three to search for and remove a missing firefighter. The “downed firefighter” was a 185-pound rescue manikin. During this activity, the lessons learned by the Phoenix (AZ) Fire Department in its tragic loss during the supermarket fire several years ago were strongly reinforced. Generally speaking, personnel were able to quickly locate the firefighter, but removing him in an expedient manner was very difficult. In most cases, the crews ran low on air; alarms were sounding by the time they exited. Keep in mind that this was just a huge building with no obstructions. To add a realm of difficulty, we obscured the face pieces. All operations were conducted at night to enhance the darkness aspect. We conducted the rapid entry with and without a hoseline. The evolution without the hoseline involved a scenario in which the fire had been declared under control or extinguished when we “discovered” a firefighter was missing.

Had this training occurred in a similar building that was occupied and where firefighters would have had to weave through aisles and around stock, the initial crews would not have completed their assignment and most probably would not have even reached the victim. It is true that a great number of our brothers and sisters are lost in single-family structure fires; this activity drove home the difficulty of the task.

Other activities included ladder bailouts. Most of the participants found this activity very helpful. Even though most of them had no desire to dive out a window and go down a ladder head first, they were glad to have experienced how to do it under “tame” conditions. The activity we did not get to perform (we ran out of time) was breaching walls for self-rescue. However, there was a plan to send people to a train-the-trainer for SOO so that we can conduct further training of this type in other acquired buildings.

Our officers had brainstormed prior to this building’s becoming available. Out of that, we had developed a RIT bag that contained the minimal equipment: an SCBA, a spare mask, a hand light, a small tool, and 200 feet of rope for a tag line. Although the crews found it heavy and bulky, it worked well.

Jean Solecki, lieutenant,West Bradford (PA) Fire Company

Response: Our department practices SOO twice a year as a core drill. However, many of our members are also members of our area RIT company, which practices self-rescue and SOO on a weekly basis as core. For the most part, the participants for the drills are 25 years of age and younger, and the evolutions are always worked into a larger drill. For example, during burn training, one group will work on the line, and the second will do a search evolution. While the two groups are working, a firefighter may go down or become injured or lost. The modes are then switched, and the SOO evolution begins. Each time we have an evolution, we monitor breathing, creativity, communication, effectiveness, and speed. Depending on the goal of the evolution, we will chart physical fitness, cooperation, team pairings when probationary firefighters first move up, and so on. As a company, we have found that incorporating SOO evolutions into a general drill has increased mental and bodily awareness, self-confidence, and familiarity with equipment. On the opposite side of the coin, it has shown vital weaknesses officers and firefighters must be aware of when working in a crisis environment.

Robert Stumpf, battalion chief,Bloomington (IN) Fire Department

Response: Our department only recently completed a two-year process in which all members learned and were certified in firefighter survival skills and rapid intervention. Our policy is to have the training division offer a minimum of 16 hours of firefighter survival training annually, to refresh skills already taught and highlight new or different techniques. We have approached it much the same as we handle EMS or instructor hours. You have to spend some time SOO training every year to keep up your proficiency.

Josh Thompson, battalion chief,Avon (IN) Fire Department

Response: Our department participates in SOO drills at least yearly. Recently, we had the opportunity to train with one of our mutual-aid departments; all of our mutual-aid departments provide RIT for our incidents, and vice versa. We do “regular” drills, including self-survival, entanglement, diminished clearance, lost/disoriented, Mayday procedure, RIT drills, the Denver and Nance drills, search, packaging and removal, and various simulated “real-life” scenarios.

We use the incident command system, dispatchers, and standard assigned crews as if it were a real incident. After the scenarios, we discuss what went right and what went wrong and modify our actions to make them better. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of doing these drills at least annually. We need to focus on prevention first, but we definitely need to run through these drills for the very real possibility that “it” can happen. Take it seriously, and practice because we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act but a habit.

Thomas Dunne, deputy chief,Fire Department of New York

Response: Firefighter rescue has always been a priority for FDNY. Over the past few years, this training has received added emphasis following the tragic deaths of several firefighters. There are a number of related programs that involve every member of the department.

One of the regularly scheduled evolutions is training in removing an unconscious firefighter. This involves the use of a weighted manikin dressed in full bunker gear and air mask. Our units make use of knots, ropes, and nylon webbing to practice firefighter removal in various rescue scenarios (up the stairs, out a window, for example).

Recently, personal escape ropes have been issued to our firefighters. They now have the ability to self-evacuate from a window in a worst-case flashover situation. Training in this technique has been provided in the hope of allowing another escape option for our personnel.

Saving a distressed firefighter is emotionally and tactically challenging. Being prepared calls for constant review of vital, but infrequently used, procedures. Elements of these procedures are integrated into our daily drill sessions; they include rapid intervention duties, Mayday communications, and procedures for locating a missing firefighter.

Death and serious injury are harsh realities in the fire service. If they occur in our department, the safety division performs a thorough investigation and prepares an in-depth report that is circulated to all our personnel. Every aspect of the operation is analyzed with a highlight on contributing factors and problems encountered. These reviews sometimes have led to changes in equipment, training, or operational procedures. Sadly, the loss of a firefighter has sometimes provided painful lessons about saving lives in the future.

Ron Hiraki, assistant chief,Gig Harbor (WA) Fire & Medic One

Response: We conduct SOO evolutions regularly. Approximately four years ago, our members attended this type of training and began to drill on these procedures. Since then, we have developed a RIT program that includes equipment, procedures, and training. Our members drill on this topic on a quarterly basis. At least two of the drills are scenario-based, practical drills. As a combination fire department, we offer the training to career and volunteer members.

Battalion Chief Mike Miller, our RIT program coordinator, has worked very hard to train our members on the basic skills and to ensure that we build on those skills. For example, once we learned how to save ourselves, we progressed to saving one firefighter, and now a team of two. Miller advocates organized team goals for locating, protecting, extricating, and removing a firefighter. Additionally, we work on good communications and self-discipline in this training.

We continue to emphasize training on ways to prevent the need for activating the RIT. Practicing and following the incident management system, accountability, air management, and the deployment and self-discipline of a backup team are critical elements on which we must continue to train.

Nicholas DeLia, chief,Groton (CT) Fire Department

Response: For this year’s Fire Fighter Safety Stand Down in June, we returned to several self-help and SOO techniques we have practiced in the past. For many years, we reviewed these evolutions on an annual basis as part of our SCBA training. It is my hope to refocus on these important personal safety skills over the more exotic chemical and terrorism operations training we have had to do. The evolutions we do include the following: SCBA Low Profile, SCBA entanglement removal and clearing, SCBA removal and replacement after going through a breached wall, SCBA entanglement-swim technique, sliding down a personal rope, SCBA harness conversion for removal, and RIT Kit/SCBA operations. This year we will be adding removing the injured firefighter with a harness preassembled in our new PPE. This training will be delivered to all interior firefighters. We have had no problems with our personnel accomplishing these tasks.

I would like to take an “uncomfortable” turn in the concept of SOO. I think everyone would agree that the term “Our Own” would include the loved ones of our fire service brothers and sisters. Given that 105 fire personnel will be honored this October in Emmitsburg for their supreme sacrifice, I think we need to look at supporting all of “Our Own.” Although we should do everything in our power to prepare our personnel to prevent losing them, firefighters still die every year at an incomprehensible level. There is nothing worse than struggling through one of the most difficult times in life without as many decisions made beforehand as possible.

Many firefighters have not taken the simple step of creating a will, never mind creating anything more detailed. I would recommend that all chiefs, career and volunteer, go to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Web site (www.Firehero.org) and download the Employee Emergency Contact Information sheet under the Fire Service Programs/Training/Taking Care of Our Own Materials. Have your personnel fill it out, seal it, and put it in a safe place. They should take a copy home and give it to someone they trust. If they have strong feelings or concerns relative to final arrangements, that information can be attached to the forms. The simple fact is that if the techniques we use fail, we need to be ready. If nothing else, filling out the forms will emphasize the importance of the SOO techniques.

Thomas Fieffer, captain,Portage (IN) Fire Department

Response: Our department has been doing the SOO “Get Out Alive” drills since around 1997. Several of us took Chief Salka’s and Chief Lasky’s class at FDIC. To this date, we have all members take the class about every three years. From the chief on down, all members participate. We also require that all our recruits take the class in our fire academy. To this date, we have had one minor injury doing the drills. The talk around the country about stopping the training because of injuries has not slowed us down. We believe that the training does and will save lives. We always complete the window bailouts with a rope and the ladder. We rotate the tasks of stair climbs, wall breaches, the Denver drill, and the Nance drill.

Tony Tricarico, captain,Fire Department of New York

Response: Our department holds an “annual education day” four times a year, attended by company groups on a rotating basis. All but one group is scheduled each year; the “excluded” group changes each year. We have practiced SOO exercises during education day and have passed on the information to the membership. Each company is “rated” and has critical points that must be completed. After the course is completed, a debriefing is held. Individually, each company should be practicing this evolution regularly. Speaking only for the companies in which I have worked, I can say that we practice these exercises on a regular basis. Each officer has the option of choosing the drill content for the tour he works, but we all agree on hitting this evolution regularly.

The squad I work in now has been involved in several fires at which we have had to go to work to help trapped, lost, or downed firefighters. When we practice this, we use our building but change the layout each time. We send two firefighters to find and remove a manikin or a firefighter. The firefighters must locate the firefighters; check for air and entanglement, and initiate removal. Proper radio procedures are a must. Letting the chief and the rest of the members working know that the missing member has been found is critical. We also hold a debriefing after each drill. Sometimes members who participated in the drill are the harshest critics. The only way to perfect these skills is to practice on a regular basis.

We also train in removing a firefighter trapped under debris in a simulated partial collapse. The team uses air bags, bottle jacks, or any other methods available to extricate the firefighter. Add a little smoke and heat, some prerecorded noise, and you’ve got yourself a great drill.

Mike Gallagher, training captain,Town of Menasha (WI) Fire Department

Response: Our department has developed lesson plans for training on what we call our “basic skills.” Some five or six years ago, a previous training captain attended FDIC and took a H.O.T. class on the subject. He came back with many ideas and started the process rolling. The very next year, I also attended the classes as a lieutenant with a role within our department’s training division. We fine-tuned the skills to meet our needs.

We have since built an indoor training tower (aids in poor weather drills) and expect all hot-zone firefighters, officers, and chief officers to achieve a level of competence in all nine skills: the Denver drill (one- and two-person); ladder bail; rope bail; hose bail; window hang; donning PPE; SCBA confidence; hydrant skills, and hoisting equipment (ropes and knots). We drill around these skills throughout the training year. By April 1 each year, department members must complete all skills and are evaluated by instructors on a pass/fail basis.

Although I see tremendous value in these skills, there is a “rule of thumb” we adhere to: 75 percent of all our training revolves around not getting into trouble on the fireground; 25 percent of our training is for the “one time” a mistake is made. Good solid fireground work is always the first line of defense against getting into trouble. The basic skills listed previously represent part of the 25 percent of our training. Mayday drills and training to save ourselves must never be overlooked. Remember, “No one is coming in to save us, but us.”

Joseph D. Pronesti, captain,Elyria (OH) Fire Department

Response: My fire department, unfortunately, pays the practice of SOO only lip service. It is sad because we have experienced at least two real close calls in the past couple of years, and it is frustrating that the upper leadership of the department did not study the problems in our close calls and set up training sessions to deal with them for the future.

Everything we do is on a shift-by-shift basis. What needs to be done, in addition to SOO work, is to teach the basics of firefighting. If we know the basics and teach our young officers the art of proper hoseline placement; building construction; and, most importantly, fire behavior, we may not get ourselves into as much trouble.

The firefighters in my department do an excellent job in handling the room-and-contents house fire. It’s the commercial building fire that scares me and where the SOO training can be helpful. In addition to that training, the basic firefighting tactics must be accomplished. The two go hand-in-hand. I really hate it when those in our wonderful business separate the two-you just can’t afford to.

Every training seminar, fire academy class, and so on, dealing with SOO should also allow ample time for reviewing firefighting tactics and building construction.

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