Firefighters who are extensively trained are ready to handle different emergencies, such as a home fire where people are trapped or a firefighter who is injured and unable to get out. Their training is rigorous and covers various situations like search and rescue, rescuing injured firefighters, high angle rope rescue, water rescue, and confined space rescue. It is important to mention that not all firefighters receive search and rescue training; only the most skilled ones become certified members of a technical rescue team.
Extensive training is provided to technical rescue teams so that they can excel in their response to various emergency situations, including car accidents and burning buildings. The trained rescue team members perform search and rescue actions at emergency scenes to quickly evacuate individuals from immediate danger or free those who are already trapped (“Indiana Fire Department” 4-3). However, each type of rescue operation has its own risks, such as tunnel vision where firefighters become focused on a specific issue without considering potential consequences or alternative strategies for the situation.
When a firefighter is involved in a complex rescue, it is common to experience tunnel vision. This can prevent rescuers from recognizing obvious solutions or perceiving impending danger. One example of these hazards is structural collapses, where buildings may unexpectedly give way. Additionally, firefighters themselves can fall from great heights during rescue operations. A devastating instance of these hazards occurred on September 11, 2001, when 343 firefighters tragically lost their lives while attempting to save thousands of people. Both towers collapsed, resulting in the deaths of numerous firefighters and civilians.
According to the “Indiana fire department” (4-3), one of the most dangerous operations for firefighters is searching burning structures. When entering a fully engulfed building, firefighters should work in teams of two or more, with at least two fully equipped firefighters and a charged hose line ready to assist. This is known as the “two in/ two out” rule. Following this rule has saved rescue teams from near death situations. For instance, if a burning house has backdraft conditions, a two-person hose team can extinguish the flames, allowing the rescue team to continue searching for missing victims. Firefighters conducting searches should carry a forcible entry tool, flashlight, and radio. Search and rescue teams often utilize thermal imaging cameras (T.I.C), which provide an approximate temperature of the fire and outline heat-radiating objects on the screen.
As per NFA 1975, firefighters are required to wear a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) when in an environment where oxygen levels are below 19.5%. Not wearing the SCBA could lead to severe lung and heart damage, and in some cases, even death or collapse during a fire. In technical rescue operations, there are two types of searches: primary search and secondary search. Both searches pose significant risks, with the primary search being the first and most dangerous.
The “Indiana fire department” (4-3) conducts a quick effort to locate individuals who may be injured or in danger. The primary search should be as thorough as possible within the time and conditions available. The search teams may be ahead of the hose lines, meaning they do not have a hose if a room they enter suddenly ignites, posing an immediate risk to their safety. The secondary search occurs once the fire is extinguished or under control, mainly focusing on finding any survivors or bodies.
During the secondary search, a more thorough investigation can be conducted as the immediate threat of a fire flashing over is eliminated. This allows for the discovery of areas that still need to be extinguished. Rescue operations on a fire scene are extremely hazardous as some teams enter before the hose lines and encounter temperatures ranging from 100 to 2500 degrees Fahrenheit. Consequently, any injuries sustained by firefighters are significantly grave (Leland Fire and Rescue). Injuries that may occur during a rescue operation include burns, cuts, abrasions, eye injuries, collapses, and even fatalities.
Firefighters face a highly perilous occupation, highlighting the significance of training as a crucial daily task. Despite extensive training in search and rescue operations, firefighters continue to lose their lives on a daily basis. These fatalities can occur due to a range of hazards including structural collapses, flashovers, back drafts, and oxygen deficiency along with elevated temperatures, smoke, and toxic atmospheres. (Leland Fire and Rescue)
Although rescue operations prioritize the well-being of victims, there are unfortunate instances where rescuers cannot reach the scene in time, leading to fatalities. A case in point is an incident that occurred in Leominster, Massachusetts in 2009. Upon reaching the site of an apartment fire, the Leominster fire and rescue team promptly conducted a primary search and successfully saved a 13-year-old girl. However, they were unable to locate her unconscious 16-year-old brother who was lying on the bed next to the window. The rescuers explained, “The bed was positioned alongside the window and visibility was extremely poor.”
Firefighter Scott LaPrade described the intense smoke in the area: “It was that black in there, the smoke was right to the floor” (“The Boston Channel”). In emergency situations, whether it be for firefighters or civilians, prioritizing the victims is crucial. To improve the efficiency of search and rescue operations, fire departments have introduced various search patterns. These patterns include the conventional right/left hand search, search assisted by PASS devices, radio-assisted search, rope-assisted search, and thermal imaging camera-assisted search.
When a firefighter is blinded by smoke or lack of light and cannot see, they will rely on a conventional right/left hand search to feel their way around the room or sweep it across the floor to find a victim. The lead firefighter will maintain constant communication during the search. Additionally, firefighters use a device called a personal alert safety system (PASS) in case of injury or low air in their air pack.
If the PASS device is triggered, whether it be manually or automatically, it will provide a bombastic noise to alert any rescuers that are passing or to aid rescuers in finding the downed firefighter’s position. When searching through a structure with an activated PASS system, a search team will be able to move through the structure more efficiently. The basic concept of this search pattern is that a team listens and moves toward the activated PASS device (McCormack).
The utilization of a radio assisted search is another pattern that can be implemented. This technique comes into play when a firefighter, who may be either missing or injured, possesses an activated radio. Moreover, if the firefighter remains conscious, it becomes feasible to utilize the radio as a means to collect vital details regarding their state, such as the quantity of available air or whether they are trapped or injured amidst debris. Furthermore, this method can also be employed by the incident commander through instructing the firefighter to provide a description of their whereabouts, thereby enabling the search team to locate them with greater efficiency (McCormack).
Rescue ropes and hoses serve various purposes as tools for rescue. One application is when a child is trapped on the second floor of a house with an unknown location. In this scenario, a firefighter can employ a rope to be thrown out of a window. This action enables the incident commander to determine precisely where the child is entrapped. Likewise, hose lines are useful in locating firefighters who have fallen down. If a rescue team is aware that injured firefighters were utilizing an attack line (hose line), they can track the hose line to reach the nozzle, which indicates where the fallen firefighters are located.
Firefighters utilize a device called a T. I. C (Thermal Imaging Camera) specifically for search and rescue purposes. This device uses thermal imaging software to see through smoke and identify high heat images, allowing firefighters to locate and reach civilians or injured firefighters more efficiently (McCormack). Alongside the T. I. C, firefighters must also acquire various skills to operate in hazardous situations, including using an SCBA (Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus) and a PASS (Personal Alert Safety System) device, understanding the basics of their Personal Protective Ensemble, and conducting a search size-up. An SCBA is crucial for firefighters as it enables them to breathe fresh air in oxygen-deprived burning structures with impaired visibility, preventing suffocation or blindness.
The PASS device is connected to the SCBA and shows the remaining air in the bottle on the screen. When the SCBA air tank is low, both the PASS device and the bell on the firefighter’s SCBA will alert by beeping and ringing, indicating that the firefighter has around 500 psi or 5 minutes to exit the building (Leland Fire and Rescue). The Personal Protective Ensemble consists of various components, including the turn out coat, bunker pants, boots, helmet, eye protection or SCBA mask, and a nomex hood. The turn out coat is made of a heavy 3-layer kevlar material with reflective trim.
There are three layers in an NFPA approved turnout coat: the outershell, the moisture barrier, and the heat barrier. The outershell’s purpose is to shield firefighters from cuts and abrasions. The moisture barrier utilizes the firefighter’s sweat to cool them down. However, when the sweat turns into steam, the firefighter may suffer from steam burns. The final layer, the thermal barrier, is designed to safeguard firefighters from extreme temperatures, such as the average temperature of 1250 degrees that they may encounter while searching a burning structure.
The bunker pants and turnout coat, which are made from the same material and consist of three layers, are secured to the body using suspenders or a belt. Firefighter’s boots play a crucial role in protecting their feet against cuts, abrasions, burns, and punctures. These boots can be constructed from either rubber or leather and must have a steel toe and shank for additional safeguarding as mandated by the NFPA. Serving as an iconic symbol of firefighters, the helmet serves to safeguard the head from falls or objects descending upon it. Its components encompass an inner shell with a shock absorber that absorbs fall impact, along with a long bill at the back to shield the firefighter’s neck when working with hot ash or scalding water while handling hoses.
Also, the leather front on a firefighter’s helmet displays important information such as their department name, station or truck number, and job assignment (firefighter, rescue, or EMT). Additionally, the helmet will also feature the firefighter’s last name (Leland Fire and Rescue). According to NFPA 1975, it is mandatory for firefighters to wear eye protection when not using an SCBA mask. Suitable eye protection options include safety goggles or safety glasses. An SCBA mask can also serve as eye protection if it covers the firefighter’s entire face (Leland Fire and Rescue). When wearing an SCBA, firefighters are required to wear a protective hood that offers complete head protection against burns and cuts. The hood also provides an additional seal for the SCBA mask. These hoods are constructed from either nomex or charcoal materials, as they do not absorb liquids (Leland Fire and Rescue). In order to be a part of a technical rescue team, a firefighter must be proficient in performing a search size-up upon arriving at the scene of any rescue. Ideally, this process should not take more than one minute for an experienced firefighter.
A search and rescue team conducts a search size up—a process that involves evaluating potential rescue methods and searching for victims (McCormack). Once a firefighter locates a victim in a burning structure, they must find a way to transport the individual safely. Before moving the victim, the search team assesses their condition by quickly examining their body. Based on this assessment, the team determines whether to carry or drag the victim. Typically, carrying is preferred for smaller individuals.
To extract a victim, a firefighter will interlock his arms, place them under the victim’s armpits, and pull them out. When removing a victim, firefighters can only use specific routes for the victim to exit the burning structure. The most preferable route is the one used by the search team initially, but circumstances may change, such as staircases collapsing or the roof falling. In such cases, a victim can be evacuated through a window using a ladder truck or through another exit. In situations where firefighters are trapped or injured while rescuing others, a Rapid Intervention Team (R.I.T) is deployed. This team consists of skilled and trained firefighters who immediately respond to the last known location of the trapped firefighter to search and rescue them. The fire department follows the principle of “never leaving a brother behind” and doing whatever it takes to find and save them. (McCormack)
“Sacrifice your life for his. You never leave a brother to the deep clutches of death” (Ladder 49). Firefighting is more than just a job; it is a way of life. In times of emergency, when a distress call called “mayday” is made, it triggers the activation of a Rapid Intervention Team (R.I.T). The purpose behind this distress call is to seek help, and all other radio communication comes to a halt. Only the incident commander makes an attempt to communicate with the trapped firefighter, if possible, in order to determine their exact location. There are two different types of maydays: one that gets activated via PASS and another that gets activated through radio communication.
The PASS activated mayday is triggered when a firefighter informs the incident commander about a firefighter’s PASS device going off. If the incident commander fails to get a response from the firefighter, they will activate a mayday and deploy the fully geared up R.I.T. team to locate the injured firefighter. Another type of mayday is the radio activated mayday where an injured firefighter declares mayday through the radio. All radio traffic will cease, and the incident commander will determine the approximate location of the firefighter and send in the fully geared up R.I.T. team. “Indiana fire department” (4-3).
Once a firefighter is located, there are two methods of extracting them from their position: either the Rapid Intervention Team can drag them or carry them. The new NFPA turnout coats are now required to have a device that enables firefighters to drag another firefighter out of a burning situation. Alternatively, firefighters can perform a tool drag by placing a tool between the SCBA belt and the turnout coat, securing it, and then pulling while regularly checking that the tool does not slip and cause further injury to the firefighter (“Indiana fire department” 4-3).
Search and rescue operations extend beyond rescuing individuals from burning buildings to include scenarios such as a car falling off a cliff with the driver remaining on the cliff. In such cases, firefighters employ high angle rope rescue techniques to save the driver. High angle rope rescue entails utilizing ropes to assist firefighters in rescuing victims from various hazardous situations, such as building ledges or cliffs. Rope rescue involves several components, such as ropes and knots, anchors, mechanical advantage, rappelling and ascending, belay systems, mainlines, and tower rescue lead lines.
Ropes and knots are essential in high angle rope rescue as the use of high angle rescue equipment necessitates their presence. On a rope rescue call, it is imperative that the knots on the rope be flawless; any imperfection may result in the knot becoming undone, thereby compromising the ability of the rope to bear the weight of both the rescuer and the victim. Such a situation can lead to grave consequences such as falls, endangering both the victim and the rescuer with potentially fatal outcomes.
Anchors have the role of managing the speed of the rope for the rescuer and bearing the entire weight of both the rescuer and the victim during their descent to the scene. Additionally, the anchor assists in pulling both individuals back up and over the wall or cliff. On the other hand, mechanical advantage refers to utilizing pulley systems as an alternative to human anchors for supporting the weight of a victim together with a rescuer in a direct manner.
The belay is responsible for spotting and providing a backup lifeline to the rescuer, in case the anchor or mechanical advantage fails. Their role also includes controlling the speed of the rope if necessary. The mainline is the line that directly supports the rescuer.
Rope systems are essential for rescue teams to set up the ropes based on the steepness of the drop to the victim and determine the necessary amount of slack to bring up the rescuer and victim. Tower lead lines are utilized when a firefighter needs to descend from the side of a building due to the risk of concrete wearing off cliff side ropes, which could result in the firefighter falling and fatally injuring themselves (Shoreline Fire Rescue). Why do only a few courageous individuals run into burning buildings while everyone else is running out?
Courage, dedication, honor, and passion define the title of a rescue technician. This esteemed position entails risking one’s life in any perilous situation – from high-angle rescues and confined spaces to water rescues and aiding injured firefighters while on duty. Undoubtedly, rescue technicians embody the epitome of bravery.