Many of you have taken Firefighter Survival Training. While it varies from place to place, depending on the instructors, the core information and intent is the same, to prepare firefighters to save themselves when things go wrong. From bailouts to low profile maneuvers to breathing control, all these things are taught to teach firefighters what to do when things gone wrong and they get stuck.
But what about not getting stuck in the first place? What if we went about things in such a way that we didn’t allow ourselves to get jammed up in the first place? Chief John Norman talks about never putting yourself in a position where you have to rely on someone else to get you out, in his book “Fire Officer’s Handbook of Tactics”.
It is critical that every firefighter perform a size up of the building based on their assignment. As part of this size up, we should determine what tools we need to accomplish out tasks, how we are going to get to where we need to go and how we are going to get out if we have to.
It is critical that we don’t blindly rush into the building before we get a good look at it. How many stories is it? Where are the windows? Are there other entrances? Are there fire escapes? Do we need ground ladders? Have ladders already been thrown?
We also need to be concerned with the conditions. Where is the fire? Where is it going? What are the smoke conditions? It may seem like a lot of information, but it is information that you cannot afford to miss. Many of us answer these questions without consciously thinking about it. We have considered these things at every fire we have gone to, and they are part of our muscle memory. But often, especially in departments that are going to less fires, these thoughts and observations do not come automatically.
Every fire is different, regardless of how similar it seems to the one before. We must expect that the unexpected is going to happen and prepare ourselves for when everything goes wrong. Think about it before your next fire, because the time to start planning isn’t when you get off the truck. Knowing your district, your buildings, the hazards and your function gives you plenty of information to think about before the call ever comes in. Once the alarm sounds that information should be easily recalled and added to the information received with the dispatch, so that by the time you get to the box, you already have a good idea of what you may be up against. The final piece of building Plan B is looking at the building. This quick look, plus the rest of your size up should give you all the information you need to accomplish your task and to get out if things go wrong.
Recently there was an article that is an excellent example of what is being discussed. A firefighter arrived at a fire in a single family residence. The fire was in the basement and companies were operating there. The firefighter walked up to the building and quickly looked down the Bravo and Delta sides, before he went inside to assist with fire attack. He noticed that the house was set into a hill, and that on both side there were full windows at the basement level. He then entered the building and was caught in a collapse of the first floor. After he landed in the basement, he got his bearing and remembered the window he had seen on the Bravo Side. He quickly crawled to the window and was able to self extricate with no assistance.
Had this firefighter not taken the couple of seconds it took to size up the building, the outcome could have been very different. Instead of going to the hospital or worse, he went home. Why? Because he practiced good size up techniques and did not put himself in a position where he needed others to help him get out. He had a Plan B.