How can one become a good firefighter? What is a good firefighter? If someone wants to be a good firefighter do they have to go take a bunch of rescue technician classes, become a smoke diver, or a hazmat specialist? I think if one wants to become a good well rounded firefighter; then they need to master the basics.
In my opinion you need two things to be really good on the fire ground and they are common sense and knowing the basics of whatever it is you do. If it’s at the firefighter position you should know all the ins and outs of the basic items. That’s hand lines, nozzles, hand tools, ground ladders, your SCBA, your PPE, and all the basic items you will put your hands on during a tour of duty. Everything we do starts with the basics. When responding to alarms we start with our PPE, SCBAs, exit the rig and deploy hand lines, throw ground ladders, and all the basic items we learned from the very beginning. If someone can’t get the lead out down right, doesn’t have good nozzle skills, or any other basic item; how can they move on to the more advanced stuff? If you’re a Driver/Engineer you should master the basics in pump operations. You should know your friction loss tables for the most basic and widely used hand line sizes in your department, know what nozzles are on the end of the line you’re pumping too, and be proficient in the basic firefighting skills you can continue to assist in like ground ladder throws and deploying back-up lines.
These are some of the basic things you can go back and get down pat at the firefighter level:
1. Personal Protective Equipment. We all get a little ‘lax in our PPE skills when we’ve been out of the academy for a little while. We drill on it so much to meet a certain time and when we hit the floor and begin our shifts we are fresh on it and doing good, but as time passes and we get caught up in more items around the firehouse we tend to let the PPE times and making sure were wearing it all correctly kind of goes to the wayside. This is a good basic skill to go back and start working on. Just make a few runs of timing yourself donning your gear as quickly, but efficiently, as possible. You need to make the check to make sure suspenders are well placed, zippers are fully up, buckles/buttons are snapped, Velcro is secured, and your gloves are quickly put on.
2. Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus. Now, I know you’re starting to think, “Who doesn’t know their PPE and SCBA?”Trust me, they’re out there and they’re in your department. I could make a run with any of you and within 20 minutes into the event I will hear a PASS device going off somewhere in the yard and watch another member walk over and show someone how to reset it because they’ve forgotten the basics and don’t remember. That is the most basic of skills. You need to know your SCBA inside and out. The seals, the regulator, the hoses, the bypass valve, the PASS device and how to operate it, and everything. So, once you’ve gotten the PPE down do just like you did in the beginning and don your SCBA as quickly and efficiently as possible. You need to practice turning it on and off while wearing it, placing your mask on your face and tightening the straps with structural firefighting gloves on, and then place your nomex hood. You should also be able to grab your regulator and go on and off air and be able to operate all buttons and valves with structural firefighting gloves on. The last thing you need to familiarize yourself with is the buddy breathing system and any UAC connections you may have. This is your most important lifeline so don’t set yourself up for failure when you need it most, because it could mean life or death.
3. Hand lines. You as a firefighter have the single task of deploying a hose load from a pre-connected position and getting it to the entry point. I’ve been on the front end of some nasty looking hose deployments and it’s not a good feeling messing that up and seeing a wad of spaghetti hose lying on the ground in front of the pump panel. You need to know what loads your rig is loaded with and know how to deploy it and reload it with no problems. If your department is still using the good old back and forth crossing from side to side flat load as a pre-connected hand line then you should reconsider your pre-connects. The minute man load and triple layer load are much easier to deploy and cut those lead out times in half, plus they were designed for one firefighter deployments. So, practice deploying and reloading those hoses, checking for kinks, bleeding air out of the line and checking your pattern at the door, and then utilizing good techniques like flowing water while advancing and keeping that nozzle out in front of you so you can operate a good “O” pattern and utilize the reach of the stream to cool fires as you advance. When you’re making that push don’t forget to search for life off the line.
4. Ground ladders. These heavy bulky pieces of equipment are one of the most important items on the rig. They should be thrown on every fire, and you should deploy them until you either run out of windows or run out of ladders. They are our life line if we get in trouble and come to a window to bail out.The 3-5 rungs above the roof line is a basic step to remember. No one is helping us but us, and we can’t get to or get down from elevated locations without these. So make it a priority to master deploying these by yourself because you don’t need two firefighters to carry and deploy the most common ground ladder sizes, and if you’re doing so you’re wasting manpower and not being as efficient as you could be. Take it way back and re-familiarize yourself with the ladder’s parts and names. Then practice the most common ladder carries such as the suitcase, low shoulder, high shoulder, and the high-low carry if you have a large ground ladder with two people such as the 35 footer. You need to refresh on tip placement for various fire ground functions as well. (Photo By: David Polikoff)
5. Hand tools. These are basic items, but some firefighters simply don’t know the basics of body positioning and the simple forcible entry techniques that these tools are used for. Review what each tool is actually for, tool positioning, communications while using the irons and striking the halligan, how to strike these tools, when to stop, set the door with a wedge, and then drive the rest of the way. Leverage is your friend, and when these tools are used correctly it can really make forcing a door, window, or locking mechanism much easier because you’ll understand the basic ins and outs.
There is more to being a firefighter than wearing the uniform. It is your responsibility to always being prepared. The best way to be most prepared and to be well rounded is mastering the basics. There is plenty of stuff to train on other than what I mentioned, but those items will give you a good head start to either becoming better, or refreshing on old items that have become a little bit rusty. Remember, your brother next to you expects you to know that SCBA in case he needs you for that buddy breathing connection. That brother expects a ladder to that rear window if he crawls to it wanting out. Let’s not let each other down, lets master the basics!