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Dr. Seuss and the Pack Conversion

When looking across the board, describing the physical make-up of a firefighter might actually sound like a Dr. Seuss book. Some firefighters are big, some firefighters are small. Other firefighters are short, while others are tall.

And while fitness is an important aspect of our culture, the service is also comprised of firefighters that fall within a wide array of physical attributes and conditions, and this could prove to be quite the hindrance when attempting to convert an SCBA harness into a drag device during firefighter removal operations. Firefighters already deal with limitations including limited visibility, IDLH environments, cumbersome dexterity, and the firefighter themselves. Now, let’s factor in the size and shape of the downed firefighter along with the gear and SCBA they are wearing.

In past contributions, I have briefly discussed and illustrated a few different ways in which a SCBA harness could be converted when dragging, hauling, or lowering a downed firefighter to safety. Let’s look at three (3) more variations:

  1. Firefighters without a harness (integrated, Gemtor, etc.)

  2. A downed firefighter equipped with a harness

  3. A downed firefighter that is too large in size to utilize the straps of the SCBA harness or the provided harness.

Regardless of the scenario you are faced with, one rule always holds true: NEVER LET THE PACK CONVERSION TAKE PRIORITY OVER THE DOWNED FIREFIGHTER’S AIR MANAGEMENT OR SAFETY!

SCBA Harness Conversion #1

The first conversion can be used on a firefighter that is NOT equipped with a harness system such as a Gemtor.

  1. Loosen ALL straps, both the shoulders and waist.

  2. Lift one (1) of the downed firefighter’s legs up towards their chest.

  3. Feed the waist strap from the side of the lifted leg from behind the leg and up towards the groin area.

  4. Feed the opposite waist strap over the groin of the downed firefighter and connect the two via the buckle mechanism.

  5. Tighten down ALL straps, both shoulders and waist. Place an overhand knot in each shoulder strap to prevent the shoulder straps from loosening during downed firefighter removal.


SCBA Harness Conversion #2

Converting the SCBA harness on a downed firefighter equipped with a harness system can be done quickly and has proven to be effective and efficient in limited visibility environments as well as with cumbersome dexterity of the gloved hand. Another advantage to this method is that should the downed firefighter become inverted while being lowered from a window or lifted from below grade, this conversion has created a 3-point harness protecting them from falling free from the SCBA harness.

  1. Loosen ALL straps, both the shoulder and waist.

  2. Feed the waist straps through the front leg straps of the Gemtor (left through left and right through right) from the bottom up and connect the two via the buckle mechanism.

  3. Extend the oversized carabiner from the Gemtor and capture the two (2) shoulder straps in the area of the sternum.

  4. Tighten down ALL straps, both shoulders and waist. Place an overhand knot in each shoulder strap to prevent the shoulder straps from loosening during downed firefighter removal.

SCBA Harness Conversion #3

The third conversion is best utilized on larger firefighters whose physical composition make it difficult to feed waist strap belts behind their leg and through the groin or where the oversized carabiner from the Gemtor is unable to capture the two (2) shoulder straps due to the sheer girth of their profile. To accomplish this conversion, you will need to have a shot of 1” tubular webbing (12’ in length and tied closed with a water knot) and a carabiner. Tighten down ALL straps, both shoulders and waist.

  1. Capture the carabiner through the opening provided on either of the two (2) shoulder strap clamps.

  2. Feed the 1” tubular webbing from around the back of the torso on the same side captured and feed it up through the groin area and up to the opposing strap clamp.

  3. Feed the end through the strap clamp, tighten down to remove any slack, and secure the webbing in place with a simple overhand knot.

As with most tactics in the fire service, there are numerous ways to achieve the desired end result. When it comes to pack conversions, there is more than one way to skin the cat. Learning, training, and retaining on multiple options will increase the likelihood of a successful rescue of one of our own.

AB Turenne is a 22-year veteran of the fire service in Eastern Connecticut. As a Certified Level II Fire Service Instructor, AB's training curriculum has proven to be conducive with the operational needs of those he teaches and in turn has improved the human capital knowledge of many. A graduate from the Master of Public Administration program at Anna Maria College, AB has continued his efforts in training and education by contributing to the Fire Engineering Training Community.



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