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Training – “The Collapse Pile”

Within the fire service, it is essential for every member to be “jacks of all trades and masters of all”. Fire suppression, technical rescue, EMS, Hazmat, etc; the list of our roles and responsibilities continues to grow each year. It is mandatory we stay in a constant state of readiness. At the start of our tour, we must ensure we are prepared to perform any task that may present itself. With that said, the various tasks we perform have different shelf lives with respect to frequency of use. Some may be performed regularly such as stretching a hand line or disconnecting the battery of a vehicle; while others, such as high angle rescue may be called upon only once throughout a member’s entire career. Whether it is a call your department runs daily, or one you have never executed, the public doesn’t care; they are counting on us to get the job done. We must ensure a state of readiness to provide the highest level of service possible. I hate hearing “Oh, this is [Any Town, USA], it will never happen here”. That’s a load of crap, Murphy’s Law outlines anything that can happen, will happen. It might not be today or tomorrow, but given enough time, it will happen. With that said, the awesome responsibility of being “jacks of all trades and masters of all” is not at all an easy task. It’s actually quite difficult. The only way to achieve this high standard is through countless hours of QUALITY training. It’s getting outside and training on the myriad of disciplines that will keep us proficient and able to conduct each operation to the highest standard when called upon.


In order to ensure QUALITY, we must find ways of making training more realistic. For instance, searching a room without your mask blacked out isn’t the most effective training; when was the last time you performed a search without decreased visibility? This may be a basic interpretation of the issue, but serves to show there are things we can do to make our drills more substantive. We all understand it’s impossible to acquire a building to burn every trick, but there are steps we can take to make our training more realistic and in the end, get as much bang for our buck in terms of the valued experience.


Mayday, Mayday, Mayday…. three words we hope to never hear on the fire ground. If called, we instantly know one of our members is in serious trouble. Are we prepared to handle a mayday? Simply checking our packs at the start of tour, knowing the location of buddy breathing connections, and ensuring the RIT Pack is on the truck doesn’t mean we are ready. Some departments train more than other’s, but in the end, are we truly prepared to handle what could potentially be the worst day of our career?


Many times we drill on Mayday operations in ideal conditions; an open apparatus floor with quality lighting, and no impediments/obstructions. We frequently review the RIT Pack, hooking up our buddy breathers, and removing a downed firefighter but again, it’s ideal conditions. I’m not certain of statistics but I would venture to guess almost all Mayday’s called within the history of our fire service have not been in the most optimal of settings. They were called due to zero visibility, high heat, or debris from collapse, etc. If we respond to Maydays in less than optimal environments, than why not attempt to create similar conditions in which we anticipate to operate?


Possible Training
• Collect Random Objects: Go around your firehouse and collect random large objects which may be laying around the station or in storage; i.e. old bed frames, wooden pallets, plywood, 2x8’s; or equipment from your apparatus, such as a roof ladder or section of LDH. (Note: use objects that wouldn’t matter if were accidentally damaged.)

• Find Open Space: Find an open area large enough to perform the drill; pull apparatus out onto the front apron or find an open grassed area if available. (If outside on the grass and worried about getting your gear muddy, you could always throw a tarp down…. but I’m pretty sure you’ll survive without it).

• PPE: Have all members wear full PPE; bunker gear, helmet, hood, gloves, SCBA, and radio exactly how it would be set up when working at an incident.

• Mayday Firefighter: With full PPE, on air, and with SCBA mask blacked out; have one member lay facedown on the ground.

• Prepare Collapse Pile: Cover the Mayday Firefighter with random objects found around the firehouse. Place the objects accordingly, attempting to create a “mock ceiling collapse” making it difficult to access critical parts of the body; i.e. head, pass alarm, buddy breather, universal air connection (UAC), etc. (This Mayday Firefighter is trapped from a post ceiling or roof collapse.)

• Apply Pressure. Have one or two members place a foot on the objects covering the Mayday Firefighter and apply slight pressure. The overall objective of this drill is to make our training more realistic. Attempt to make the Mayday Firefighter feel a little uncomfortable. If caught in a collapse, one can only imagine it would not be a pleasant experience. Have one member stay in constant contact with the Mayday Firefighter to ensure they aren’t in any distress/discomfort or that the pressure/debris isn’t too strenuous. (Note: We are attempting to create “semi uncomfortable conditions” however, the safety of our brothers and sisters is paramount and outweighs everything else.

• Make Noise/Create Stressful Environment: If your RIT/RIC were operating to free a downed firefighter, fire operations must continue. Crews need to stay on task and carry out their assignment. If crews were to abandon their assigned task and begin searching for the Mayday Firefighter without being assigned, it’s almost certain the situation would only get worse. Crews still need to put water on the fire, ventilate, and perform all other vital functions required on the fireground. During the drill, have members create external stressors; run the chainsaw, run a PPV fan, open a nozzle near the collapse pile. Creating external noise will add stress and prove to make the evolution more realistic.

• Call The Mayday: Coordinate with dispatch and inform them you are training and will be calling Mayday’s over the radio. Depending upon your department’s SOP’s/SOG’s you may have to switch to a different channel or to “talk around”. Have the Mayday Firefighter attempt to reach the “remote mic”, hit the emergency alert button and push to talk (PTT). Have them also reach for the portable radio and again hit the emergency alert, (PTT), and also see if they can operate the Frequency Selector Knob. Have the Mayday Firefighter call a Mayday. If pinned in the collapse pile, it should not be easy for them to move their arms and reach the mic or radio. (Note: For members who haven’t put much thought into how and why they wear their radio the way they do, this may be a perfect time for them to reflect and determine optimal positioning.

• RIT/RIC Rescue Firefighter: With the Mayday Firefighter covered, P.A.S.S. Alarm activated and external noises sounding lead the Rescue Firefighter to the edge of the collapse pile and begin to locate the Mayday Firefighter. Ensure the Rescue Firefighter did not see the collapse pile being formed. This will make locating the Mayday Firefighter more difficult. Have them attempt to communicate with the Mayday Firefighter rotating through evolutions: a conscious firefighter able to communicate/assist and an unconscious firefighter. The Rescue Firefighter will have to find void spaces within the collapse pile in order to gain access to the buddy breather, UAC, or any other means possible to secure air to the Mayday Firefighter.

Note: Feel free to adapt this drill to your companies skill level.

Each evolution should prove a different experience. While performing this drill, some evolutions may go quick if void spaces happen to be closer to the buddy breather/UAC, while others may be prolonged due to positioning of the Mayday Firefighter, positioning of the collapse pile or other variables encountered. While extremely frustrating at times, this drill is not meant to discourage members or create resentment. The purpose is to improve confidence, enhance abilities and remind us of just how difficult making contact with and securing air on a firefighter trapped in a collapse would be. Reviewing and mastering the components of RIT/RIC/Mayday is a vitally important tool in our toolbox. Taking our knowledge/equipment and creating a realistic/stressful environment will prove to be most effective in preparing our members, if called upon, to perform the feet of rescuing a firefighter trapped in a collapse.

For more training ideas, reference: Training - Check The Roof

By: Adam J. Hansen

Views: 582

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