“The fire service’s weekly safety column”
By: Ray McCormack
Tactical Safety examines the process of firefighting to see if there is a better and safer way to operate.
“If you can not see, then you should be crawling.” This adage makes a lot of sense, and allows firefighters to be more effective. Just because the fire has not taken away your ability to walk, does not automatically equate to operating in an upright position. Granted, we do not have to crawl all the time, however, staying close to floor level combined with the ability to move quickly is an unbeatable, tactically safe combination.
Some will claim that our gear, due to its protective properties, allow us to walk around more than before. I would say that walking is more of a choice than an unintended outcome of advanced PPE. We all make choices, however, kneeling down and advancing is much safer than being upright. As we enter the fire area, we should be low so that we can use smoke-lift to our full advantage. I believe it is much easier to maintain a sense of direction and object recognition when I am closer to items at floor level.
As we enter the fire area, we do not always know the path to the fire; it must be developed as we move along looking and feel for clues. There is so much to lose and miss when we are not close to the floor such as our balance and victims. When we are upright and we bump into something, our forward momentum can cause more problems than just an abrupt stop. If a stair railing is encountered, I would much rather bump it with my shoulder than my hip and flip over it. Being top-heavy is a concern even when we crawl. By having one leg stretched out in front of us, we can avoid a lot of balance problems and hazard issues that come with fireground operations.
For the nozzle firefighter, using the one-leg-forward technique allows for rapid identification of: steps, collapsed mattresses, holes in floors and other obstructions. It also allows most of the firefighter’s weight to be placed behind them on the kneeling knee while using the outstretched leg as a sliding indicator to identify what lies ahead.
Crawling firefighters will be better able to locate victims, because they cover a larger area than a firefighter who walks around. When you’re low to the floor, you can incorporate using your tool or hands to enlarge your search area sweep.
It is all a matter of what we are doing and the conditions we are in at the time. If you walk into someplace, then it should be virtually smoke-free, or the degree of visual limitation is minimal. The converse is also true when the smoke is down to the floor; then so should you be! We all want to complete our tasks rapidly; as time is always working against us, we must use techniques that are efficient so that we are not just bouncing off objects like a pinball. Many times operations are started in a walking position and then conditions change, and we are forced down and are now examining new territory. If you do walk around, at least stay mindful of lower landmarks, so when your vision is lost you will be much more prepared.
Remember, most victims are either on the floor or have fallen to a lower position; the ones you find standing just need direction, not rescue. The ones you miss while walking around will eventually be found by someone who knew enough to kneel down.
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