Thursday, October 28, 2010

Tactical Safety: "Masking Up"

By Ray McCormack

Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health (IDLH)- that’s the easy one. That’s where we work, so Mask Up!

Who, what, when, where, how, and why do you mask up at an operation?

Who ? All who enter the IDLH.

What? Breathing supplied-air.

When? Just prior to entering the IDLH and throughout your stay while you’re there.

Where ? Where ever the IDLH exists.

How ? Through your self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) facepiece.

Why? So that you will not become a victim due to exposure to the IDLH now or in the future.

Without getting into certain specifics about what constitutes an IDLH, lets consider when you should “mask up.” The obvious time should be obvious to everyone; It is the not so obvious times that need be hashed out. Why are people who are outside the IDLH - and are performing tasks or walking around- or planning on doing something-using their SCBA? Is this necessary? No, and it hinders our capability to get things done.

Some may argue that they are in a “state of readiness” due to mask usage and that might be believable if they were positioned on a charged hoseline-and about to make entry. However, videos and photos often show a different story of firefighters outside the IDLH sucking down air. The problem with this is that when they are needed inside the IDLH, their work time will be severely diminished. So when we choose to mask up outside the IDLH, we should be mindful of what we are accomplishing and our future capabilities.

It is interesting to see how the SCBA is valued by some. It is the most technologically advanced piece of equipment we carry; it sustains life, yet some think it should only be used on special occasions. Its use requires no special occasion except for prolonged health! Wearing your SCBA compliments your lungs quite nicely. Some carry it, and yet use it only sporadically as if the contents of the bottle were some precious, endangered natural resource. In fact, it is a precious resource that should be used with abandon within the IDLH. Use it. Use it all the time you are exposed so that you do not end up sick and wishing you had done so.

A recent video showed firefighters arriving at an attached garage fire without SCBA. How does a firefighter get off the apparatus at a working house fire without his SCBA? They would not be going inside, they will not be rescuing anyone - they are fakes. Their size-up says, “I will be outside; and I will stay outside; I will only be doing some of the work; I am more interested in saying ‘I am a firefighter’ than actually being one.” There are many factors that stop firefighters from entering fires. Firefighters that show up without SCBA hold us back from doing what we should be doing - and their bosses let it happen.

Mask up, get into the game, and stay tactically safe.

Next Tactical Safety – Developing New Categories of Danger

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tactical Safety: The Long Hallway

The Long Hallway

By Ray McCormack

The terms: “The long hallway” or its cousin, “crawling down hallways,” is often used to describe the difficulty we encounter as firefighters; and becomes the test of our melt. Someone who has never or rarely crawled down a hallway is often scoffed at in terms of firefighting talent and or bravery. Like most terms and sayings, they have their empirical origins. These terms are fire service short-hand for evaluations. Long, hot, smoky hallways are difficult to advance through, and often make or break the fire operation.

When you crawl down a hallway, you are placing yourself in a proverbial chimney - In some cases, you are also traveling down the barrel of a loaded gun. If you are searching, you are moving forward towards the fire in order to locate it. Having a charged hoseline along for the journey protects property and firefighters. Protecting firefighters protects civilians; however, when we need to return or leave the area, hallways that are tight or cluttered present a two-fold problem - One is that it is very difficult to pass someone going the opposite direction and or reversing direction. Second, fire conditions become exaggerated in confined spaces and fire in a hallway may chase us to the exit.

When we are entering a hallway we must attempt to look under the smoke in order to locate any doorways or room entrances. This is due to the fact that these opening become guide markers for ‘getting your bearings,’ as well as determining the danger level of a forward advance.

Fires that extend into a common hallway may aid our view of the fire as well as providing the direct path to extinguishment. The problem with that same fire is search; the further the distance the fire room is down the hallway from your starting point, the longer you are in the gun barrel. If the hallway does not contain a doorway before the fire room, then there is no fallback position available to you if fire conditions get worse. You will have to make it all the way back to the entryway. This is important if your search or rescue requires going past the fire room.

If you cannot make it past the fire room to search, then you will have to return down the hallway. The engine company will now have to either wait for you to return or attempt to get past you in the hallway. In a case like this less is more. If a single firefighter goes forward to assess the conditions - and has to return - then the engine’s advance shouldn’t be stalled too long, if at all.

When a room is available prior to encountering the fire’s location, it not only provides us with an area of refuge -it can often provide a door for us to use to block off the fire room so that search or rescue can continue beyond the fire. Proper hallway evaluation requires a partial lift in the smoke and an examination at low levels, along both side walls of the hallway. By spotting how many or far - and what side the rooms are located on down the hallway - tells us how we will operate within the hallway to stay tactically safe.

Next Tactical Safety – Masking Up

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Tactical Safety: When Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

When Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

By Ray McCormack

The principle weapon of smoke is obscured vision; Smoke accompanies all fires. We can often tell a lot about a fire by the smoke it produces; Smoke is also our greatest killer on the fireground.

When we arrive, we often see smoke, when we open the door, we often see smoke. Smoke can be angry, lazy, light or heavy and if we follow it back far enough, it will lead to the fire. We will profile the condition it presents us; however, we cannot assume that what we are experiencing at an exit port (entrance) is happening throughout. The great smoke stampede is common at the entry point. We cannot be fooled by smoke and its often dramatic exit from the building: that it has torn through the occupancy like a tornado leaving nothing savable behind.

Our first impressions are not always lasting as we check its tenacity and heat level. We get below its blinding swirl and start our search for the fire and its survivors. We are in the smoke now watching it lift as ventilation works its magic, it will not be around forever as we work it remove it. If it does not vacate the building properly, it can gain intensity and become even more destructive. Now it’s a race between smoke removal through ventilation and locating survivors though search and rescue.

Once we open the door we have started ventilation. This ventilation works in two ways on the high end: it releases smoke and at the lower levels it allows fresh air to enter. These two levels are not an even split. The drama of the exit port will tell us about what we might expect inside; however, we cannot get too far ahead of ourselves. Under average fire conditions, this single exit port will be the only ventilation until a window is vented or the roof opened. Smoke exiting the building is only natural and often this initial opening is not based on distance from the fire, but to safeguard egress.

“They died from (smoke inhalation),” is what we often hear; smoke is the first killer on the fireground. That is why ventilation and timely searches and fire extinguishment are so important to survival for those inside. If fire conditions allow us entry, we can provide fire service to the victims. People have been found alive under punishing conditions and after long periods of incapacitation, just as people have been overcome quickly and died.

Survivability on the fireground is not always up to the fire’s discretion. It is often dependent upon what we bring to the table. If we had no effect on the outcome of fires in our communities, not only would cutting us make sense, it would the right thing to do. Why bother to support a service that provides only containment and not rescue. Our work environment contains smoke and people who need rescue; smoke obscurity is not an excuse to abandon our mission, it is just a part of the job.

Next Tactical Safety – The Long Hallway