19 July 2011

Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!

Crawling down a dark hallway during a fire can be scary enough, but when you get stuck, and it can be a no holds barred fight for life. Put a new firefighter in a wire box and watch them fight and fight and fight to get free and forget the basics of what to do in a self preservation problem. Even many seasoned veterans will let their pride get in the way and will disregard the option. Many others simply don't ever think it could be them.

These mindsets are dangerous. Dangerous for you to have and dangerous to pass on, as the fire environment has changed so much in the past 5 years with the emergence of high density foams, lightweight building construction, and even home ductwork with wire or open runs of telephone wire, there are plenty of ways to become trapped by fire, stuck in a collapse, and tangled in a ton of wire.

These are just a few examples of the threat posed to the firefighter in the fire environment, and not all inclusive. Buildings today are built "on the cheap" with little consideration for the survivability of the structure and usually only with minimum fire safety standards. Ever seen a McDonald's under construction? They are lightweight, top-loaded buildings and are designed to be disposable. Burn one up and guaranteed it will be torn down a few days later, and three months after that another one will be up in the same place.

So what can you do to avoid being trapped in a building fire? Well, you must maintain situational awareness at all times. Be cognizant of your surroundings.  Listen to the building, if you hear groans and creaks and if it sounds like the building is going to come down, you should bring that up to your officer. On the outside looks for sagging roofs, cracks in the concrete or mortar, walls bending in directions they shouldn't. Any situation that looks overly dangerous should be reported to your officer, and if you're the officer, tell the IC.

So now the big part, what should you do when you get trapped? Your first steps are the ones that will save your bacon. The first is to calm down, wait, let me repeat that:

 CALM DOWN!!!!!!!!!

If you get to fighting and struggling against something you can't see, you are going to both waste your air, tire yourself, and delay getting help to you. Ever seen the video of the Captain that got lost in that high rise in Houston? He called the mayday, but was panicking as well. Your radio transmission will be understood better if you are calm. On a side note, talking in a normal tone into your radio mic will reduce the amount of interference heard on the other end.

Your next step is to call a LUNAR report. LUNAR means:

Location - where you think you are or your last known position
Unit - who you are with, and it may not be who you are normally assigned to
Name - who you are so they can figure it out on the personnel board
Assignment - what you are supposed to be doing AT THE FIRE, not what company you are assigned to
Resources - what you need to get free. Tangled in wires, trapped under something? Wire cutters and power tools will set you free!

Now that you've called for help, and it is coming to you, you can try and free yourself. If you can't after a few minutes, conserve your air until help arrives.

Maybe in the future we'll talk about self rescue techniques, but they are better shown and done in person than explained. Search out the training in our area and get that self rescue training. Learn how to use a bail out bag, then go out and buy one with some flashlights. They are investments in your life, and nothing is worth more...

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