In our classes we spend a lot of time showing firefighters how to stay out of and how to get out of bad situations. Our fire service is seeing an increase in firefighters who are falling through floors into basements or sub-levels. This is large part due to the engineered flooring systems that do not perform well in fire conditions.
Fires are growing more intense much faster than in the past and the structural members of these buildings are under attack before we arrive in some cases. The importance of knowing our response areas, getting an accurate size-up, doing a 360 evaluation of the building and choosing an appropriate tactic are more critical than ever.
We teach different methods of removing ones self from a basement and removing a downed firefighter from basements. There are several techniques for removing a firefighter including using an attic ladder, using the hose, rope, or webbing to lift them out of the hole. We can also cut the floor away from the exterior making a window a door to remove someone. These are just a few examples.
For self rescue we teach using a hand tool as a step or as a recent post by Chris Huston discusses, using the drywall as a ladder to get yourself out. We also teach using webbing as a stepping device with the assistance of firefighters on the outside. All of these techniques are good and and should be practiced. However, we know that if we fall through a floor we may lose our tools and it is going to be very bad down there. Speed is of the essence.
When go over the teaching points of basement rescues, we always talk about things to do to avoid this from happening in the first place. Doing a good 360, sound the floors, descend stairs feet first, know your still area and building construction are good places to start. I also like to point out that the hazards we discuss in regards to basements, junk and clutter, can also be our friend.
If you find yourself in a situation in a basement or an area with a high window for egress, use the stuff in that space as steps. Pile it up under that window and climb out. Don't forget to use the obvious. I have done training in acquired structures where we put firefighters in the basement and they are free to use whatever is available. You would be surprised how many limit their resources to only what is in their hands or pockets.
Train hard and sometimes thinking outside the box is as simple as looking around at the "stuff" that is right at your feet. Thanks for reading and expect fire!