Tips for the Street Firefighter

Reminder: Always probe with your weight on the back foot.

Gravity never takes a day (or a minute) off. When making those forays across a floor above a fire area, across the roof, or in any area where structural integrity is suspect, personnel should use a tool to probe ahead of them. Don’t, however, let this lead tool give you a false sense of security. When probing with a tool, consciously make an effort to keep your weight off the tool so that you will not fall if something gives way or you encounter a hole in the floor, or in the case of a roof, an unprotected shaft is present.

During hands-on training (H.O.T.) search operations at the Fire Department Instructors Conference in Indianapolis, we noticed that most firefighters do a good job of probing for floors, but they invariably keep too much weight on the probing hand, foot, or tool. We had areas with floors missing and when the probing tool or body part found that area, the individual usually could not stop from falling forward into the missing floor as his forward momentum carried his body and the tool into the hole. We had to extricate more than a few surprised firefighters from these areas (they had a hood over their head for the evolution). Hopefully it was a lesson learned the hard way, but in a training session and not in the harder environment that is the fireground. Never trust what is in front of you without testing the area. Keep the weight off the leading foot or tool, and you will not experience a gravity-induced rapid downward movement. Ain’t got no time for that!

Fig. 3-6

A Battalion Chief fell through this corrugated fiberglass vent panel during night operations.  His injuries forced him off the job.  Be aware also that if this is snow-covered, it will be even more unnoticeable.  Always probe! (Mike Nasta)

Searching Safer: LED vs. Spotlight

We found this one out by accident. We were doing a search drill in an acquired structure and had filled up the building with smoke from a smoke machine. The smoke was heavy; visibility was zero, and when doing the search, members placed a hand light at the door to mark the exit point as they entered the search area. One of the things we noticed was that in most cases, they could not see the light at the door across the room and could not use it as a means to identify their egress. Thus, they had to use the wall as their only orientation point to the exit.

Someone walked in the door and kicked the light, causing it to turn around. Instantly, the team trying to find the light could see it. What happened? Although the light was not in the best position – it should not have been in a position where someone could kick it, when the light was turned around by the errant kick, the LED lights (those two little blue lights on the back) were facing into the room. These LED’s cut through smoke much more efficiently than the normally relied-on spotlight from the hand light. In fact, we did a measurement. While the extent of our ability to see the spotlight in the smoke condition we had created was about four feet, the LED’s were visible from the other side of the room, which was approximately twelve feet away. The next time you do a drill with smoke, I suggest you try this. It might change the way you place your lights.  The roof egress point(s) are also a a great place to use LED’s.

LED light 1           LED light 2

(Photos by AA)

Note the LED lights on the rear. Look how bright these things are.  They are much easier to see than the front spotlight when visibility is reduced.


Stay safe out there.






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