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Let's Talk Fire: Exploring Alternate Means Of Egress

Updated on November 16, 2015

KNow how to get out!

Firefighters must train to gain.
Firefighters must train to gain.


Welcome back my friends. In recent days I have been reviewing some case files from fire fighter fatalities from the past and one issue seemed to catch my attention a little more than usual. Firefighters often get trapped looking for doors to escape situations that place them in hazard's way. Some pass by windows looking for these doors.

Let me be clear about one thing here. Never pass by a window looking for a door! Windows are excellent means of getting our butts out of the structure before the fire decided to take a nice hot little bite of it! In this installment of Let's Talk Fire we will explore several means of egress other than the door we came in as well as look at ways we can create our own exit points simply by following some training.

So strap up kids and let's get out of a bad situation shall we.

Get it open

Know how to get a hole in the wall and get through it!
Know how to get a hole in the wall and get through it!

Window to Door!

Sometimes Doors Are Not Shaped Like Doors

When we arrive on scene we need to do our 360 degree size-up. That is common knowledge and should be a given but one thing we often fail to look for when conducting our initial size-up is secondary means of egress. I like to take mental notes of where I find windows as I walk around the structure.

Truth be told one of these windows may be my only way out if the interior attack or rescue goes south like a flock of birds. There are several ways we can use windows to get ourselves out of a messy situation.

The most simple is to pop them open either by simply lifting them or if need be breaking them and clearing the glass. Than we just climb our way out to safety. This seems simple but what if we are dragging a victim or a fellow firefighter behind us? Now that simple window escape has become extremely difficult and rather complicated to say the least.

If I know I am at a window on the B side of this structure trying to find egress with a victim there is no reason I can not communicate that to crews outside the structure. We have a simple rule on my home department. A window can become a door in 2 to 3 easy swipes of a chainsaw!

The outside crew can easily convert the window into a door by cutting down both sides of the window and than folding down or finishing the cut across at the bottom of the wall. This method will open the standard window into a much larger opening and give you way more room to get yourself and that victim out of the fire and into the open.

Windows should not be overlooked when searching a room. Always take note of their location and be mindful that you may have to come back to that window to get your self to safety.

You may need to get to a simple room.

Be ready to get from one room to the next by any means!
Be ready to get from one room to the next by any means!

Egress Does Not Always Mean To The Outside

Becoming trapped in a bad situation does not always mean we need to get outside as much as we need to get away from the bad situation. As firefighters we need to recognize that sometimes this could mean we simply need to get from one room to another.

I am all for doorways and the such but in our line of work that may not be an option and we may need to look for other ways to handle the situation. We know 9 out of 10 rooms inside a typical structure are going to have gypsum board, or sheet rock walls. This simple drywall is so easily broken children do it all the time, trust me!

In the event you need to move from one room to the next to escape a hostile fire situation there is no rule stating you can not just breech the wall and make entry into another room.

Every firefighter should carry at least one tool with them and that tool would be a great way to pop a good hole in that wall and than you maneuver through the opening you made.

This will require some training as your typical studs will be set on anything from 12 to 16 inch centers. That means you and your airpack are going through a tiny opening to get to safety. This is a skill that should be trained on and practiced often so it stays fresh in your mind.

I have been asked what if I lost my tool. Than shame on you my friend but it does happen. Sheet rock is not steel or solid stone. Simply lay on your side and kick a hole in the wall and use your gloved hand to start peeling away making a tall enough hole between the studs to get through.

I should mention a hazard to firefighters can be found here in the form or wiring that is ran through the walls. Be concerned when you discover this wiring because you never know when power may be hooked up illegally and that wire could contain some electricity.

Wall breeches are a great way to gain access into a room you would otherwise not be able to access in the current state of affairs going on inside the fire. The key is being confedent that once the hole is made you can gain access to the next room.

If We Can't Go Through....

Can we go under? I know a lot of firefighters were a bit taken back by the film Fireproof. The scene were our main character becomes trapped inside a structure with smoke beating him like Chris Brown caught a lot of attention.

In this scene our firefighter starts breaking up a part of the floor and gains access to the outside through the crawl space. This is something we very seldom think of or have ever even heard at fire house training drills.

I was a bit taken back at the scene myself but in retrospek it does make a good point. When we can not go around or through maybe going under is a last resort option. Once again this option will only present itself if a good size-up has been completed and the firefighter attempting this task is well trained and fit enough to make such a daring escape.

While the events that would create this type of egress concern would be rare and rather extreme we are firefighters and we must hope for the best, expect better and train for the worse that can happen. I can't imagine a much more trying method of self rescue than having to break away a floor and than egress through a crawl space but in the event it was my only option than so be it.

It is this outside the box mentality that can really be the saving grace for a firefighter who finds themself in a bad way with limited options for survival.

Block Walls

Tool to Choose

If I know I am making entry on a block building I am not going to grab an axe off the truck. For me the tool has to reflect the situation I am putting myself in.

A block building is going to require something a little more intense like a sledge hammer or TNT tool. The TNT tool will give you some added edge in that environment and the power to get through block walls. Putting the idea of egress in your head before ever entering the structure will help you to keep your own person as well as your crew much safer.

For most of us the irons seem to be the tool of choice and in all fairness they are quite capable of getting us out of many situations. Firefighter tools have to be approached by way of how useful they will be on each scene.

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