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Firefighters are rescuers extensively trained primarily to put out hazardous fires that threaten civilian populations and property, to rescue people from car accidents, collapsed and burning buildings and other such situations. The increasing complexity of modern industrialized life with an increase in the scale of hazards has stimulated both advances in firefighting technology and a broadening of the firefighter-rescuer's remit. They sometimes provide emergency medical services. The fire service, or fire and rescue service also known in some countries as the fire brigade or fire department, are some of the emergency services.
Goals of firefighting
Aside from the main task of extinguishing fires, the goals of firefighting are (in order) saving lives, saving property, and protecting the environment. Firefighting is an inherently difficult occupation. As such, the skills required for safe operations are regularly practiced during training evolutions throughout a firefighters career. In the United States, the preeminent fire training and standards organization is the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Often initial firefighting skills are taught during a local, regional, or state approved fire academy. Depending on the requirements of a department, additional skills and certifications such as technical rescue and Para-medicine may also be taught at this time.
Firefighters work closely with other emergency response agencies, most particularly local and state police departments. As every fire scene is technically a crime scene until deemed otherwise by a qualified Fire investigator, there is often overlap between the responsibilities of responding firefighters and police officers such as evidence and scene protection, initial observations of first respondents, and chain of evidence issues.[How to reference and link to summary or text] The increasing role of firefighters in providing emergency medical services also brings firefighters into common overlap with law enforcement. One example of this is a common state law requiring all gunshot wounds to be reported to law enforcement agencies.
Fire fighting has several basic skills: prevention, self preservation, rescue, preservation of property and fire control. Firefighting is further broken down into skills which include size-up, extinguishing, ventilation, and salvage and overhaul. Search and Rescue, which has already been mentioned, is performed early in any fire scenario and many times is in unison with extinguishing and ventilation.
- Main article: Fire prevention
Prevention attempts to ensure that no place simultaneously has sufficient heat, fuel and air to allow ignition and combustion. Most prevention programs are directed at controlling the energy of activation (heat).
Other methods of fire prevention are by directing efforts to reduce known hazardous conditions or by preventing dangerous acts before tragedy strikes. This is normally accomplished in many innovative ways such as conducting presentations, distributing safety brochures, providing news articles, writing public safety announcements(PSAs) or establishing meaningful displays in well-visited areas. Ensuring that each household has working smoke alarms, is educated in the proper techniques of fire safety, has an evacuation route and rendezvous point is of top priority in public education for most fire prevention teams in almost all fire department localities.
Self-preservation is very critical. The basic technique firefighters use is to know where they are, and to avoid hazards. Current standards in the United States recommend that firefighters work in teams, using a "two-in, two-out" rule whenever in an IDLH (Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health) environment.
Tools are generally carried at all times and are important for not only forcible entry but also for self rescue. A Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) delivers air to the firefighter through a full face mask and is worn to protect against smoke inhalation, toxic fumes, and super heated gasses. A special device called a Personal Alert Safety System (PASS) is commonly worn independently or as a part of the SCBA to alert others when a firefighter stops moving for a specified period of time or manually operates the device. The PASS device sounds an alarm that can assist another firefighter (Firefighter Assist and Search Team), in locating the firefighter in distress.
Firefighters often carry personal self rescue ropes. The ropes are generally 30 feet long and can provide a firefighter (that has enough time to deploy the rope) a partially controlled exit out an elevated window. Lack of a personal rescue rope is cited in the deaths of two New York City Firefighters, Lt. John Bellew and Lt. Curtis Meyran, who died after they jumped from a fourth floor of a burning apartment building in the Bronx. Of the four firefighters who jumped and survived only one of them had a self rescue rope. Since the incident the Fire Department of New York City has issued self rescue ropes to their firefighters.
In the United States, 25% of fatalities to firefighters are caused by vehicle accidents while responding to or returning from an incident. Many firefighters are also injured or killed by vehicles while working at an incident (Paulison 2005). However, a large percentage of firefighters also succumb to heart disease, in the line of duty.
Occupational health and safety
Firefighting has long been associated with poor cardiovascular outcomes. In the United States, the most common cause of on-duty fatalities for firefighters is sudden cardiac death. In addition to personal factors that may predispose an individual to coronary artery disease or other cardiovascular diseases, occupational exposures can significantly increase a firefighter's risk. For instance, carbon monoxide, present in nearly all fire environments, and hydrogen cyanide, formed during the combustion of paper, cotton, plastics, and other substances containing carbon and nitrogen, interfere with the transport of oxygen in the body. Hypoxia can then lead to heart injury. In addition, chronic exposure to particulate matter in smoke is associated with atherosclerosis. Noise exposures may contribute to hypertension and possibly ischemic heart disease. Other factors associated with firefighting, such as stress, heat stress, and heavy physical exertion, also increase the risk of cardiovascular events.
Rescue operations consist of searching for and removing trapped occupants of hazardous conditions. Animals may also be rescued, if resources and conditions permit. Generally triage and first aid are performed outside, as removal from the hazardous atmosphere is the primary goal in preserving life. Search patterns include movement against room walls (to prevent rescuers from becoming lost or disoriented) and methodical searches of specific areas by designated teams. Unlike a fire control team, a rescue team typically moves faster, but has no hose to follow out to safety through the smoky darkness. A rescue rope may be needed for tethering a team involved in exceptionally dangerous conditions.
Incident commanders also arrange for standby search and rescue teams to assist if firefighters become lost, trapped, or injured. Such teams are commonly, and often interchangeably, known as Rapid Intervention Teams (RIT), or Firefighter Assist and Search Teams (FAST). According to "two-in, two-out", the only time it is permissible for a team of firefighters to enter a burning structure without backup in place outside is when they are operating in what is known as "Rescue Mode". Rescue Mode occurs when firefighters have arrived at the scene, and it is readily apparent that there are occupants trapped inside who need immediate rescue. At such a time, properly equipped firefighters (exercising good judgment tempered by training and experience) may enter the structure and proceed directly to victims in need of rescue, RIT will then be put in place when resources permit.
The Worcester Cold Storage Warehouse fire provides a stark example of disoriented rescuers perishing when their air supply was exhausted during a fruitless primary search and subsequent RIT searches.
Searches for trapped victims are exhaustively detailed, often including searches of cupboards, closets, and under beds. The search is divided into two stages, the primary and secondary. The primary search is conducted quickly and thoroughly, typically beginning in the area closest to the fire as it is subjected to the highest risk of exposure. The secondary search only begins once the fire is under control, and is always (resources and personnel permitting) performed by a different team from that which did the primary search.
Rescue operations may also involve the extrication of victims of motor vehicle crashes (abbreviated MVC). Here firefighters use spreaders, cutters, and hydraulic rams, collectively called hydraulic rescue tools—known better to the public as Jaws of Life—to remove metal from the patient, followed by actually removing the patient, usually on a backboard with collar, and transferring to a waiting ambulance crew in the cold zone. More technical forms of rescue include subsets such as rope rescue, swiftwater rescue, confined space rescue, and trench rescue. These types of rescue are often extremely hazardous and physically demanding. They also require extensive technical training. NFPA regulation 1006 and 1670 state that a "rescuer" must have medical training to perform any technical rescue operation. Accordingly, firefighters involved in rescue operations have some kind of medical training as first responders, emergency medical technicians, paramedics or nurses.
These are standard search procedures for most fire departments. These are not actual instructions.
Searching a building is normally a two to three man team. The most common way to search a building that is filled with smoke is to crawl on hands and knees with an axe (or any other tool) in the firefighter's left hand. The firefighter will keep one hand on the wall, or a foot in contact at all times with the wall. And scoot himself forward, swinging the handle of the axe back and forth, searching for any objects in his way. If the object moves when touched, it might be a person. Depending on the sound/feel it gives back, he can check what ever the object was. If it's not a person, he will continue down along the wall.
Meanwhile his buddy/buddies have their right hand in contact with the lead firefighter's left ankle and scooting with them. This way they cover a far larger spread of ground. Once the person(s) is found, they will drag, carry, push, any way possible really, they will move the victim back the way they came because they know the way they went was safe.
It is also important to remember that the Firefighter needs to check the floor before he moves into the room. Once going into the room, he will go right, and follow the right wall. ALWAYS. Next, when in a group of 3, the 2nd in the search line will go into most rooms, check it over, and then return out. (This is when doing a very detailed search because location of the victim is unknown)
- National Incident Management System
- Wildland Firefighter Foundation
- U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Topic: Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program
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