Survival fire training

Apr. 03, 2013 @ 05:28 PM

Members of the Henderson Fire Department are fully involved with learning the ropes on keeping each other safe in the most dangerous situations this week.

Instructors with Fully Involved Training of Raleigh on Wednesday were running city firefighters through team exercises designed to improve firefighter rescue skills. The department is seeking a new certification with the training, to be recognized by state and national associations as Rapid Intervention Teams Mayday certified.

“We will be certified with the state and national fire academy,” said Steve Cordell, assistant fire chief. “We are learning new techniques and honing our skills. It is helping our department grow so we can better serve the citizens of Henderson.”

A priority with successful firefighting is making sure firefighters are safe and available for the job: at the end of every day, able to fight another day.

“It’s helping firefighters whenever they feel disoriented or are trapped,” said lead trainer John Johnson. “I have been a firefighter for 33 years, been in back-drafts, fell through roofs, not that I’m proud of it, but I want to help other firefighters with my experience.”

At an Alexander Avenue old mill building of Harriet & Henderson Yarn South, firefighters learned wide-area search techniques, both going in for one of their own and getting out if separated from a group.

“If you get separated, you’re no longer going in, you are getting out,” trainer Bill Blankenship told the group. “Find a window or opening and get out.”

There are ways to find the side of a warehouse structure, Johnson said, by feeling the ground for a gap between joined floor sections. The gap leads to a wall and walls have openings. Any light usually indicates a way out.

Johnson said the firefighters in training have a mask that’s been obscured on purpose to simulate a total lack of visibility. They are to apply skills and learned “situational awareness” to gain their bearings and find a way out.

In a “mayday” situation, a firefighter’s alarm sounding or a firefighter calling out a mayday, a team going in is called for to find him.

One technique for ensuring a safe way out under pitch dark visibility where even strong flashlights are of little or no use includes laying rope to mark an exact path as firefighters go in. The ropes are knotted every 50 feet with a second loop knot to one side that points which way is the way out.

“We want the rope kept tight,” said trainer Ben Averette. “It needs to be tied at open corners. The one with the rope bag is a manager, keeping back to let the team be forward.”

“If you don’t tie it, it can lead you astray,” Averette added, showing how a rope will drag across the area where a team moves from an open corner, one where there is no structure to keep the rope at the angle that they turned.

If a team member is sent to search a side area from the team’s lane of travel, a tag-line is used for that operation, out from the main rope and back again.

Training also took place at the armory on Dabney Drive. The actions included rescue drills named after specific situations experienced by other fire departments. Much of the training focused on using equipment in hand in diverse situations.

The Denver drill was designed in response to an incident involving a firefighter trapped beyond a small opening, and the Nance drill by an incident in which a firefighter had fallen through a floor.

“It is manpower intensive,” Johnson said. “With the Nance drill, a charged fire hose is lowered down to pull him up.”

Additional ropes and specific knots are used for lowering a rescuer down to secure and raise up an unresponsive firefighter.

Fire Chief Danny Wilkerson said his department has trained for members rescuing each other, but with the intense certification training, that level of expertise is being taken up a notch.

“What I like about this is they are learning self-survival,” Wilkerson said. “They are learning air management, how to manage their air supply especially when they get into trouble. This is all about protecting their lives and protecting each other.”

Wilkerson added that his crews are enthusiastic about the training opportunity.

“When I watched them this morning I was very impressed with how receptive they were to the training and learning what to do,” he said.

The National Fire Academy and the National Fire Protection Association provide the certification for qualified instructional programs. North Carolina recognized the RIT Mayday certification as part of their state agenda of firefighting preparedness two years ago.

Contact the writer at