July 2018 issue of thethe "Firefighting" magazine featured a second article on fireground survival as part of the primary search series. One month before that we have recapped most important principles that lay the foundation of fireground survival discipline, and in July issue I have selected PPE (personal protective equipment) as a first specific topic to discuss in the fireground survival sub-series. The reason for this choice is simple – PPE is the last and most important line of defense between us and the fire.
As the article is in Russian, I, as usual, will translate its most important points for my English-speaking readers.
- PPE is not a bunch of boring formalities or something that our employers forced us to use. It is a set of survival tools that allows us to go back home after a fire. We should take it seriously and use it to full extent, without cutting any corners. Do it for yourself and for your loved ones.
- PPE donning, especially its final part ("going on air", as we call it the States), should be practiced until it turns into fully automatic action that you can execute under stress of time and environment. You need to practice the only donning procedure – the one that will work both in perfect conditions and under sudden loss of visibility and onset of smoke. If you cut corners and allow yourself to practice a separate, easier type of donning on the daily basis and hope that you will be able to execute a special procedure under sudden stress, you are fooling yourself. Here is a correct procedure for final part of donning: gloves under your knees (left glove under left knee, right under right), helmet between your knees or behind your head, facepiece (mask) on your face, tighten bottom straps (top straps should be pre-tightened), check mask-face seal by suctioning, hood on, check for gaps around the mask, helmet on, open SCBA tank valve, gloves on, connect regulator. No matter what you do, you should not have any exposed skin after donning.
- Correct sequence for doffing is equally important, because if you use a wrong sequence on a good day (typically this includes ripping the mask off your face when you exit IDLH conditions), rest assured that you will do the same when you will have a fireground emergency inside of the IDLH atmosphere. This is because whatever you do when you exit IDLH conditions becomes associated in your brain with "safety-at-last", and so your brain will try to do the same thing under duress in a false hope to get to safety. Do not fool yourself – if survival situation your brain will do it before you even notice it. So practice the only correct doffing sequence: get down on your knees, regulator off, helmet off, hood off, close SCBA tank valve, bleed air from regulator, shut down SCBA so that PASS alarm would not go off 30 seconds later, and only then remove the mask by loosening bottom straps and take off your gloves. This sequence teaches your brain to get rid of the mask and the gloves last, not first.
- PPE is not limited to your bunker gear and SCBA, it also includes all the tools that you carry to help yourself survive. The mandatory part of the list here is your bailout system which consist of a harness and panic-proof descender, the rest (what you carry in your pockets) is up to you, but I personally prefer two rescue webbing loops 24' each rolled in medical gloves, a pair of wire cutters large enough to use in fire gloves and to cut any gauge wire that you can encounter in residential and commercial occupancies; a fixed serrated blade knife in hard sheath that I can use as a saw; an 8 mm rope with a carabineer (the same rope we used for bailouts before PES systems became a norm). And, of course, the most useful survival tool – a radio with an external mike so that I can call Mayday. I do not carry multi-tools and other small gadgets that I won't be able to use with my fire gloves on.
- When it comes to PPE, everything you do and everything you use, you must be able to do and use in zero visibility and fire gloves on, no exceptions. Every time you practice with PPE or survival tools or show others how to use them, you must do it blindfolded and wearing fire gloves, again, no exceptions, ever.
If you understand Russian, you can either download and save a copy of the article in PDF format or you can view it right here on this page.