December 2018 issue of "Firefighting" magazine came out with yet another article from my series. This time we have discussed the topic of emergency egress from a pre-flashover compartment.
As the article is in Russian, I, as usual, will translate its most important points for my English-speaking readers.
- Back in 2018 I have read and categorized all LODD reports available in NIOSH database. They cover 20 years worth of recent history of fire service in the US. That's more than 700 cases of LODD. From the official categorization by NIOSH we know that 43% of them are due to medical reasons (mostly heart attacks after overexertion) and 57% are due to trauma. Today we will focus on the traumatic cases.
- I started categorizing the cases in more detailed manner than NIOSH does. So, when I categorized all traumatic cases, I found out that 96% of them are related to combat and training (either fighting fires, responding to calls or training to fight a fire) and 4% are related to non-combat scenarios (typically back in the firehouse while not training and responding).
Of all cases that stem from combat and training, about 60% happened during structural firefighting (either actual combat or training). Importantly, the next biggest culprit on this level is the road: 27% of all combat-related LODDs occurred either while responding to/from the call or while on scene of MVA.
- So when you further zoom in, selecting structural firefighting (both combat and training) as the biggest culprit and categorize the scenarios even further, very revealing results pop up. Specifically, the most frequent scenario of getting killed while fighting or training to fight a structure fire is not a flashover, it is a chaotic retreat. That is when the team is attempting to leave the room for one reason or another, but they do it in disorganized manner, separating and leaving one or several members behind. Importantly, this is not leaving the room that is udergoing a flashover, flashovers are completely different category and it accounts for only about 5% of cases. When we are talking about chaotic retreat, we are only considering cases where conditions became less than comfortable, but they were nowhere close to the flashover. Typically these conditions included sudden loss of visibility and reasonable, totally survivable increase in temperature. Why do I know it was totally survivable? Because in none of these cases the deceased victim died of burns, they all died of smoke inhalation. So if you were not paying attention to the numbers I was giving so far, start now.
- And now to the most shocking revelation. 83% of all fatal chaotic retreat cases occurred to the teams that were entering the bulding with the hoseline, and only 17% of cases involved no use of the hoseline. This should get you thinking. If you still believe the myth of "hoseline safety" and "hoseline protection", you are probably fooling yourself. Majority of all traumatic LODD cases in US happen to those who were "under proteciton of a hoseline". Sadly, that hoseline neither protectected them, nor served as a guideline to safety. In predominant number of cases that are related to the chaotic reetreat scenario, the team abandoned the hoseline during retreat or was unable to locate it, despite being in close proximity to it.
- So, it looks like the most frequent scenario of traumatic LODD in fire service is quite preventable. How? Three things, and here is the first one: always train in zero visibility and full gear. This way you won't be caught by surprise when visibility drops to zero in real fire. Zero-viz should be your operational norm, not an extraordinary event. Have paper in the mask during all your drills except when conducting high-angle operations and live fire drills.
- Second thing: your team, not just you, must have a choreographed way of leaving the room and you must practice it at least once in two weeks in zero visibility and full gear if you don't want to end up on the LODD list. Here is a sequence of egress: A) the team should have a special voice command for initiating rapid egress from the compartment and any team member can give this command. I like "abort, abort", but you can come up with any other phase that is short and can't be confused with anything else. B) When this command is given, all team members must physically stick to the team leader. Not getting into tactile contact with the team leader is exactly what has initiated the mess in all LODD cases that I have studied. C) Team leader decides which way to go (the door behind or secondary means of egress) and leads the way out, while the rest of the team follows literally hanging on to the team leader. D) The last member out attempts to close the door, if possible. When you practice this regularly, you can leave any small area search room in no more than 7 seconds, which should work even if the room is about to flash. But you must sweat in training to get to this result.
- Third thing: if you are cunducting search, always use a rope. If your team leader passively deploys a search rope even during small-area searches, rapid compartment egress becomes even more rapid. This is because the team leader does not need to search for the exit door. All she/he needs to do is to pull on the rope and follow it for a few yards until the door is reached. To make it even faster, we came up with a modified semi-passive rope deployement method: you still passively carry a rope bag without distance knots and you still allow the rope to automatically pay out as you advance, but you do so by threading it through the hand that you use to maintain contact with a guiding wall. This way when you hear "abort, abort" and wait for your team members to grab your cylinder or your boot, all you need to do is to squeeze the rope in your hand, turn around and pull it. Saves you a few saconds of searching for it on the floor. And this method won't slow you down as you advance, because the rope still pays out from the bag on its own. And of course, a two-person team exits the room much faster than three-person team. Another reason why smaller teams are superior and safer.
If you do 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.