Why We Train: Making the Grab

Joaquin Phoenix (as Firefighter Jack Morrison) pulling a victim from a multi-story fire (Ladder 49)

We’ve all watched the typical Hollywood scenario: A person is trapped and needs rescued. Its dramatic, its suspenseful, and we are left to wonder if the hero is going to make the save in time. The answer is most often yes (unless the plot of the movie dictates otherwise) and while we know this as a viewer it still leaves us glued to our seats!

The promotional image for the 1991 Thriller: Backdraft!
Kurt Russel (as Firefighter Stephen McCaffrey, Backdraft, 1991)

But how well does that translate here in the fire service?

Well, it isn’t always as clean as the big screen makes it out to be.

From the moment someone starts off as a Probationary Firefighter, they are taught that searches are to be rapid & thorough and are also taught from the very start to search in less than desirable environments (I.E. complete blackout environments). More often than not, if a firefighter finds themselves in a situation for a search the environment is near zero visibility filled with smoke and absent of light. Even with safety lights on their person, that isn’t a guarantee that they’ll see anything.

Our own Captain, Chad Harvey, had the following to say about the training methods for search:

Our training department works to provide a quality rescue training program for our firefighters via a variety of different situations and possible scenarios.

The firefighters are trained via repetition during these exercises and are introduced to various obstacles and conditions they could encounter while being in a low visibility IDLH environment. Some of these obstacles include: confined spaces, fallen debris, and entanglement.

Spatial orientation training via Right Hand or Left Hand searches is a crucial aspect of the overall training as it helps each team maintain contact with each other but also helps to minimize the risk of getting “lost” during a search, which unfortunately can happen.

Since we could get called to a scene at any time of day, the experience that the training provides our firefighters is invaluable.

This past Monday, April 29th 2019, Sparta utilized Engine House 2 to work on some of those situations with the help of blacked out windows & smoke machines while under supervision of the training department.

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