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December 18, 2004
Is your recruit firefighter “Air Aware?”

When was the last time you “asked a recruit what his or her air pressure was,” while doing an evolution?  How many of you spend any time teaching your recruit(s) the importance of managing their air?  How many of them could state their average “at work” air consumption rate, or even their “resting” air consumption rate?  Would they even know what these terms mean? 

In the fire service today, we are continually looking for modern technology to make our job safer.  An example of this would be the placing of a “heads up display” in a firefighters SCBA face piece, to show them their air pressure.  Is this type of technology necessary?  It would appear so, since firefighters are getting deeper and deeper into fires like never before.

With advancements in our PPE we no longer feel heat, which was an indicator telling us that it was time to get out.  In addition fires are burning at higher BTU’S than ever before.  The job of an interior firefighter is becoming increasingly dangerous when you combine the intensity of fires today, our advancements in PPE and the reduced experience of fighting fires.  Firefighters are not “seeing, feeling” and experiencing enough fire, to get a good grasp of what they are facing when they actually get “work.” 

Given these facts, along with a lack of air management training for recruit(s) leaves us as firefighters with a serious potential for a Line of Duty Death!  So, how do we proactively educate and train our recruit(s) about air management? 
 
First of all, educate your recruit(s) on just how important it is to be “Air Aware” at all times.  The recruit(s) must learn that their life and those of their fellow firefighters are in jeopardy if they do not do this. 

We cannot be afraid to use past experiences to reinforce your point.  Fire departments like Phoenix and Worcester have not been afraid to share from their past learning experiences.  I believe that it is crucial to model this mind-set for the recruit(s) from day one of the academy.

Whenever the recruit(s) are participating in an evolution where they are wearing their SCBA’S, they need to communicate their air pressure level with members of their team and academy instructors.  While recruit(s) are doing evolutions that simulate the fire ground, recruit(s) should be asked if they have enough air to get out of the building, if (place your own down firefighter scenario in here) were to happen?  How long have they been working? How much air have they used and have the conditions that they are working in changed for better or worse?

By verbalizing these questions to the recruit(s) it should heighten their learning curve by saying, thinking and doing.  This will from Day 1 o f the recruit academy form the necessary mind-set of being “Air Aware.” Your department will have to decide what the benchmarks for this will be.  This mind-set will need to be reinforced by all instructors through out the academy.  This can be done even when an evolution is being performed for the purpose of training on another skill.  For example: Hose Stream Applications

You might have a weekly award system for the recruit team that is best able to correctly tell you their air pressure throughout the week.  This will encourage the recruit(s) to work together and to communicate more efficiently and effectively.  As an experienced member of the fire service you know just how important teamwork is. 

Clearly a course that simulates tasks that are actually performed on the fire ground, better prepare recruit(s) for their career.  Some departments already do this type of training, but it is not done to make their recruit(s) “Air Aware.” It is done for fitness, skill evaluation and or as a team building exercise.

These are all great reasons to do this type of training, however, I believe that having a recruit who is “Air Aware” is invaluable.  If your department does not currently do anything like this here are a few course ideas for you:

  • andidate Physical Agility Test  (CPAT)
  • Scott Combat Challenge (On Target Inc.) 
  • TES2 - Training and Education Services, Founder and President Tim Sendelbach, Assistant Chief of Training City of Savannah, Georgia Fire Department.  Designed a SCBA course that simulates tasks being performed on the fire ground.  (To contact Tim regarding his course visit his website at www.tes2training.com
  • Team Performance Evaluation (TPE).  San Jose Fire Department uses this course, to measure their recruit(s) current skill abilities.  The course is based on actual fire ground tasks and the course difficulty increases as the recruit(s) skill level increases throughout the academy.  (If you have questions regarding this, contact the City of San Jose Fire Department, Bureau of Education and Training at 408-277-4251.  Ask to speak to the Captain in charge of recruit firefighter training.)
Once you have chosen a course the next step is to decide how to monitor the “working air” consumption rate and their “resting air” consumption rate.  Try the following:
  • See your department policy and or NFPA 1500 regarding physical training and firefighter fire ground rehabilitation standards.
  • Have the recruit(s) in full PPE and SCBA, once the Recruit goes on air start the stopwatch.
  • Follow the recruit(s) through the course; have them state their air pressure at the end of each task.
  • Once the low air alarm sounds write down the running time at which the alarm started to sound.  The recruit(s) may need to go through the course more than once in order to get to this stage of air consumption.
  • Have the recruit stop and move off the course.  Have them follow your department’s policy and procedure for an “emergency traffic / Mayday” and have them breath down their air supply until they run completely out of air.
  • Write down the time that the recruit runs completely out of air.
Allow the recruit(s) time to rehabilitate from the evolution according to department’s policy.  Then have the firefighter put their complete PPE and SCBA back on.  You will then have the recruits(s) do the same course until their low air pressure alarm sounds.  This time instead of recording the time and having them stop once their low air alarm sounds, have the recruit continue to go through the course until they have run completely out of air.  The instructor will record the time the recruit(s) low air alarm sounded, and the time at which the recruit ran completely out of air.

This training is done to help the recruit(s) realize just how much time and air that they have available to them, once they are deep into a structure, and if they wait too long to call for help, once they are lost, trapped or disoriented.

This type of training is invaluable to a recruit(s).  I believe that by training and educating a recruit(s) to be “Air Aware,” you will help to prevent any future Rapid Intervention Team  (Company) deployments.

I believe that there are three constants that all firefighters bring to a fire with them:

  • Experience, which includes their training and education
  • Physical abilities and limitations
  • Their SCBA 
The “Air Aware” training described above addresses the three constants that all firefighters bring to a fire with them.  I believe that this is only one portion to the large equation of keeping Rapid Intervention Company deployments from occurring.  Finally, never ever forget the following quote regarding your training practices, habits and mentoring of fellow firefighters and recruit(s). Being “Air Aware” is a critical factor that assists in leading to the safety and survival of our brothers and sisters!”
 

Jeff Seaton has been a career firefighter for over 11 years.  He is currently a firefighter for the City of San Jose, California, where he is also a Rapid Intervention and Firefighter Survival instructor, EMT Proctor and Citizen CPR instructor.  He was an IAFF representative on his Department’s Safety Committee.  Jeff is a Western Regional Director for the International Society of Fire Service Instructors.  He can be cotacted at: jseaton@rescuenet.com