Fire Fighting in Canada

Features Structural Training
Back to Basics: November 2010

In September we looked at the challenge of getting a fire victim from the floor to the window sill and out onto the ladder.

November 1, 2010
By Mark van der Feyst


In September we looked at the challenge of getting a fire victim from the floor to the window sill and out onto the ladder. We noted the physical exertion it takes to get the victim out of the structure and the fact that for some firefighters performing this type of rescue, this will be the fatigue point because the task is so physically demanding. Several factors work against rescuers and must be considered when attempting to move a fire victim.

A slippery floor surface helps with the removal of a victim
Photos by Mark van der Feyst

A hallway showing carpet from the bedrooms. This will slow down the removal process.  

Size and weight of victim
The size and weight of the victim dictates how quickly and easily we can remove him from the structure. Obviously, it is easier to move infants, toddlers, children and seniors than larger adults. During training, we tend to use manikins that are relatively light, usually between 110 and 140 pounds, and we have conditioned ourselves to handle these weights. We need to train and condition ourselves to move victims who weigh closer to 200 pounds and more. Adding extra weight to the training manikin helps with this.

The size of the fire victim also matters. Moving an adult who weighs roughly 200 pounds but is lean and fit is different from moving a shorter person who is overweight. It is difficult to move obese people around corners, through doorways, around furniture or up and down stairs.


Strength of the firefighters
The strength of the firefighters attempting to move the victim also makes a difference. Usually, two firefighters conduct the search and removal of the victim; one removes the victim and the other leads the way out. But, depending on the size of the victim, both firefighters may be needed to perform the rescue and removing the victim can deplete the firefighters’ energy levels. It is important for all firefighters to maintain a significant level of fitness – including strength training – so they are not caught off-guard when it’s time to remove a victim. Strength and technique are needed to overcome all the potential factors that can work against rescuers when trying to remove a victim. Training with heavy manikins, with firefighters in full PPE including SCBA, is a good start.   

Floor surface conditions
Training environments, whether a fixed facility or an acquired structure, usually feature smooth, slippery surfaces made of concrete, vinyl, hardwood or ceramic tile. Rarely do we encounter rough surfaces that produce lots of friction and resistance, such as carpet or rough, wooden floors. Moving a fire manikin on a smooth surface is relatively easy. If a victim is found in bed, a sheet can be wrapped around the victim and used to glide him over the floor.

In a structural fire environment, however, moving the victim to the window or exit can be more difficult due to the floor covering. The floor may also be littered with debris, such as clothing, which increases the amount of resistance. We need to train and practise moving fire victims (manikins) on different types of floor surfaces. Outfitting a training building with carpets and putting clothing on the floor enhances our skills.

Realistic training conditions: A manikin will be dragged along a carpeted surface, slowing down the removal time.  

The victim’s clothing
Clothing itself can also help rescuers remove the victim. For the most part, a fire victim’s clothing cannot be counted on as a drag device. For example, at a 2 a.m. residential fire, a victim’s clothing can range from a T-shirt and shorts to nothing at all. Rescuing a victim wearing little or no clothing is more difficult than rescuing a clothed person; Victims will be sweaty as they are exposed to the heat and fire conditions and dragging or removing a person who is sweaty and unconscious is like trying to drag a bag of cement with Vaseline all over it. While it’s easier to drag a clothed victim the clothing can hinder create friction and resistance.   

Heat/fire conditions
Fire conditions dictate rescuers’ actions. A fully developed structure fire with flames visible from every window does not permit us to affect a rescue. Reading the conditions is an important step in determining whether a rescue is an option. While inside the structure, careful attention to the conditions around the immediate area is vital.
Conditions can change in seconds and firefighters inside must be able to read the conditions. It may take time to locate the victim inside the structure; conditions will have been changing the entire time. If conditions are deteriorating, rescuers may have to leave the victim and get out. Knowing when to leave the structure is vital to firefighter safety. If conditions have reached a point where the search crew has to get out, the victim – who has no protection from PPE and SCBA  – will not survive.     

Distance from location found to window
When the victim has been located, a quick removal needs to be initiated. The distance from the victim’s location to the exit points determines next steps. Search teams often begin their searches at the front door but rescuers do not want to drag a victim all the way back to the front door if they do not have to. Using a window in the room where the victim was found reduces travel time. In a typical bedroom, the distance from the bed to the window is about five feet and this allows for a quick removal. In some cases, the victim may be found in a hallway or other location with no nearby windows and rescuers will have to travel to an exit point.

Using realistic approaches in training helps to overcome the factors mentioned above. Setting up training facilities with different floor surfaces, using heavier manikins, adding size to the manikins, and clothing on the floor and furniture around which to navigate, duplicates conditions that will be encountered at 2 a.m. when you have to search for and remove a fire victim.     

Mark van der Feyst is an 11-year veteran of the fire service working for the City of Woodstock Fire Department in Ontario. He teaches in Canada, the United States and India. He is a local level suppression instructor for the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy, an instructor for the Justice Institute of BC and a professor of fire science for Lambton College. Contact him at  

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