Fire Fighting in Canada

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Trainer’s Corner: November 2011

This month, we will look at forcible egress as we continue to focus on firefighter assist and survival tactics (FAST).

November 14, 2011 
By Ed Brouwer

This month, we will look at forcible egress as we continue to focus on firefighter assist and survival tactics (FAST). There are several topics that fall under the heading of forcible egress, but here we will look at breaching an interior wall.

Breaching an interior wall involves making an opening in a wall constructed of drywall and wood studding.
Photos by Mark van der Feyst

 Every effort should be made to complete
this technique without removing the SCBA backpack or dislodging the face


The tactics described below are to be considered survival tools. It is hoped that these tactics will not be implemented but should the need arise, we must be prepared to act quickly and effectively.


Whether full time or paid on-call, fire personnel routinely conduct operations that put them in dangerous situations. Falling through burned-out floors or becoming entangled in the debris of a ceiling collapse are real and constant threats. 

Interior wall breaching
If a door or window cannot be located, firefighters can breach an interior wall to escape immediate danger. This involves making an opening in a wall constructed of drywall and wood studding. Unfortunately, this tactic is often overlooked by firefighters who cannot find their way out of an area.

The steps are relatively simple:

1. Locate wall studding.
2. Locate space between studs.
3. Remove drywall (sheetrock) and check conditions.
4. Move through passageway.

What we are actually doing is making a passageway through the normal framing in a structure. Once the hole has been made and it is deemed safe to enter, the firefighter manoeuvres between the studs. There are a variety of techniques; however, I will describe the one I have seen most easily performed. Please note that every effort should be made to complete this technique without removing the SCBA backpack or dislodging the face seal. 

This procedure is done on your hands and knees and completed without the use of any tools. We do this for two reasons: 1) The fire environment may not allow you to stand, and 2) you may have lost your tools in the firefight. Always inform the incident commander of your situation and your plan to make a forcible egress.

  1. Size up the area to pass through. Look for a place on the wall that is void of electrical outlets and plumbing fixtures.
  2. Locate space between studs. Sound the wall with your gloved fist. Once you have located the entry point, sit down facing the wall and place your foot flat on the wall. Draw your leg back and lightly kick the drywall with your boot heel. Use one foot and do not kick through the wall; just make a purchase point in the drywall. If you have a partner, he or she can support your back as you are kicking.
  3. Remove drywall and check conditions. Once the purchase point has been made, simply pull the drywall material towards you with your gloved hands. Make the hole as wide as the two studs and as high as your head (remember, you and your partner are still on your hands and knees). Now that the outer layer of drywall has been removed, check to see if there is insulation in the void; if so, it could be an exterior wall or a garage wall. Although it may be more difficult to breach, you can still inform the incident commander that you are on an exterior wall and you can kick or pound against it to help RIT locate you. If there is no insulation between the walls, check for wiring or plumbing. If all clear, sit down once more and kick a hole into the other room. Make this hole large enough to look through. Proceed only if the area you are entering is safer than where you are presently. Please remember this is a last-ditch effort – life or death. Once you decide to proceed through, sound the floor, look left, look right and do not forget to look up.
  4. Move through the passageway. Inform your partner of the conditions, decide together to proceed and inform the incident commander of your decision. At this point, there are a number of procedures you may use to manipulate yourself and your BA through the hole – for the most part, the steps are safe and will work. However, going to low profile, or even removing the BA to push in front of you takes away precious time, of which you have so little. Not only does it take time to go into low profile, but it takes even more time to re-don your BA. Many firefighters do not take adequate care in re-donning; bunched up bunker gear, and loose straps can impede survival and rescue. We recommend and practise a simple cross-over method. Do not remove or low-profile your BA. Stay on your hands and knees, crawl up to the hole, place your shoulders squarely against the two studs and reach your left arm through the hole, placing your hand flat on the floor directly in front of your right shoulder. Do the opposite with your right arm, crossing under the left arm as you do this. This stance causes your shoulders to drop right through the hole. Crawl forward and drop your left hip. Once you slip your left side through the hole, drop your right hip and crawl through. It is as easy as that; no re-donning, no facemask jarring, no real effort, and above all, no time loss. Once pass-through is complete, inform the incident commander of your success and look for a safe egress.

Practice drill
A wall breach simulator can be made at very little cost. If you need a plan, e-mail me and I’ll get the info to you ASAP. 

Objective: Firefighters, wearing full PPE (SCBA), shall demonstrate the procedure for breaching an interior frame wall.

  1. Don full PPE, size up the wall and choose an appropriate place to make a breach, watching for electrical and plumbing obstacles.
  2. Sound the wall with a gloved fist to locate studs.
  3. Sit in front of place chosen to breach. Your partner should support your back while you prepare to boot (one foot, heel of boot) through the drywall.
  4. Once drywall has been broken, remove excess material to reveal studs.
  5. Look into the opening before committing yourself.
  6. Sound the floor and look left, right and up. Once it is pronounced safe to enter, inform incident command.
  7. Staying on your hands and knees, enter the opening one shoulder at a time (crossing one arm over the other), following with one hip at a time.
  8. Help your partner through the opening and inform incident command.

Self-rescue techniques must be practised over and over again in order for them to prevail in a crisis situation. Repetitive training may well be the only way to break the panic that robs us of our ability to rationally think our way out of trouble. The more survival tools (options) we give our firefighters, the greater their chances of going home after the call.

“Victory loves preparation,” an inscription on a pistol in the movie The Mechanic, really fits the preceding statements regarding repetitive training. We must train our firefighters as if their lives depended on our training!

Whether full time or paid on-call, we have not devoted enough attention to rescuing ourselves, and too often the results have been tragic. Until next time, stay safe.

Ed Brouwer is the chief instructor for Canwest Fire in Osoyoos, B.C., and Greenwood Fire and Rescue. The 21-year veteran of the fire service is also a fire warden with the B.C. Ministry of Forests, a Wildland Urban Interface fire suppression instructor/evaluator and a fire-service chaplain. Contact Ed at

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