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“Train like you play” has always been a professional core value of mine, and it should be for any company officer.
By Raul A. Angulo
If you’re in the habit of constantly “notionalizing” scenarios, especially when it comes to wearing all your structural firefighting ensemble, including self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), then you’re doing a disservice to your crew and not preparing them for the battle.
Realistic training in acquired structures is not an easy task to accomplish, especially for live fire training. But if you’re lucky enough to get a building for rapid intervention training, it will take some extra preparation to create realistic scenarios. Generally speaking, firefighters who need rapid intervention assistance usually fall into the following four categories: They are lost or disoriented, they are entangled, they have fallen through something, or something has fallen on them. And, all of them are running out of air. The last two categories can require extensive extrication and rescue techniques in extreme smoke and fire conditions. Rapid intervention teams have many acronyms: RIT, RIC, FAST Truck, and RIG. Since a true firefighter rescue will incorporate numerous companies, I am going to use the inclusive term RIG, for rapid intervention group.
The Seattle (WA) Fire Department recently acquired a structure specifically for rapid intervention training. The scenario simulated a roof and ceiling collapse that trapped two firefighters. A low four-foot ceiling was constructed throughout the structure that simulated high-heat conditions and forced firefighters to crawl and crouch throughout this evolution. In the fire room, a trussed ceiling system was constructed in a lean-to collapse configuration. Rescue dummies with full firefighting PPE and SCBA were wedged under the collapse, which would require rescue tools to lift the truss system to free and rescue the dummies. We added an industrial propane heater to increase the interior room temperature and used a smoke machine to create near-zero visibility conditions.
At minimum, a RIG entry team will need a thermal imaging camera, a rescue air kit (RAK), a lead line to mark the path, a rescue tool, high-intensity battle lanterns, and a charged hoseline. That’s about all they can realistically carry and maneuver around with in a compromised building with extreme fire conditions. Remember, the primary responsibility for a RIG entry team is to locate and create a path to the down firefighter, give him air, protect in place, and create a rescue plan. Obviously, if the firefighter can be rescued, nothing else needs to be said. But, we wanted this drill to be more than a “grab-and-go” evolution.
A lead line is an important component to RIG operations. It establishes “the bread crumbs” path so when the RIG team calls for additional equipment, firefighters bringing in that equipment can quickly follow the lead line to the forward position of the rescue. The exterior rescue group leader should anticipate and prestage equipment that may be called for. For example, a Stokes litter will inevitably be used somewhere in a down-firefighter evolution. Unconscious, gargantuan firefighters with soaking wet bunker gear can weigh close to 300 pounds. You’re going to need a Stokes.
Back to the drill-the interior crew found the down firefighter and immediately applied the RAK. Only two rescue firefighters could fit inside the fire room. After physically trying to lift the trusses from a crouched position, they realized they were going to need air bags and a handheld hydraulic combi tool. Support crews had to relay and pass this equipment down a 60-foot-long, smoke-filled, four-foot-ceiling hallway. Part of this drill was to practice moving rescue equipment down the “bucket brigade” assembly line. The lead line helped interior support crews stay oriented. Once the rescue tools reached the fire room, one rescue firefighter operated the combi tool, and the other rescue firefighter placed the air bag. A support firefighter operated the air bag controls from the hallway. Clear communications were a challenging component to this drill.
Once the truss system started to lift, I could tell the firefighters hesitated before continuing because they weren’t sure if they had to crib the load. Instructors always teach, “lift an inch, crib an inch.” It’s a cardinal rule, but does that apply to RIG operations? Well, the load-slip hazards still exist; however, that is a decision you need to make during preincident RIG planning. I’ve already made mine. In this situation, standard cribbing would have been impractical. First, we use two- by four-inch and four- by four-inch blocks and wedges. The crib bag is heavy and takes two firefighters to carry it. Passing the bag down the assembly line or sending cribbing two blocks at a time just wasn’t practical. Second, in a collapse area, you may not have a level base on which to build a crib box, and heavy smoke will obscure visibility.
There is a new automatic, unmanned, stabilizing tool on the market that solves this problem. It’s called the Auto Crib-It by Power Hawk Technologies Inc., based in Rockaway, New Jersey.
Power Hawk Technologies Inc. makes a series of rescue tools for motor vehicle accidents, heavy rescue, and collapse. One tool, the Auto Crib-It, is a piston-actuated A-frame stabilizer made from lightweight, high-strength aluminum. It was in the area of firefighter rapid intervention that I felt Auto Crib-It had a unique and innovative application. Most motor vehicle accidents that require auto extrication are out on the highway and city streets where fire apparatus and rescue vehicles can pull right up to the scene. The entire apparatus equipment inventory is readily available. In RIG operations, you only get to take what you can carry in.
When compressed, Auto Crib-It is a two-section, long, narrow plate. Rescuers place it under a load, either parallel or perpendicular to the load. Once set, a rescuer releases a locking cam. As crews raise the load using a rescue tool, the piston pushes the top plate up against the load. The serrated teeth on the bottom plate act as a ratcheted automatic locking system. As the load continues to raise, the Auto Crib-It clicks up to the next tooth, ready to capture the load (just like a jack), and performs a hands-free “lift an inch, crib an inch” operation. However, unlike a jack, the Auto Crib-It is not lifting or lowering the load-it is following the load because the piston keeps the top plate in constant contact with the load. Once rescuers complete the raise and relieve pressure from the lifting tool, the weight transfers to the Auto Crib-It. The top plate automatically locks in place, forming a triangle-the strongest geometric shape to carry a load with maximum stability.
The only drawback I see to the Auto Crib-It is retrieving the unit. Unfortunately, it’s not designed to operate in reverse. So you have two options: You can raise the load and pull the Auto Crib-It out. In this case, it is easy to retrieve. The load would have to be lowered with an air bag or combi tool. But if you’re of the school that you maintain the cribbing as you go down, then a rescuer will have to manually tend the unit. It will take about as long as it would to remove a wooden crib box. However, at this stage of the incident, the emergency is over and there’s no urgency to pick up and demobilize.
The Auto Crib-It comes in two models: the standard AC-14 (golden yellow) and the beefier AC-17 (red). When compressed, the Auto Crib-It is super compact, so it fits nicely inside apparatus compartments, eliminating the need to carry crates of wooden blocks for cribbing and making room to store other vital pieces of equipment.
The AC-14 weighs 14.5 pounds. Compressed, it measures 28 inches long, four inches wide, and 2¾ inches tall. Support brackets add 1⅜ inches to the height at the center. In the raised support position, the A-frame measures 13 inches tall. It can support 2,000 pounds. The AC-17 weighs 23.5 pounds. Compressed, it measures 36 inches long, six inches wide, and three inches tall. Support brackets add 1⅜ inches to the height at the center. In the raised support position, the A-frame measures 17 inches tall. It can support 2,800 pounds.
Since it’s made of aluminum, the Auto Crib-It is easy to decontaminate from fuels, oils, mud, and debris. If you need to achieve greater heights, the units can be “blocked up” by building standard crib boxes for a base. The units are sold in sets of two per model.
The Auto Crib-It immediately caught my attention at the Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC). When I saw it demonstrated, I was impressed at how rapidly the unit was put into operation. It was smooth, quick, and easy! It stabilized the load in seconds. Even the best trained crew couldn’t build a crib box that fast on a clear sunny day. Remember, on a RIG response, you may be operating in high heat and heavy smoke conditions. The physical and emotional stress on rescuers will make cribbing extremely difficult. The Auto Crib-It is the size of a single four- by four-inch block that can do the work of 10 blocks-hands free-in seconds. It’s portable enough that it can be dragged or carried with a combi tool or an air bag.
If a firefighter is trapped and pinned by a ceiling or a wall, the last thing we want to do is have the load slip and fall back onto that firefighter because a crew built a crib box in haste. The Auto Crib-It takes all the guesswork out of cribbing because it deploys quickly, rises smoothly, and locks the load automatically. This is one tool that I am going actively try to get our department to acquire for our RIG and truck companies.
RAUL A. ANGULO, a veteran of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department and captain of Ladder Company 6, has more than 35 years in the fire service. He is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. He lectures on fire service leadership, company officer development, and fireground strategy and accountability throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico.