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Another Fire Service Debate: Masking up when to do it?


The above link will take you to a fire from the City of Detroit. It shows a wind-driven fire and a crew climbing a ground ladder to a roof section to apply exterior lines. Now we could analyze the tactical benefits, and things of that nature all day, but what I really want to focus on is the guy (I think a company officer) masking up on the roof section.

First a little background. When I first go into the fire department at the ripe old age of 15 we have the old style belt mounted regulator MSA air packs with the “elephant tube”. In my early SCBA instruction I was told to never…..NEVER mask up in the rig. It affected size up, the mask fogged up, it would lead to early fatigue, and would obscure perifial vision.

When I was hired in my second career department, I was told that masking up in the rig was an expectation. When we arrived there was to be no delay in the start of fire fighting operations, and with the MSA mask mounted regulators, your regulator could hang in the track on the mask and clipped in when you needed to go on air, and unclipped when ambient air was appropriate.

So having been on both sides of instruction and theories I can say with honest assessment I think they were both right. With the technology that was available prior to me joining the fire service and even at the beginning of my career I can understand why one would elect to mask up in the front yard, or floor below the fire. However with the current technology that exists (Ultra view face piece, MMR, heads up displays, voice amplifiers, etc.) I think masking up in the rig is the way to go.

I have been masking up in the rig for 6 years now and it has not hindered my fireground operation in the slightest, in fact I would say it has enhanced it from an efficiency and safety standpoint. If an immediate rescue is needed I am ready, I can stretch a hand line and make entry into an occupancy faster, I can initiate a search faster, and I take in zero smoke. I think the zero smoke thing is a big thing, now I am not advocating yard breathing, when I don’t need it I unclip my regulator and breath ambient air, but the second I need to I can clip in and be on air. Lets face it its 2010 and smoke is different its more toxic than it ever has been and it has always been pretty bad. Todays smoke has been known to have traces of Acrolein, Benzene, and Cyanide (that thing they use to kill you in the gas chamber) to name a few. There are studies that prove that the aggregates in smoke are a contributor to heart diseases and make firefighter 300% more likely to contract some sort of cardiovascular disease, couple that with our poor eating habits, and general lack of physical fitness and its a time bomb waiting to go off. So for me masking up in the rig is the way to go.

Now back to the video, this firefighter climbs the ladder to the roof of a wind-driven fire and is taking a lot of heat, some smoke, now is trying to mask up while balancing himself in the roof, holding on to his helmet, trying to get a line in place, and holding his glove up to his face to block the heat. This is not the height of efficiency to say the least. If you apply a risk benefit analysis to this snap shot in time this seems to be a significant risk of a firefighters health for little to no gain, which should make it unacceptable no matter what fire department your from or how many fires you see.

Now even if you do not wanna mask up on the rig (which is fine) there is one thing to remember NEVER MASK UP NEAR POTENTIAL EXHAUST POINTS!!!!!!!!!!!!

Windows, doors, attic vents etc. if your going to mask up in the yard then avoid them at all costs. At any moment they could fail and fire could vent through these openings and at the very least hurt you and at the very worst kill you. Stairwell landings, and stairwells themselves are also other areas of caution. The stairwell is not only the natural egress point for occupants and fireman, but also for smoke and fire.

What do you do? Do you mask up in the rig? Do you mask up in the front yard? Let us know in the comments section and also try to explain why it is you do what you do, and as usual spread the word about the blog.

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