We have all seen it… when firefighters run in when everyone else runs out. You have probably seen the memes or the cheesy T-shirts. Firefighters running into burning buildings is kind of the first thought when people think of actual firefighters.
But when do Firefighters run into Burning Buildings?
All fire departments have different operational guidelines when comes to entering a burning building, but the bottom line is most, if not all Fire Departments will go inside if a life is endangered and can possibly be saved.
How long can a Firefighter stay in a Burning Building?
Generally, a Firefighter with a full 45 minute Oxygen Bottle on their Air pack will have about 20-30 minutes of work time. They could have more or less time in the Building and it’s not an exact science. Time depends on their training, their oxygen use (and if they are controlling their breathing), the shape of the equipment and other factors.
Let’s look at how and when Firefighters head inside a Building on Fire and how do they do it safely. We have a saying in the fire service, “risk a little to save a little, risk a lot to save a lot”, and that certainly applies to Fires!
Number One Reason Firefighters enter a Burning Building
Why do Firefighters enter a Building? To save a life.
Life Safety, or rescuing a possible victim that is possibly or know to be in mortal danger, requires Firefighters to do what they can to save those in need without injuring others or themselves. In fact, you could sum of Fire Service as Community Life safety and Property Conservation.
Saving a Victim from a Fire is what every single firefighter thinks about when they are training for these stressful situations. This is a situation where the crew knows the stakes are high and the risks may be even higher.
Life safety risks can be as simple as a suspicion that someone is trapped inside the burning building. That is reason enough. This is risk a lot to save a lot kind of situation. That’s why there is always an ambulance at the fire scene as well.
There’s no cut and dry answer to when and why Firefighters will go inside a Burning Building. It depends on their level of training (Career or Volunteer), the size and type of Building (and if they have PrePlans, or Floor Layouts of the Building), Suspected Victims and other factors. The Command (Chief or Lieutenant on Scene) will make the decision about what to do.
How do Firefighters go into a Burning Building without getting injured?
Firefighters train to enter Burning Buildings, and they generally train a lot. Sometimes, they train until it hurts, to practice the ‘worst case scenario’.
That’s no magic formula to the amount of training, just sweat, drills and hard work.
There’s a saying in the Fire Service, that ‘Firefighters will train not until they get it right, but rather until they can’t get it wrong.’
This means finding new ways to put themselves in that stressful mindset to perform as close to realistically as possible. Departments will utilize anything they can to get an edge in their training.
Often this may include acquiring buildings that are soon to be demolished, using storage containers to build structures for a more permanent training props and utilize their own stations for things like search and rescue.
Most fire departments have rules in place of when crews can enter burning buildings or not. But most of the time these rules become null in void when a possible victim is inside with a suspected survivable space.
Most Firefighters consider the phrase ‘Safety third’ when deciding to go inside a Building on Fire
Speaking of safety let’s touch on a topic that is very real in the Fire Service. The phrase safety third. We are constantly told no matter what profession you work that safety is first.
But how do you justify that with a job that inherently dangerous? While the first to coin this phrase was Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs I think the Journal of Emergency Medical Services said it best and that is “if safety is not guaranteed throughout the entire call, then either the call is not worth responding to or safety is not worth pursuing.”
With that logic, it is clear why safety must come third.” You can find that article here. Safety in the fire service is always in the back of firefighters heads but it takes a back seat when someone is in danger.
Would Firefighters go inside for Property conservation?
Firefighters do not automatically go into a Burning Building, and many would prefer to stay outside where it is safer!
Some departments won’t go Interior (go inside) to fight fires at all especially if its “confirmed” that everyone is out of the structure.
Other departments will always go interior if there is survivability of life or property that can be salvaged with little risk to the Firefighters. This might include saving the rest of the house if there is an attic fire above the garage, or a small kitchen fire, or something that can be contained by going inside.
Firefighters may go inside and aggressively stop the fire to save the rest of the home and the belongings. Again this is another specific to the individual department and their Standard Operating Procedures.
Worst Case Scenario- who saves Firefighters that are in distress in a Burning Building?
So what happens when a Firefighter is trapped? Who saves them? Because it certainly happens whether it be a mistake or unforseen circumstances sometime firefighters get themselves into deep trouble.
This is why every fire ground operation has an established RIT on standby. RIT stands for rapid intervention team. It’s a group of a few firefighters whose only job is to be ready should a fellow firefighter go down.
They are equipped with tools and equipment specific to rescuing firefighters. Thus can include things to swap out masks or give them air if they are out. The guys are RIT are considered fresh because they won’t be actually working on the fire ground to maintain energy incase needed.
The number one reason Firefighters run it on a burning building is when someone is suspected to be still inside. Firefighters are hardwired to run towards these things to help those who can’t help themselves. This isn’t about looking cool are ending up the news. It’s about doing the job you train so hard to do, which is why there’s so many Pros and Cons of being a Firefighter