The case for firefighter progressive training using safety lines
An incident involving a recruit raises questions about the necessity of safety lines at every stage of training
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In November 2017, the fire service was alerted to an incident in Nashville, Tenn., that involved a firefighter recruit falling during a training session of the John Nance drill, which involves rescuing a firefighter from a sublevel situation. This drill involves many options, including lowering down a firefighter to assist in rescuing the downed firefighter.
The incident has raised many questions by firefighters and instructors regarding to how this happened. Who is at fault? What went wrong? Was the instructor negligent? Details of the incident are being kept quiet from the public as the Nashville Fire Department conducts an investigation to determine the answers to all of these and other questions.
Are safety lines a necessity?
Two questions that stood out from different social media posts concerned the safety line. Why wasn’t there a safety line? Is there a need for a safety line? While I don’t want to speculate as to why there was no safety line being used, I do want to focus upon the method of instruction. There are a few dominoes that lined up that day to cause the result of a student falling during the drill.
It appears that the method of instruction being used was intended for seasoned firefighters, who have done this technique numerous times, as opposed to new recruits who are just being introduced to the drill. Progressively, they will learn how to perform the technique and work out their own deficiencies with it. This would include the use of a safety line to provide that level of protection and comfort, knowing that mistakes can and will be made without further harm happening.
As a firefighter progresses in their training and gain confidence in the technique, perhaps the safety line can then be removed to duplicate the conditions and setup of a real sublevel rescue. The argument has been made that a safety line is not used during a real rescue; as true as this is, it can be first introduced, then progressively removed when confidence has increased and certain skill levels have been mastered.
Imposed safety lines could hinder firefighters
Many jurisdictions, such as in California or Ontario, Canada, require safety lines for fall protection at a certain height, regardless of what task is being performed for both work or training purposes, but these labor laws and regulations sometimes pin the fire service into an area that does not address the work conditions of the fire service. This is one example where we do not use safety lines in the real situation but in training we do so because of the potential for a fall, as witnessed in Nashville.
Could progressive training be used to develop acclimation of the technique and conditions that it will be used in, or should we use standard training safety measures at all times, regardless of the skill or mastery level of the firefighter?