From one of our instructors, Jeff Weffelmeyer.
If anyone has ever taught a bail out class, I am sure you have heard many comments such as: “Do we really need this thing with all of the other safety classes we’ve had?”, “I don’t want to carry around this extra weight”, or my personal favorite “I have been on the job for (insert Number of years here) and never had to jump out of a window”. As an instructor, how do you handle this situation? One method I have found useful is to give real life scenarios where firefighters had to bail out of a building. Two of the stories I use is a close call in 2003 involving the Saint Louis Fire Department and the Black Sunday story. (in my opinion should be used in every bail out/safety and survival class)
Recently, I started thinking about other dangerous occupations that have some sort of personal escape device. An occupation I came up with is fighter jet pilots and their bail out device called the ejection seat. The military spends millions of dollars to train their pilots and billions to give them a plane to do their job. In addition to the years of training, pilots are required to train on the proper ejection seat procedures every six months. If they fail the training they are grounded until they pass.
Additionally, do you think pilots complain about having to wear the extra weight of the parachute or want to get rid of the ejection seat because they have never had to use it? I would guarantee you that the answer is no. Do you think they complain about going to training on their ejection seat? Yep you guessed it, also a big no. So why do you think some firefighters have a hard time wearing and training on bail out systems? I don’t understand it either, but I always say it’s because of complacency. We can go to 20 fires and not need a bail out system and then get comfortable and think we don’t need it. Then on the 21st fire, guess what, we need it and don’t have it.
After thinking about it for a while, firefighters and fighter pilots are not that different. They both have access to an emergency escape device that they must stay up to date and train on regularly with the hope of never having to use it. But it is always nice to know that it is there. If you’re having a hard time training members of your department, remember that we have had hoods for years and we’re just now seeing everyone use them in every fire. Thanks for reading and remember get out there and train, train, and train some more.
Firefighter Jeff Weffelmeyer is a 11 year veteran of the fire service serving the last 3 years with the St. Louis Fire Department were he is assigned to Truck 17C in North St. Louis. Jeff is a certified Missouri Fire Service Instructor I, a member of St. Louis Area USAR Strike Team 2, an instructor with Forest Park Highlander Fire Academy and Engine House Training, LLC. Jeff also serves as a bail out instructor for the St. Louis Fire department.