Hi there all, my name is Kylie; I joined this website a few months back to get some opinions from other members, just forgot to do so. So I will do it now I suppose. I apologize if it seems long.

I recently got into the fire service and my fire department requires probie's and juniors to finish required classes at our state fire school that is open to all state and out of state fire departments ( Delaware State Fire School ) and the first ever class people have to take there to take any other classes is "basic firefighting skills" which is a four weekend program (sat & sun, 8 AM - 4 PM) and they rotate us through different courses. It's basically a introduction to the fire service, they cover about everything. On my last day my group was scheduled for SCBA & smoke house. Which when I reported for it in the morning I thought it was going to be a breeze. I had no problem with being on the tank, or the exercises they made us do with it all on. The problem I had was going into the smoke house after two hours of initial training teaching us how to use the tank and doing exercises with it. It was a two story building, pitch black building pretty much filled with smoke; which is self explanatory from the name. So we had to crawl through the maze they had set up in the  building with our right hand basically guiding us. The first round in I was the group leader, two minutes into the building I got our group lost and stuck under the stairs for a good ten minutes. So we activated our pass devices and had one of the instructors come in and recover us. ( they had one ready to go in at any time. ) which worried me and got my heart pounding. The second time through crawling up the stairs I was right behind the leader and when we were crawling up the stairs his boot came right up under my face piece and pulled it up a bit over my face. I freaked, but was able to pull it back down and continue through the building. The third time I lost my group and was the last one out of the building, which sort of worried me as well. I played the day off like it was nothing, but it really seemed to bother me and hate to use such a strong word such as "traumatize" me being in a complete dark building with smoke. So after the basic firefighting skills I went onto vehicle rescue and EMR, passed those. I now have structural firefighting skills coming up; from what I have heard from other members you have to pack up a lot. So I am really looking for advice, if there is any? I think it will go better than basic firefighting training because for the most part you can see where you are going in the burn building, since they keep the windows open ( at least I have seen in the fire school pictures. ) - but would still like some advice. I really hate to go talk to my main chief or the chief engineer about it because I don't want them to think I can't handle the SCBA so when I turn 18 I won't get fitted for a mask. So like I said any words of advice; or your own stories about the SCBA, like if anyone else was afraid of it first and grew out of the feeling would be amazing. Thank you so much to anyone who replies. 

Views: 486

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

When I first got into a live burn trailer I was very nervous.  The instructors lit a pile of wooden mat infront of us and smoked us up and I recoiled in fear as I was right up front.  I kind of feel that in the fire service we seem to be thrown into training headfirst when we are new, maybe because some of the programs need to fit so much into such a short timeframe.  After the instuctors got the fire going they asked us if we could still breathe and if we were taking alot of heat, yes we could still breath and no we did not feel the heat.  They then had us take off a glove and reach for the roof.  While quick and dirty the instructors instilled a lof of confidence in us for our PPE.  I went into the burn trailer four more times after that and went back for several days in a row, which was a luxury you may not have.  For me my confidence went up each time I went in.  Repetitions with good instruction was what worked for me.  But it was also important that I realized my shortcomings and train like hell to correct them.  I would seek advice from those you trust in your department, I cant imagine that they would not want to work with you, possibly to line up more time in the smoke house.  Yours is not a new problem in the fire service, never be afraid to ask for more help(training).  

If your first fear is that of wearing the SCBA, wear it more often before your burn lab exercise. A member of our department took a mask home and wore it pretty much all day every day for a week. She laughs when she tells the story about vacuuming the floors with the mask on. (Her hubby laughs even more!) She conquered all her fear.

Also, like Jim says, talk to your officers . Never hold back within your department.

Finally, trust your instructors. They are there because they know what they are talking about and their top priority is your safety.

Hello Kylie,

As a new firefighter you should always inform your officers of everything.  As an assistant chief myself, I would never look down on any firefighter that told me of any fear they were having.  This tells me they want to work on it and be better, and at the same time as an officer I know to look out for them at fire scenes and offer assistance if needed.   Most of the time if I have a FF who is unsure of a task or the equipment (such as the air masks) i will make sure they are paired up with a senior firefighter with a lot of experience that can help them and look out for them.

Being afraid is what keeps us safe; never be ashamed of the fear, I have 24 years in the fire service and still ahve some degree of fear when standing at the door of a structure fire. 

Things happen, what happened to you is normal and should never be taken as weakness or a sign you are a poor firefighter.  Anyone tells you these things let me know...

Confidence comes from training; repitition helps make it easier to overcome fear.  Keep going in those training buildings, let your officer know and dont let it stop you.  Let your senior firefighters and officers help you get over the fear, its what we are here for.  Never hold anything back from your family, especially the officers, after all that is what we are in the fire service; a family.

Stay strong, keep at it and never be afraid to ask for help, you should learn something new every day and never stop learning as a firefighter.  Keep us posted.


Hi Kylie ,

     All these things that you are feeling are normal. I have never met a fire fighter that did not have the same thing going on the first time they put a SCBA on . You just have to keep training with them and when you think you know it train some more.Never be afraid to ask for help from the officer or the instructor , You have to remembered as being a fire fighter and the job we do are not normal to most people. We run into fires and even the rats run out and you think this job is normal, THINK AGAIN.

   Good luck with the training and keep asking question


Hey everyone, thank you all for your advice! It really does give me a bit more confidence in myself. I will have to ask my chief or chief engineer about the extra training with SCBA because for as long as I have been in my department we've never really had any "basic" training, just more "advanced" I suppose you can say topics we've practiced and learned on. Only time people put the SCBA on is on fire runs, which I am allowed to go on; but can't put the SCBA on because I am still under 18. So I will talk to one of the two main officers if they won't let me practice with one of the SCBA's they have on the trucks and let them help me or someone else in the department.

Thanks again! :)

I'm writing this as the over enthused probie I was years ago. While going through the smoke house, I got right up on the nozzle man, as instructed, and lost my mask and ate his boot, literally. I took some smoke and had the team hold up  while I adjusted my mask. When this happened one more time, I was convinced that I was doing something wrong. I was, you need to be on the line or in verbal communication at all times! But not crawling up his a$$. As my Chief of The Department told me, "Unless you're looking to get to know him better." If you have to be in physical contact with the FF in front of you, hold the boot opposite the wall. If you can slide on your leg that is going to the rear of you.See link.

( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-kxLujBq_nM) I learned this technique 21 years in my career. It's faster and safer.

Traditional SAR is shown in this link,http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jp4fdkLBM1g  and notice at 0:28 sec he moves the hand to the outside leg. This vid is better to show you for one reason, FF #2 is a female. 20 years ago you would have had a lot to prove, in 2013, show you know how to move fast, with a purpose, and complete your task. Don't beat your self up! Use the internet as a tool to learn and teach. But know why you're doing what you're doing. If you just mimic what you see, you and your team are no better off.

Stay safe. Train hard. Train often.

Thanks a lot for the information. I was up on the other firefighter mainly because I was trying to keep contact with him, well his tank because they had glow in the dark stickers and blinking lights on it. I just didn't want to get left behind or lost. Throughout the whole smoke house people always seemed to get left behind and you had to scream at the top of your lungs for the other guys to hear you to slow down - so communication seemed to be a huge problem as well. Training for sure plays a big part in all of it. Once again, thanks. 

I was up on the other firefighter mainly because I was trying to keep contact with him, well his tank because they had glow in the dark stickers and blinking lights on it

Is this how you were taught, or what you felt was best?

If this is how you were taught, I would be having serious reservations about the instructor. Being right on top of someone like that is unsafe for both people involved. If you are searching over a compromised floor, you have put your body weight together as opposed to spreading it out more, enhancing a better chance of collapse.


There are many ways to keep in contact and ways to communicate WITHOUT voice and this is something that should be established BEFORE going in. You can communicate by using a series of taps, like one tap means OK, two, proceed, three stop and so forth. The more one practices the more they will see the difficulties in both hearing AND talking. If a voice amp is used on an SCBA, then screaming only makes matter worse.


As for searching, as mentioned, there are ways to maintain contact without being right on top of the leader. In fact doing so severly limits the amount of area one is able to search. A technique we like to use is the person on the wall has their hand on the wall and angled outwardwith their legs. As they proceed the person on the wall will sweep the wall up and down, searching for windows, etc. Use your other hand, with a tool, to sweep and sound the floor in front of you. Meanwhile the second FF has his hand on the leader's boot outward of the wall. The second FF is at and angle and sweeping with a tool and leg to cover more area. Other options include using webbing to maintain contact for larger areas and so forth.


It was already mentioned but using a handline helps to search and to orientate yourself. A good drill is to feel couplings and learn how to follow a line outside, etc. There are many types of drills from radio communication wearing an SCBA, MAYDAY training and so forth that can all help get comfortable with an SCBA and for the next time you are in a smokehouse for training.

No sir, they just taught us to get on our knees, use our right hand to guide us, and use verbal communication with each other. So I felt it was best to stay close to the other firefighter for personal comfort of knowing where he was so I didn't get left behind.

It's extremely funny because they said they are one of the best fire schools in the country, which I am starting to think is a lie slowly and slowly making my way through the training. The face pieces did have voice amps, problem was only 30% or so of the face piece voice amps worked, the rest were dead; which required to yell at the top of our lungs to communicate verbally, which was told to do.  The main reason for the verbal commands is because the smoke house was set up like a maze and we couldn't see where we were going. So the leader would yell "left", "right", "down", "up", etc.. whatever the command needed to be. So after the leader would say it, then the second guy would say it, then the third, and then the fourth - so at a lot of times it was hard and understand each other doing that. 

The things you mentioned are defiantly helpful but sadly my department and other departments sort of rely on the state's fire school for instruction. My department really only does unconventional training compared to the other fire departments doing the SCBA training, ladders, line practice, etc.. We do things such as grain silo/hopper rescue which other fire departments come to us this other training. It would be nice if we could actually do a training event like the other departments, but that isn't my decision. But I am not totally slamming my department, because I like it almost everything else about it, just wish they could have more regular training events. But thanks for your tips, helps. :)


This is an honest reply and not to upset or demean anyone. I have been an instructor for 19 years. I teach all over and have experience with a certified FF 1 program in a high school vocational setting to students your age.  I have had many students who were just like you and made it through the program with a little extra help for confidence and others who could not overcome the anxiety of being claustraphobic.  Others here on FFN have provided some good suggestions like wearing the SCBA as much as possible and I agree with them. That will get you comfortable with wearing the SCBA, (weight and reduced visibility, etc.)  Now as far as your comments about your heart pounding, you need to be honest with yourself about why that might be occurring.  You are new to firefighting and every new and even some experienced firefighters have a bit of "worry" about getting lost, running out of air, and breathing smoke. Now without knowing your background and the internet is not the place to air it, when I see the same concern(s) with some of my students, a private conversation often reveals anxiety history.  So when they can physically see during drills, like donning for time, basic skills for partner search techniques or even using a thermal imager they are fine. When you black them out, via wax paper, backwards hood, darkness or smoke filled environment their minds begin to play games and set them into mild to severe panic mode. Put them into an environment where they are required to slide through restricted opening like an 18" tube, barrell, drum, etc. they often can't stay calm enough to think straight. In the past I have done many drills where they can see the course first, then reduce their vision and finally completely blind. So it is the same course but in different modes and levels of visibility. This is done to make sure I cover all of the ADA requirements and not get into trouble with some student or their chief telling me I washed a good firefighter out. Sometimes the baby step approach works  because they are building confidence through repetition. BUT and here is the BUT... when you move onto the more advanced SCBA osbtaclce courses they are again subjected to the new, first time experience(s). That is when you see if the student can succeed mentally or those who can't. I have physically carried out students who ran low on air in the smoke house. Their (initial low air alarm) had begun to sound and I know they understood they still had a quarter of air capacity left but because of being inside a smoke filled building, the unknowns of can they make it back to the door etc. The student pulled his mask off while still having 800 lbs of air left.


So I have learned to proceed with cautious reservation on any student who may have issues from the early going with SCBA. Instructors who provide repetitive training to get the student through the anxiety may have it return in the future when they are not with them.  So it all comes down to can you control your thoughts or not. Seek help from the lead instructor or program coordinator, explain your concerns and work through them. Not everyone makes it through SCBA and unfortunately people fail. But there are many other functions that can be mastered within the FD organization. 


Best of luck to you. Bill  

FETC Services

Stay Connected, FETC is now on FaceBook

"Average Training Breeds an Average Fire Department, Let FETC Help You Achieve Excellence!"

An important thing to remember is that you are not the only one experiencing this; you're just the only one admitting it. Practice and repetition are keys to success. Almost every firefighter has trouble with something early on. Don't try to do too much right away. Just get comfortable operating with SCBA. You can't master the finer points of search until then.

Keep working at it. Listen to your instructors. You'll be fine.

Reply to Discussion


Find Members Fast

Or Name, Dept, Keyword
Invite Your Friends
Not a Member? Join Now

© 2024   Created by Firefighter Nation WebChief.   Powered by

Badges  |  Contact Firefighter Nation  |  Terms of Service