As I am sitting here trying to catch my breath here in the weight room, I like to sit back and think about how awesome it is to be a big ole silverback gorilla in a job shirt lol. To make it sound way less conceited, there are many benefits to being a big guy coming into the fire service. Yeah, it may be true that many people believe that smaller and thinner people are better at this job, because they may be able to maneuver around and stuff more easily.
The fact that a lot of those people don’t really touch on is that you need to have brute strength, as well as endurance for this job. When you are pulling a downed firefighter or even bringing them down a ladder, that can be around 300lbs of dead weight, you need brute strength to carry this weight, on top of your own weight with your full PPE on.
So what are 5 things big strong firefighters do? Big strong firefighters like to do the heavy work. Heavy work includes lifting heavy stuff like charged 2.5in attack/supply lines. They also do very well with forcible entry, setting up 35’ or higher ground ladders. Big strong firefighters also do well with search and rescue operations as well as RIC/RIT rescue operations. The fact that we’re big and strong, these fireground operations tend to come much easier to us.
Lift Heavy Stuff
We aren’t big for nothing, we like to look good, feel good, and move heavy stuff! Some of the things that we excel at because of our sizes is moving heavy things like charged supply & attack lines. Mike Pertz from Firefighternow.com, has a pretty good chart that references the different weights depending on the sizes of the hoselines.
Most common size for an attack fire hose is 1inch and ¾ wide in diameter. From one coupling to the next is about 50 feet. So 50 feet of 1 ¾ inch charged hose will weigh nearly 20lbs. If you have 100 ft of charged hose and you pick up the coupling in between the two other couplings, now the weight goes up to around 40 lbs. Now the next most common hose to pull off the truck is a 2 ½ in diameter hose that is used for both supply or attack.
They are used to supply water to a Wye or a Siamese (both are couplings that take in one hose, and split off into two) that in turn will supply for two attack lines coming from a single 2 ½ inch hose. a nozzle right on it, and it can be used as an attack hose line. 50 feet of 2 ½ in hose will weigh nearly 30 lbs, while 100 feet of Now imagine pulling and pushing while going up and down stairs, crawling with your full PPE that can weigh nearly 70 lbs including SCBA. Yea, pretty heavy stuff.
Forcible entry is also naturally easy for big guys. When it comes to forcible entry, it is all about leverage. While in a perfect scenario, you will have a perfect amount of space to force doors. A set of irons, and a nice and compliant door. However, there are many times you may find yourself in a situation where you may not have enough space to perfectly force a door, or you may not even have a complete set of irons.
If you are part of any team that is going inside of a structure fire, you may be part of the attack team, backup team, primary search team and the RIT/RIC team.
While each of these teams already have a task to do inside of a structure, you should always have a complete set of irons, in case you come across a door that needs to be opened, but sometimes people forget to grab a halligan tool and instead grab an ax or even a sledgehammer. In cases like this you may have to use what you have and attempt to use an ax like a halligan tool, and just make the best of what you have while staying safe.
Ladder work is one of those things that are very important for fireground operations. It is needed for vertical ventilation, fire attack if entering through a window, or even if you have to rescue someone or another fellow firefighter. This is also my LEAST favorite fireground activity to do. You definitely see the stronger guys have a tendency to set up ground ladders, but it is certainly not the most exciting in my opinion. A common ground ladder size is a 35 foot ladder. 35 foot ladders weigh about 135 lbs.
135 lbs may not be that much weight, but that ground ladder is an awkward weight. This awkwardness of this weight makes what is 135lbs feel like its 235lbs. Now imagine doing this while wearing your full PPE which tends to weigh around 50lbs. Think about it, Unless testing the ladder, when else would you set up the ladder without your PPE on? Both in training environments and working structure fires you must practice how you play.
Search & Rescue
Search and rescue is another highly physically demanding task that happens in the fireground. A common misconception is that search and rescue occurs only after the fire has been knocked down. What actually happens is that fire attack, search and rescue, ventilation, salvage and overhaul literally all occur about the same time. The Fire attack tends to take place together at the same time with the search & rescue, because while one team focuses on the fire, the other focuses on finding victims.
These roles however can have a tendency to kind of mesh together and with others. Imagine you are the nozzle man on the initial attack team, and as your team is making its way to the fire, you stumble on a victim. You cannot just leave the victim there and hope the search and rescue team finds them, you radio that you’ve found a victim and begin to get that victim out.
The Rapid Intervention Team or Rapid Intervention Crew have the same exact job as the search and rescue team, but their focus is downed firefighters. Not only are you dealing with a person who may be heavy, you are now needing to rescue someone with full PPE. Some of the challenges that will require great amounts of strength is getting a downed firefighter unstuck from corners and stairs. Unlike a victim who is very unlikely to be wearing an SCBA, helmet etc, A downed firefighter is very likely to get stuck on doorways & stairs.
To bring this to a close, being a big strong firefighter is awesome, and should be something you take pride in, just make sure to always keep yourself healthy. Being strong is very important, as well as keeping up on cardio. I wrote this article about great ways that big strong firefighters like you and I can stay in great shape.
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