Learning To Crawl

   At 10 months old, my son began to crawl on all fours. This newfound mobility changed the dynamics of our household forever as he suddenly was exploring every nook and cranny he could get into. As efficient as crawling is for a toddler, is it the most effective technique for firefighters when operating on the interior of a house that’s on fire?

   Firefighter recruits are typically taught to stay low when conditions are hot and visibility is low. Like my son, the recruits first instinct is to usually crawl on their hands and knees. The reasoning is straightforward: crawling is a familiar movement, and staying low in the environment is optimal, as it’s cooler and contains the least amount of smoke. However, moving at the pace of a 10-month-old inside a burning structure can be painfully slow. This month’s training article offers an alternative to crawling on hands and knees, while still keeping the firefighter low where conditions are best. 

   When conditions don’t necessitate walking, utilizing the tripod position will prove advantageous. The tripod position is a stable and athletic position that allows firefighters to move quickly while increasing their situational awareness. This position is primarily taught during search training because it lends itself to hastily performing a thorough primary search. However, the tripod position can be utilized to increase speed and efficiency when performing other tasks like advancing hoselines. That being said, for the scope of this article, we will focus on the tripod position in the context of performing a primary search.

   In the tripod position the firefighter will have their right or left knee on the ground, along with the hand on the same side. The opposite leg’s foot extends out in front of the firefighter creating the third point of contact. This position places the majority of the firefighter’s weight on their back leg, and allows for the front leg to sound the floor if conditions warrant, and reduce the risk of falling forward when encountering hazards like holes in the floor or stairs leading down. In contrast, crawling on hands and knees leaves the firefighter’s weight forward, making them more susceptible to falling head first if met with one of the aforementioned hazards.

   As we all know, fire conditions have the potential to rapidly change. When in the tripod, the firefighter’s eyes are naturally looking up, allowing for better recognition of conditions compared to crawling, where the firefighter’s eyes are naturally looking down. Moreover, this stance frees up a hand to carry tools or utilize the thermal imaging camera (TIC). Tools can be carried in either hand depending on the firefighter’s personal preference. Personally, I prefer to carry a halligan with my hand that is down. I will utilize my free hand to quickly sweep walls for windows and door knobs, then in moments of pause, I’ll grab the TIC and perform a scan. 

   Finally, the tripod position allows firefighters to quickly move in any direction. While staying along a wall is a good way to maintain orientation, victims may not always be found near walls. Therefore, it’s vital to have a technique that easily necessitates movement away from the wall when searching in larger, open rooms. Sweeping with a tool is one common method used to extend a firefighter’s search off the wall, but this comes with its own set of drawbacks.

   When a firefighter is fresh, their grip is strong and they can maintain control of the tool as they sweep. However, search is the most taxing assignment on the fireground. As the firefighter becomes fatigued, they will tend to sling the tool around which can have negative outcomes if it comes in contact with a victim. Additionally, if the firefighter hits something with their tool while sweeping with it, they must go investigate it with their hands. This leads to doing twice as much work when compared to just searching with their hands the first time. 

   Instead of sweeping with a tool, consider placing the tool against the wall, then place a foot on the other end of the tool and perform a body sweep (similar to a Life-Fire-Layout discussed in last month’s article). When performing a body sweep, a firefighter can easily cover 6-8 feet left and right (furniture dependent). After the body sweep, the firefighter would return to the wall, use the tripod position to move 12-16 feet down the wall and perform it again. 

   Another method is the sawtooth technique. When utilizing this method, the firefighter will perform 1-3 shuffles away from the wall at a 45-degree angle, perform a body sweep, then shuffle back to the wall at a 90-degree angle. This process is repeated until the entire room is searched following rules of right or left. As you can imagine the sawtooth method is faster than placing a tool against the wall and for this reason, the sawtooth method is the preferred.

   Like all techniques, the tripod position needs to be practiced so it becomes second nature. When first learning this technique, try it in various rooms of your home without gear on. Get comfortable moving forwards, backwards, left, right, and diagonal in all directions. Then incorporate it into a workout or into a bottle consumption drill. Add carrying a tool to get comfortable maneuvering with it. Finally, incorporate the tripod position into search drills in full gear and an SCBA.

   In conclusion, the tripod position offers a compelling alternative to traditional crawling on hands and knees, especially when conducting primary searches in a high-stress, low-visibility environment. This technique provides several advantages, including increased speed, better situational awareness, and enhanced mobility in all directions. While mastering the tripod position requires practice and familiarity, it represents a significant step forward in improving firefighter safety and effectiveness during interior operations.

Training Objectives

   Upon completion the firefighter should be able to….

   • Perform a search in the tripod position.

   • Utilize numerous body sweeps to thoroughly search the middle of a room. 

   Cole Kleinwolterink is a member of the Waukee Fire Department, Granger Fire Department, and a Fire Science instructor at Des Moines Area Community College. He can be contacted by email at kleinwolterinkc@gmail.com.



Blaze Publications, Inc.

Jeff Gargano - Editor
P.O. Box 122
Humboldt, IA 50548

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