Filling in the Gaps on Firefighting and Emergency Medicine, by Nate

I’ll be the first to admit this is my first visit to SurvivalBlog, and I only received copy of “How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It” yesterday, but I finished reading it yesterday as well. I’ve always had what I like to call a “jack of all trades” mentality, as soon as I begin to feel competent in one skill, I have a strong urge to begin the learning process anew and expand my base of knowledge.

I’ve been reading through the articles previously posted, and while extremely helpful and informative, I feel I have found a few gaps.  Many critically important things are mentioned casually or in passing, and then simply left there by the wayside.  I hope with this article to give a brief overview to fill in some holes, at least as they intersect with my current skill set. (Give me another five years before TEOTWAWKI and I’m sure I’ll have a bunch more unimportant titles to my name, but much more useful information too.)

Fire Fighting

It has been mentioned before that firefighting may be a necessity not just for a specialized few come TEOTWAWKI, however I have yet to see mention of skills and strategies.  Obviously the most effective way to increase your skills in firefighting is to join your local fire department.  In the ideal scenario, almost all firefighting operations today are performed by volunteers.  If you are able to do this, that is a double positive, you are gaining advanced skills, and building stronger ties to your community, and your community stronger ties with you.  If that is not an option, then you must first consider each type of fire, its main causes, and things you can do to mitigate that both pre and post SHTF.  It takes over 1 million firefighters (according to FEMA) to maintain our current fire free lifestyle. After TEOTWAWKI, it’s not a question of if you will encounter fire, but when and how often.

Wildfires burn every year, worldwide, and from Alaska to Florida. Admittedly, one of the reasons wildfire has become such a problem in civilized world is civilization’s fault.  When you aggressively fight small fires, that would naturally burn off underbrush you cause a build-up of that underbrush.  Here in the Pacific Northwest, our trees, which are naturally fire resistant, can really only take so much.  Eventually enough underbrush is built up and on the next fire, the entire forest lights from top to bottom, this is bad because the same stuff that makes them fire resistant burns extremely well once lit.  This is the situation you’ll face when your area goes up for the first time in TEOTWAWKI, presuming you live somewhere with forests of evergreen trees.

But all is not lost!  If you can afford the space, and increased visibility–remember that staying hidden for the beginning of TEOTWAWKI, may be more important than fire safety, and with the right tools this modification could be made post a few months when things in your area are largely quiet (hopefully) you can vastly increase your margin of safety by cutting down any trees or shrubs for a 100 foot thick barrier between the forest and you.  The forest service usually recommends doing this in a 100’ circle from the edge of your house (50’ is considered the absolute minimum, but remember were not going for making the firefighters jobs easier here, were hoping to completely protect you from the fire in the first place) however for the situation were planning for the most effective way would be to make your 100-foot barrier by cutting out from your perimeter fence line into the forest.  This gives multiple benefits to you:

  • You have vastly increased visibility of people that are approaching your dwelling(s) and outbuildings
  • It would be extremely difficult for anyone to cover 100 feet of completely cleared terrain without being noticed by active lookouts
  • It ensures that not just your house, but indeed your generator your garden, any fruit trees you have, your vehicle, etc. all share the same “island from the fire” status. 

You can use this land to grow short grasses for animal grazing (nothing taller than 6 inches, please) if the idea of clearing land and doing nothing with it really just doesn’t settle with you but at the very center along the fence line you must have five feet of actually clear ground to prevent the grass fire that may ensue from spreading into the compound.  Especially if you choose to keep a wild grass on this perimeter, it is still important to be armed with a large diameter hose ready to put out the errant spark or to wet the ground to prevent the much smaller grass fire from encroaching on your compound.

If your entire house catches on fire, you’re quickly no better off than any other joe blow, so the most important safety factor here is prevention.  Good habits from you and your family and new extended family come TEOTWAWKI must all remember the basic fire rules, but those are predominantly common knowledge so I’ll skip them for now.  You should never have to leave the room to get a fire extinguisher, especially if you are in the kitchen or any room that regularly has a heating source in it (garage, living room, workshop etc)  If you are using a standard compact fire extinguisher it is only rated to put out a wood and natural fuels fire with a base of 1 square foot in the hands of an “average person” (the ratings are listed at ~60% of the actual carrying capacity, on the presumption that the average person will waste a significant portion failing to Pull Aim Squeeze Swipe (PASS) effectively).  If you must leave for even a minute to obtain the fire extinguisher most likely you will be too late to be effective.

If you have any doubts about “wasting” a fire extinguisher by putting one in each bedroom and the hallway, and essentially any and every room,  just youtube a video of a couch or a bed fire.  Most of the items we have today are made with a significant amount of petroleum in them.  A plastic table puts out the same BTUs when it burns as around 10 gallons of gasoline, and a large CRT monitor’s case can be the equivalent of almost 5 gallons.

Okay, so the SHTF and the whole room is on fire. Fortunately for you modern construction buys you a little time.  Your house is certainly going to be the worse for the wear, and depending on how many holes you have punched through it for doors, electrical sockets, light switches etc, your time will vary, but each piece of drywall a fire must pass through should take approximately 5 min.  Now today, I absolutely recommend leaving your house and calling 911 in the event of a fire, big or small.  However, in a future where that is not possible, and your life depends on that structure, and I stress this point, because fighting a fire with improvised gear and training puts lives at risk, then here are my recommendations.
Have at least 2 teams of 2 designated as the fire squad, this way you can always have one pair available when needed.  Lay in at least 4 sets of firefighter turnouts (if possible, they are expensive), or in a pinch lay in the heaviest and tightest woven wool jackets and pants available at your local Goodwill (don’t be afraid to do this over a period of time because you need true quality ones).  Additionally invest in at least (and I stress this as a minimum) 4, 3-cuft canisters of spare air, this size is approximately the size of a mans forearm, and weighs only a few pounds.   An SCBA (a typical firefighting breathing apparatus) is safer, because of its Positive pressure airflow system (if you crack the mask air comes rushing out of the hole, to keep any smoke from rushing in), but is logistically unrealistic even for the most well off, and the minimum weight for an SCBA rig is 30 lbs, which is simply not something you need to be adding when you’re already having the fight of your life.  The spare air design is fairly simple and basic, it’s a canister with a built in gauge regulator and mouthpiece, in the event of capsizing your kayak and getting stuck headfirst underwater or running out of air diving it is designed to give you the extra breaths needed to save your life.  This size gives ~57 breaths on the surface but keep your lips tight on it, you want to breathe the air in the canister, not the smoke in the room.  You will also need a properly installed hose (as discussed in “How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It”), heat resistant goggles a wool balaclava, thick welders or barbequers gloves, and thick heavy boots without a steel shank (leather or durable black rubber can work here)  you will have less than 1 minute to gather and put these supplies on, so keep them in 1 spot, never ever move them, and practice just in case.  You will also need an axe, hatchet, heavy duty hammer, pry bar or basically anything to tear open a wall, but you should already have all, if not one of those tools for many other purposes around the house.

Enter with a 1.5-2 inch pressurized hoseline with firefighter tip (at least 50PSI to keep the flow of water coming out fast enough) and stay low, it can be more than 100 degrees cooler on the floor of a burning building than at 6’ so keep your head down, never be taller than a crouch.  Always keep one hand on the hoseline, always, since it is dark, noisy and if you lose your hoseline, you lose the only guaranteed way in and out of the environment you just entered.  As soon as you see smoke, begin breathing from your canned air( modern firefighters everywhere except require breathing before entering the building except for sky scrapers, but in this situation the risk of running out of air before the operation is done outweighs the extremely small risk of carbon monoxide contamination without other signs of combustion in room), and counting your breath (or time if you can resist the urge to breath faster with the panic 57 breaths should last ~5 min, but start leaving at 3 at the latest).  Attack the fire with a relatively narrow stream (firefighter tips will give everything from pure fog to a nearly perfect jet of water, stay somewhere between jet and 1’ wide at base of fire or you will find yourself moving a lot of hot smoke and ash around the room and right into your face).  Hit the fire hard at its base, you cant put out the flames you see in the air, it is the burning material at the bottom you need to be concerned about.  Once you have the fire “knocked back” as they call it, or basically what appears to be dying off, you need to open some windows to get airflow through the room, and you need to start tearing apart the walls.  It is critically important that you find any fire that has escaped into the wall and extinguish it before it has a chance to grow somewhere else.   Again, I hope no one ever has to fight their own home fire, it will be a tough situation, but in TEOTWAWKI, your life depends on your well stocked retreat, and in my opinion at least, it is worth risking my life to protect the safety and security of my friends and family. 

Medical Notes

The most important medical item that I feel that has not been fully covered in SurvivalBlog is advanced medications, and how to obtain them.  It is remarkably simple if you are a trustworthy person and have a good relationship with your family physician. There are many items that are critical to have, which today require prescriptions to obtain.  This either means looting in the perfect place when SHTF, stocking them ahead of time, or doing without. 

The easiest and least deceitful way is to talk with your doctor about your planning, and to ask them if they would be willing to write the required prescriptions.  Have a list, and be prepared to explain exactly why you would want each one, and swear up and down that you will not abuse it, this method may still fail, and may ruin your relationship with your Dr.  but you may luck out and he may be willing to make some or all of your needed prescriptions. If not… well… there are reasons doctors see as more fit than “I’m preparing for the end of the world”

 There are several methods to get antibiotics stockpiled for someday to come, but you must do this fairly regularly since, even though they will last longer than their 1 year marked shelf life, they do not last forever.   Talk to your doctor about a trip to Mexico, or other are notorious for bad water (in my case it was Belize), and ask if they can set you up with a precautionary prescription to take with you.  You will get a 10 day supply per person (each custom dosed, so only adults can switch, or similarly sized children, please don’t give an adult dose to a child even in TEOTWAWKI) of one of the strongest and least commonly resisted antibiotics we have today, it does however have annoying side effects (you will sunburn easily, and feel horrible) but personally I’d rather survive pneumonia, then sunbathe for two weeks.

Another method for obtaining quick packs of antibiotics, which have less side effects, only require a few pills typically, and might keep longer (because they come in foil sealed packets rather than an open air bottle) is to lie more directly (but it is very important to only use these antibiotics come TEOTWAWKI… modern medicine already uses antibiotics too often, increasing their frivolous use because you “felt like you had a cold” will only make more problems).  The next time you have a good congested nose, make an appointment with your Dr.  Tell him about your greenish yellow mucus discharge, productive cough, and severe sinus pressure with pain on touch, and he will most likely prescribe you a course of antibiotics and some Sudafed for your “sinus infection”.

Clotting factors:
Now your body has multiple, extremely complicated systems for clotting which are quite frankly amazing, but sometimes not enough.  In the event of a TEOTWAWKI +1 gunshot wound, you’re going to need something to help you clot, you could use the packaged Quick-clot or its equivalent, but these are messy and require being cleaned out surgically before healing can begin.  The best option in my opinion is a Chitin based bandage, these come in band-aid size to 4×4 and larger, but 2×2 is the most versatile.  But anything larger than Band-Aid sized requires a prescription.  My recommendation is to talk with a doctor about extended backpacking trips or hunting trips, and express concern that a severe wound received on the trail would prove fatal before making it back to society.  These bandages are relatively harmless, and have been quickly making their way from military only, to Military and EMS, to prescription, to OTC for Band-Aid size, so in a few more years the 2 x 2s may even be OTC as well, however in the mean time, the doctor will most likely be accommodating on that option.

Pain medication:
If you are going to have to repair a Gunshot Wound (GSW) Advil will simply not cut it.  Even if you are able to restrain your patient, the trauma of experiencing that kind of pain greatly reduces survival rate.  Even something as simple as a Tylenol narcotic mix, commonly prescribed for minor back pain or post surgical pain, will do wonders for reducing the strain during that trying time.  This one will be much harder to obtain.  One option is to horde all your left over medication, noting the size of the person for whom it was prescribed at the time it was prescribed on the bottle. (you can give doses for smaller people to bigger people easily with pain medication, however you should carefully think about anything that involves giving a larger person’s dose to a smaller person).  Another option here is to obtain veterinarian quality pain medications, they are not appropriate for human consumption under normal circumstances, and may be almost as hard to obtain as human, but it is another route you can take.  Take extra caution with certain vet medications, ketamine, for ex is an extremely powerful hallucinogenic in many adults, however kids can take it quite safely (in the appropriate doses).  One final option, that could be a last resort is illegal street medications, heroin acts extremely similarly in the body to morphine (one of the most common heavy pain killers).  The largest problem with relying on street medications is impurity (often cut with things that are actually quite hard on your body, and wear on your heart valves in long term use), inability to know dosage concentration (because it’s a street drug, no dealers going to list 15mg heroin/mL dose on the side of his little syringe), and obviously the fact that its illegal.

IV supplies: 
These will be useful for hydration during an emergency operation, during rehydration for a potential refugee you pick up, or for administering the aforementioned pain medications.
Again if reasoning and pleading with your doctor fails, and you can’t simply borrow some supplies from work or a friend, the easiest way to obtain these is through your vet.  Cats commonly experience kidney failure during the end of their lives, aggressive treatment plans involve giving IV bags to families and having them administer 200-500 mL of Lactated ringers IV solution subcutaneous to their kitty every day.  If you care about your cat and they are experiencing kidney failure, please do not short the prescribed dose, instead change tubing slightly less often than they recommend, and once a month or so, claim to have screwed up and wasted a bag, the vet will happily sell you an extra one while you stockpile needles tubing and IV bags in your retreat.  IV fluids won’t keep forever, but if stored in a cool dark place, they can last years past their expiration date, if I needed one in TEOTWAWKI my rule of thumb would be to check the fluid itself, If it’s still clear with no punctures in the bag or cloudiness or flakes (which would be signs of bacterial growth) I would give it a go.