If you are faced with the problem of rescuing a person threatened by fire, explosive or poisonous gases, or some other emergency, do not take any action until you have had time to determine the extent of the danger and your ability to cope with it. In a large number of accidents, the rescuer rushes in and becomes the second victim. Do not take unnecessary chances! Do not attempt any rescue that needlessly endangers your own life!

Phases of Rescue Operations

In disasters where there are multiple patients (as in explosions or ship collisions), rescue operations should be performed in phases. These rescue phases apply only to extrication operations.

Stages of Extrication

The first stage of extrication within each of the rescue phases outlined above is gaining access to the victim. Much will depend on the location of the accident, damage within the accident site, and the position of the victim. The means of gaining access must also take into account the possibility of causing further injury to the victim since force may be needed. Further injury must be minimized.

The second stage involves giving lifesaving emergency care. If necessary, establish and maintain an open airway, start artificial respiration, and control hemorrhage.

The third stage is disentanglement. The careful removal of debris and other impediments from the victim will prevent further injury to both the victim and the rescuer.

The fourth stage is preparing the victim for removal, with special emphasis on the protection of possible fractures.

The final stage, removing the victim from the trapped area and transporting to an ambulance or sickbay, may be as simple as helping the victim walk out of the area or as difficult as a blanket dragged out of a burning space.

Special Rescue Situations

The procedures you follow in an emergency situation will be determined by the nature of the disaster or emergency you encounter. Some of the more common rescue situations and the appropriate procedures for each are outlined below.

RESCUE FROM FIRE.—If you must go to the aid of a person whose clothing is on fire, try to smother the flames by wrapping the victim in a coat, blanket, or rug. Leave the head UNCOVERED. If you have no material with which to smother the fire, roll the victim over—SLOWLY—and beat out the flames with your hands. Beat out the flames around the head and shoulders, then work downward toward the feet. If the victim tries to run, throw him down. Remember that the victim MUST lie down while you are trying to extinguish the fire. Running will cause the clothing to burn rapidly. Sitting or standing may cause the victim to be killed instantly by inhaling flames or hot air.


Inhaling flames or hot air can kill YOU, too. Do not get your face directly over the flames. Turn your face away from the flame when you inhale.

If your own clothing catches fire, roll yourself up in a blanket, coat, or rug. KEEP YOUR HEAD UNCOVERED. If material to smother the fire is not available, lie down, roll over slowly, and beat at the flames with your hands.

If you are trying to escape from an upper floor of a burning building, be very cautious about opening doors into hallways or stairways. Always feel a door before you open it. If the door feels hot, do not open it if there is any other possible way out. Remember, also, that opening doors or windows will create a draft and make the fire worse. So do not open any door or window until you are actually ready to get out.

If you are faced with the problem of removing an injured person from an upper story of a burning building, you may be able to improvise a lifeline by tying sheets, blankets, curtains, or other materials together. Use square knots to connect the materials to each other. Secure one end of the line around some heavy object inside the building, and fasten the other end around the casualty under the arms. You can lower the victim to safety and then let yourself down the line. Do not jump from an upper floor of a burning building except as a last resort.

It is often said that the “best” air in a burning room or compartment is near the floor, but this is true only to a limited extent. There is less smoke and flame down low, near the floor, and the air may be cooler. But it is also true that carbon monoxide and other deadly gases are just as likely to be present near the floor as near the ceiling. Therefore, if possible, use an oxygen breathing apparatus or other protective breathing equipment when you go into a burning compartment. If protective equipment is not available, cover your mouth and nose with a wet cloth to reduce the danger of inhaling smoke, flame, or hot air.


A wet cloth gives you no protection against poisonous gases or lack of oxygen.

RESCUE FROM STEAM-FILLED SPACES.— It is sometimes possible to rescue a person from a space in which there is a steam leak. Since steam rises, escape upward may not be possible. If the normal exit is blocked by escaping steam, move the casualty to the escape trunk or, if there is none, to the lowest level in the compartment.

RESCUE FROM ELECTRICAL CONTACT.— Rescuing a person who has received an electrical shock is likely to be difficult and dangerous. Extreme caution must be used, or you may be electrocuted yourself.


You must not touch the victim's body, the wire, or any other object that may be conducting electricity.

First, look for the switch. If you find the switch, turn off the current immediately. Do not waste too much time hunting for the switch: Every second is important.

If you cannot find the switch, try to remove the wire from the victim with a DRY broom handle, branch, pole, oar, board, or similar NONCON­DUCTING object. It may be possible to use a DRY rope or DRY clothing to pull the wire away from the victim. You can also break the contact by cutting the wire with a WOODEN-HANDLED axe, but this is extremely dangerous because the cut ends of the wire are likely to curl and lash back at you before you have time to get out of the way. When you are trying to break an electrical contact, always stand on some nonconducting material such as a DRY board, DRY newspapers, or DRY clothing. See figure 3–26.

Figure 3–26.—Moving a victim away from an electrical line.

RESCUE FROM UNVENTILATED COM­PARTMENTS.—Rescuing a person from a void, double bottom, gasoline or oil tank, or any closed compartment or unventilated space is generally a very hazardous operation. Aboard naval vessels and at naval shore stations, no person is permitted to enter any such space or compartment until a damage control officer (DCO), or some person designated by the DCO, has indicated that the likelihood of suffocation, poisoning, and fire or explosion has been eliminated as far as possible. The rescue of a person from any closed space should therefore be performed under the supervision of the DCO or in accordance with the DCO’s instructions. In general, it is necessary to observe the following precautions when attempting to rescue a person from any closed or poorly ventilated space:

An electrical apparatus or tool that might spark must never be taken into a compartment until a DCO has indicated that it is safe to do so. When electrical equipment is used (e.g., an electric blower might be used to vent a compartment of explosive vapors), it must be explosion proof and properly grounded.

If you go into a space that may contain explosive vapors, do not wear clothing that has any exposed spark-producing metal. For example, do not wear boots or shoes that have exposed nail heads or rivets, and do not wear coveralls or other garments that might scrape against metal and cause a spark.

A particular caution must be made concerning the use of the steel-wire lifeline in compartments that may contain explosive vapors. If you use the line, be sure that it is carefully tended and properly grounded at all times. When other considerations permit, you should use a rope line instead of the steel-wire lifeline when entering compartments that may contain explosive vapors.

RESCUE FROM THE WATER.—You should never attempt to swim to the rescue of a drowning person unless you have been trained in lifesaving methods—and then only if there is no better way of reaching the victim. A drowning person may panic and fight against you so violently that you will be unable either to carry out the rescue or to save yourself. Even if you are not a trained lifesaver, however, you can help a drowning person by holding out a pole, oar, branch, or stick for the victim to catch hold of, or by throwing a lifeline or some buoyant object that will support the victim in the water.

Various methods are used aboard ship to pick up survivors from the water. The methods used in any particular instance will depend upon weather conditions, the type of equipment available aboard the rescue vessel, the number of people available for rescue operations, the physical condition of the people requiring rescue, and other factors. In many cases it has been found that the best way to rescue a person from the water is to send out a properly trained and properly equipped swimmer with a lifeline.

It is frequently difficult to get survivors up to the deck of the rescuing vessel, even after they have been brought alongside the vessel. Cargo nets are often used, but many survivors are unable to climb them without assistance. Persons equipped with lifelines (and, if necessary, dressed in anti-exposure suits) can be sent over the side to help survivors up the nets. If survivors are covered with oil, it may take the combined efforts of four or five people to get one survivor up the net.

A seriously injured person should never, except in an extreme emergency, be hauled out of the water by means of a rope or lifeline. Special methods must be devised to provide proper support, both to keep the victim in a horizontal position and to provide protection from any kind of jerking, bending, or twisting motion. The Stokes stretcher (described later in this chapter) can often be used to rescue an injured survivor. People on the deck of the ship can then bring the stretcher up by means of handlines. Life preservers, balsa wood, unicellular material, or other flotation gear can be used, if necessary, to keep the stretcher afloat.