By David DeStefano
With the advent of more efficient detection and notification as well as generally quicker responses, the number of “defensive on arrival” fires appears to be on the decline in many jurisdictions. However, each company must be prepared to immediately establish and operate in the defensive mode with the same efficiency as it does conducting an offensive fire attack. This article will discuss the initial actions of the first-in engine company in a defensive firefight.
With many engine companies short-staffed, providing a strong and effective attack requires that the first-in engine employ tactics that “pack the biggest punch” considering available resources. These tactics revolve around the basic function of any engine company: provide water to the fire scene, apply water to the fire, or a combination of both.
En route to the scene, the first-due engine officer should be aware of his approach route and the hydrant locations at and around the reported address. Assuming most “defensive on arrival” fires are visible from at least the beginning of the fire block, it would be prudent for that company to lay its own supply line to immediately establish an uninterrupted water supply on arrival. This option slows arrival time slightly but ensures the company will not run out of tank water while making an initial attack. Another option, especially useful when other units are arriving, is for the first-arriving engine to “put its hose in the street” by laying a dry line for the next unit to connect to the hydrant and flow water. This may be accomplished by wrapping the hydrant or nearby utility pole and laying in to the fire scene. Any other unit arriving can then make the connection or another engine company may hook up to pump the hydrant, if necessary. With an uninterrupted water supply, the company officer has numerous tactics immediately at his disposal for defensive fire attack.
Approach to the scene must include all the usual size-up factors such as truck company access, radiant heat, and collapse potential as well as overhead wires that may become involved and fall on the apparatus. Additionally, if the officer intends to use an apparatus-mounted master stream appliance, the rig must be positioned to best advantage considering the safety concerns. Knowing the effective reach of your apparatus’ mounted stream as well as the angles at which it may be employed is key in determining its effectiveness for an operation.
Many apparatus are equipped with master stream appliances that may be easily converted from fixed to portable use. All company members must be well versed in the procedure for making the appliance portable. Proper placement and securing this device according to the manufacturer’s instructions is essential to a safe operation.
A preconnected 2½ inch handline may be stretched for rapid exterior attack on locations with limited accessibility such as alleys or courtyards. The lack of maneuverability because of the size and weight of the line is less of a factor in the defensive mode. Although the benefits of the greater reach and gallons-per-minute (gpm) delivery is a great asset for quickly “darkening down” fires and remaining clear of collapse zones or high radiant heat, engine companies should drill regularly on stretching this line with normal staffing levels as well as adopting a plan to combine two companies to complete long or difficult stretches.
Some companies may be equipped with a preconnected blitz line featuring a highly portable nozzle appliance capable of flowing up to 500 gpm. This line is easily deployed with limited personnel and may be operated for offensive or defensive fire attack. The ability to bring this rate of flow quickly to an area remote from a fixed master stream may prove invaluable in keeping a fire contained to the building of origin or efficiently containing a large volume of fire at the rear of a building.
Driver/operators and officers must carefully consider their water supply before deploying any of the high-flow lines discussed above. Additionally, all company members must be proficient at operating the tools at their disposal. Efficient use of the master stream or high-flow handlines assigned to your apparatus is the key to an efficient defensive operation. The only way to build a team capable of this type of attack is to drill regularly with an emphasis on attack options for potential incidents in your jurisdiction.
David DeStefano is a 23-year veteran of the North Providence (RI) Fire Department, where he serves as a lieutenant in Ladder Co. 1. He previously served as a lieutenant in Engine 3 and was a firefighter in Ladder 1. He teaches a variety of topics for the Rhode Island Fire Academy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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