Investigation-Mode

By Paul Dow

When responding to any fire call, it is important to ask yourself, “What is the fire problem?” This is easier for some calls than others. Identifying the fire problem is usually easier when you arrive at a working fire (smoke and flames showing) versus a situation that requires some degree of investigation. These calls may be smoke alarms, odor of smoke, or any other fire alarm where the fire problem is not immediately apparent. When you are on one of these calls, more than likely you’re operating in an “investigation mode.” During these situations it is imperative that crews not become complacent. When crews anticipate getting cancelled while en route or show up to the call unprepared to take any action, the outcome can be catastrophic and lead to serious consequences. Firefighters must be prepared to go to work on every call. Whether your fire department has one engine company responding or an entire first alarm assignment, you need to identify the fire problem and be prepared to do something about it.

When was the last time you and your crew trained to respond to a call that required an investigation-mode? Most crews would rather train to respond to calls where the fire problem is quite obvious, but the truth is either call can have fatal results if the crews responding are not adequately prepared. Before you respond to the next investigation-mode call, make sure your crew is ready. While en route and upon arrival to such calls, every member must size up the structure – not just the officer. Once on scene, all firefighters entering the structure must wear full complement of PPE and carry some basic tools/equipment with which to work.

The following is based on an investigation-mode situation with four firefighters on the apparatus.

Firefighters entering the structure should have at a minimum (but not belimited to): full bunker gear including helmet, hood and gloves, SCBA with mask, a personal flashlight, and a portable radio. The Driver of the apparatus may remain outside, depending on you department’s SOGs, to assist with additional equipment, connect to an FDC, or deploy an aerial device. The officer should bring along a forcible entry tool along with a thermal imaging camera if the apparatus is equipped with one.

Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3
Figure 4
The first firefighter should carry both a 2.5-gallon pressurized water extinguisher and a hook/pike pole (Figure 1). Attach a strap to the extinguisher to make it easier to carry. This extinguisher will put out most incipient stage fires and may hold larger fires in check until a hose line is stretched. Remember, if you’re not prepared to remedy the situation, i.e. didn’t bring any tools/equipment, then you’re just a well-dressed spectator on a fire scene. Along with the extinguisher this firefighter should bring a six-foot hook/pike pole. This tool will prove invaluable while searching a structure for the fire problem. No firefighter should ever walk into a room to investigate for signs of fire without first checking the ceiling above. With a six-foot hook/pike pole, one firefighter can easily lift a ceiling tile up to check the truss space and then replace it without any damage.

The second firefighter should carry a set of irons (Figure 2). Ensure the set doesn’t comprise just any halligan bar and axe tied together, but is a true set of working forcible entry tools. The halligan is a single piece of forged steel, 30 inches long, and weighs nine pounds. The flat head axe weighs eight pounds and should have overstrike protection (12-14 gauge wire wrapped around the handle six inches below the head and then wrapped with electrical tape) around the handle. To marry them, use a Velcro or seatbelt strap. Once the two tools are correctly joined together wedge two wooden chocks inside the strap (Figures 3 and 4). The chocks will help wedge the irons tightly together until you need to use them. Additionally, once you force open a door you will have a chock readily available.

With a full complement of PPE and a few basic tools, you and your crew will be prepared to adequately work in an investigation-mode situation and identify the fire problem. Although these tools may not meet the needs of every situation, they are a great starting point for any fire company. At least you’ll have the ability to do something to mitigate the problem, even if the call turns out to be a false alarm.

Paul Dow has more than nine years of fire service experience, and is a promoted Driver/Firefighter serving with the Albuquerque Fire Department (A.F.D.) since 2000. He is an IFSAC Firefighter II and Instructor I, and is currently assigned to the A.F.D. Training Academy, instructing new recruits and field personnel.

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