Q & A

By Michael N. Ciampo

In keeping with this issue’s theme of training, I decided to respond to some of the questions I have received in recent months about some firefighting tactics.

Question: When faced with a fully involved building, is it better to start flowing water at the upper or lower floor with a tower ladder?

Answer: A correct and logical answer would be at the upper floor so that the water would cascade down into the lower floors and extinguish more fire. However, fireground learning experiences have proven this to be wrong. Generally always start tower ladder master streams low. Quickly sweep the windows on the lowest floor, directing the stream toward the ceiling to deflect the pattern, drop the ceiling, and cover a wider area. If there is an exposure problem, work from that side first. If the bucket is equipped with a manual-handled monitor, whip it side to side and up and down as you go from window to window. If it’s an electric-driven monitor, also try and do the same, although it will take longer than doing it manually.

When you reach the end of the building, if fire is venting out toward the exposure, drive the stream back into the fire building to extinguish the flames. If necessary, work from the lowest to the highest floor and also direct the stream onto the exposure to wet it down to prevent autoexposure. Then work back toward the opposite side and continue this way until you reach the top floor. Remember, communicate to each other in the bucket when you reposition from window to window so you can quickly move the stream without bouncing it off the wall between the windows, soaking you or wasting water.

The problem with starting at the upper floors is that you have fire below you, which threatens not only your safety but also the safety of the apparatus in which you’re operating! There have been many times where the heat from the fire or direct flame impingement has burned through the hydraulic or electrical lines of the apparatus and caused the mechanism to fail. Also, operating above burning floors can expose you to a smoke explosion or an uncontrolled fire. Keep your tower ladder a safe distance from the building to penetrate the fire with your stream, and watch the building for any signs of impending collapse or other dangerous conditions.

After knocking down fire on the lower floors and while proceeding upward, the pedestal operator, bucket operator, and tower ladder officer should monitor and frequently assess the floors below. Also, the officer should keep an eye on the water runoff from the building: Pumping in a lot of water and seeing no runoff could indicate a collapse potential from the added weight!

Question: When using a “blitz attack,” do you worry about a water supply first or do you just try to achieve a quick knockdown of the fire first and then worry about a water supply source?

Answer: The “blitz attack” was an old adage used to let the “back step” know they were going to pull up and drop their tank water through their prepiped deck pipe onto a structure to attempt a quick knockdown. In recent years, other cities have used adages such as “charge the deck gun” and “drop the monitor.” The officer who calls for this tactic should already know through a mental size-up that the structure is well involved and that if using outside streams initially you will need some water as backup. So if you don’t wrap a hydrant and lay a supply line in, then as soon as you stop and begin to drop the tank water you’d better have someone hand stretching back to a reliable water source. Most master streams flow at least 250 gallons per minute, and if you only have a 500-gallon booster tank, well, you do the math—you will have two minutes of water if you’re lucky. There have also been times when the 500 gallons don’t even make a dent in the fire and then you’re scrambling to find a water source.

Size up your hydrants on the way in, or call on the radio and ask if there is a particular way you should respond, especially if you are using this type of attack to save an exposure. In this case, it may be advisable to position the apparatus at a spot where you can direct the stream at the original fire building, down the alley onto the exposure/fire building, and onto the exposure itself. When beginning to operate this stream, announce over the radio that you’re putting it into service. This prepares other units operating on the fireground for possible flying debris such as shingles, glass, masonry, and siding. It also allows any company operating near or inside the structure to withdraw to a safe location.

Some departments place a 2½-inch nozzle on the end of the monitor or prepiped master stream device so if the pump operator has to charge the device to protect people on the fire escape or an exposure from fire, all he has to do is open the discharge handle and climb up on the deck and operate it. This can help short-staffed engine companies as well.

For related video, go to http://bcove.me/ex1a6zs5

MICHAEL N. CIAMPO is a 28-year veteran of the fire service and a lieutenant in the Fire Department of New York. Previously, he served with the District of Columbia Fire Department. He has a bachelor’s degree in fire science from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. He is the lead instructor for the FDIC Truck Essentials H.O.T. program. He wrote the Ladder chapter and co-authored the Ventilation chapter for Fire Engineering’s Handbook for Firefighter I and II (Fire Engineering, 2009) and is featured in “Training Minutes” truck company videos on www.FireEngineering.com.

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