Recently, I received an e-mail from a friend who has just gotten promoted and spoke of the success his company had with a pressurized water extinguisher at a recent fire. It was quite ironic because a few days before, I was told by a firefighter where I was teaching that it was unnecessary to carry a water extinguisher on calls and that this wasn’t the big city. We engaged in some pros and cons, but he wasn’t buying my suggestions. So maybe I should let you decide if carrying a “can” is beneficial to you on a run.
FICTION: The can is too heavy to carry on all types of runs.
FACT: The can carries 2.5 gallons of water and water weighs about 8.35 pounds per gallon; add that to the weight of the vessel, and you’re hovering at about 30 pounds. Of course, a streetsmart tactic is to cut down on the water and add a little more air into the cylinder to give you a little more life expectancy while using it. Sure, the can is heavy when you’re holding it by the handle and it’s banging you in the leg while walking or climbing up stairs. So retrofit it: either create your own carrying strap or buy one that is made commercially for the can. Another useful idea is at the next auto accident where the car is totaled, cut a seat belt out and use it for a carrying strap. It not only is rugged and stands up to daily wear and tear, but it’s wide enough so that it doesn’t dig into your shoulder while you carry the can.
FICTION: The can disperses only a straight stream pattern.
FACT: Put your gloved fingertip partially over the tip of the discharge nozzle; this deflects the stream and makes a wide pattern. If you use your index finger and hook the discharge hose with your thumb, you can direct the pattern easily in many directions. Doing this prevents embers and ashes from flying in all directions when you’re extinguishing a pile of papers or leaves. Remember, if you’re going to disperse the pattern, use it on small or smoldering fires. For larger fires, use the straight stream pattern to avoid being burned with steam that you can produce when deflecting the pattern.
FICTION: The can depletes rapidly and can’t extinguish a room on fire.
FACT: Yes, it can deplete quickly if you just hold the lever down and squeeze the handle. Size up the fire: If it’s that large, try and confine it by closing the door. While waiting for the hoseline, use the can to wet down the top of the door and frame to limit the fire spread through the crack that exists between the two. Use short “bursts” (squeeze the handle for a few seconds and release it) to increase your can’s longevity. The can is controlling and confining the fire.
FICTION: You can’t use the can on flammable liquid fires.
FACT: Adding foam to the can will help you combat an oil burner fire or spread a foam blanket over the spill when a gas tank at a car fire has leaked. Know the specific type of foam you carry in your can; if you’re using aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), you can expel it with a gloved fingertip. Don’t drive a direct stream into a pool of liquid; it could force heated or flammable fluid upward, causing more extension or a firefighter injury. Many companies are now using foam in all their cans. With the amount of plastics found in today’s household, the foam adheres better to a burning plastic wastepaper receptacle and assists in smothering and extinguishment.
FICTION: The can is not a dependable tool or a multifaceted one.
FACT: With proper maintenance and care, it can save your life by extinguishing a fire before it has the chance to become a multiple alarm. It also can assist you in putting out a victim’s clothing and cooling the burn injury when you’re the first one to reach him. You can use the extinguisher’s base to ventilate a window or breach a wall if you lose your hand tool while operating. After each use, properly inspect the can for signs of damage.
FICTION: We don’t need to carry the can on every run.
FACT: Not on every run, but on any call for smoke, odors, gas leaks, automatic fire alarms, and electrical fires, someone should be carrying a can! First, we are the fire department, and citizens expect us to put out the fire on our arrival—not ask them if they have a fire extinguisher handy so we can borrow it while we wait for someone to retrieve ours. What if you run an automatic fire alarm to a warehouse and find a light smoke condition in one of the stock areas and locate an incipient fire? How easy will it be to spot that extinguisher on the wall under that employee’s coat?
Some naysayers will boast you can’t use water on an electrical fire in the wall. What about shutting the circuit breakers down and opening up the wall to extinguish fire on the studs with the can before the fire extends vertically and we burn the roof off the place?
Do you bring the can to gas leaks? We’ve been to many gas leak calls where we’ve used the can to control the extension while someone is shutting down the gas service. What about a backhoe that hits a plastic gas main? You’ll look good if you wet down a rag with the can and throw it over the plastic pipe, cutting down the friction and ignition source.
I’m going to carry one. “Can” you?
MICHAEL N. CIAMPO is a 30-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. 1510fe_112 112 9/23/15 5:08 PM