Redundancy

The goal of being redundant in our firefighting operations and tactics is to quickly recover from an unexpected mishap, says Mike Ciampo.
ON FIRE by MICHAEL N. CIAMPO

Redundancy takes on many forms in our line of work. Often, we have a backup plan in place that’s there for our overall safety. Let’s look at some of these items and discuss the basics that work for us.

#1: Start a Second Line

Whenever we arrive at a “working” structure fire, we’ll stretch an initial attack line. It’s the main hoseline that we advance to the seat of the fire. To protect the first line, we should immediately stretch a second hoseline without being ordered. It is there to back up the first line if fire conditions warrant it; if the initial line experiences a burst length, the backup line can replace it; and if fire extends to an upper floor or adjacent area, you can advance the backup line to that position. Sure, you can handle most fires with one line, but our redundancy prepares us for those times when one line can’t handle the job alone.

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#2: Ladders

You must position portable ladders to the structure to provide firefighters with a secondary means of egress from the upper floors. You can also use them to access an upper floor when fire has control of the open interior stairs and you must perform a search. Even if you can gain access from the interior, if you find victims on an upper floor, it may be more practical to remove them from the structure with the ladder. We’re not subjecting the victims to more smoke inhalation or injuries from being dragged down the stairways or through hot and smoldering debris. In today’s fire service, we stress the importance of getting quick water on a fire; truck companies should focus on quick removal of victims to increase their chances of survival.

#3: Securing a Positive Water Source

When operating at a fire, engine company chauffeurs look for a positive and uninterrupted source of water. Lately, there has been much discussion about whether you initially hit a hydrant and lay a supply line or just pull up and use tank water to attack the rapidly advancing fire. Dictating that we shouldn’t lay a supply line into the building isn’t the job of the “social media consultants.” That job lies solely with the first-due engine officer after his size-up of the conditions encountered. If he thinks they’d be better off pulling up and stretching and having a second-due engine lay a supply line back to the hydrant or have its “booster tank backup,” then it’s his decision. No one is going to fault a first-due officer if he stops and wraps a supply line around a hydrant 500 feet away from a Queen Anne home with fire blowing out the first-floor window and a similar type of structure across a narrow alleyway. The officer is already sizing up the balloon-frame construction and the fire’s rapid advance into the attic with knee walls. The offensive plan may be to flow the monitor nozzle onto the exposure to prevent extension while stretching the first attack line. As all this is unfolding, the second-due engine has picked up the hydrant and is ready to supply the first-due engine. Staffing, fire conditions, structure type, and immediate life hazard can all dictate the methods of securing a positive water source. If we’re able to conquer it with tank water, that’s great; but, if we’re not, that may be a losing proposition.

#4: Opening Up

Rekindle is a nasty word to most of us, and we all hope we’ll never fall victim to this villain. When we are opening up the walls, ceilings, or even floors, we must ensure we open up the area until we come across no charring in the bays adjacent to the area we’ve opened up. Is this a little redundant since we have thermal imaging cameras (TICs) to help us expose extending and hidden pockets of fire? Insulation or multiple ceilings (a drop ceiling a foot below a tin and plaster and lath ceiling) can render the TIC unable to locate hidden or smoldering fires. We must remain vigilant and use our senses when we’re opening up and not solely rely on our tools. Open up until you feel confident there is no more smoldering or extending fire.

#5: Radio Communication

A little trick of the trade to help radio communication from the tower ladder bucket to the officer of the unit is to have one firefighter in the bucket switch to an alternate radio channel (other than the primary tactical or command channel). The officer or another member in the vicinity and on the ground will now have direct communication to the bucket. Now, one of the members in the bucket can speak freely with the officer without cutting off communication on the tactical channel. Important information such as an imminent collapse can be directed toward the incident commander on one channel while less pertinent information like the stream is missing the target can be solely communicated between the officer and the bucket. Sure, there’s an intercom from the pedestal to the bucket, but this secondary method of communication works wonders.

#6: Training

All company officers and training officers are charged with developing and producing meaningful drills that involve hands-on training, tabletop exercises, lectures, or discussions. What may seem like the basics to some aren’t always the basics to others. Redundancy in drilling with tools, equipment, and appliances is what keeps firefighters’ skills sharp. In an instant, fireground conditions can change and a skill set has to be put to immediate use. Only when firefighters are familiar with and competent in the skill will they be able to perform it properly while under pressure or when the odds are against them. Prepare today for what tomorrow may bring you.

The goal of being redundant in our firefighting operations and tactics is to quickly recover from an unexpected mishap. Let’s hope those are few and far between.


MICHAEL N. CIAMPO is a 35-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 International Truck Essentials H.O.T. program. He wrote the Ladders and Ventilation chapters for Fire Engineering’s Handbook for Firefighter I and II (Fire Engineering, 2009) and the Bread and Butter Portable Ladders DVD and is featured in “Training Minutes” truck company videos on www.FireEngineering.com.

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