With the whirlwind of activity across the country and discussions about research and tactics, the fire service at times seems to be at odds with itself. Trying to soak in all this information on recent developments can be overwhelming to say the least. A lot of new material has come forth, but a lot has remained the same. Sticking with “back to basics” techniques will allow us to continue our mission to save lives and extinguish fires.
360° Size-Up. When performing this, don’t forget to add one important ingredient: Try to physically look inside. Whether that involves opening up a door or looking into a window, don’t just walk around and view the outside. Maybe you can locate an alternate means of stretching to the seat of the fire. There have been times when fire was blowing out a second-floor rear window of a two-story dwelling and there was total visibility right up to the top of the stairway. Stretching right through the front door and up the stairs takes a lot less time than stretching around two parked cars, the swing set, and patio chairs.
Also, look at the eaves. If you have a solid soffit, chances are you won’t have rapid extension by this route. If you have a vinyl soffit, then you’re probably going to have some extension into the attic if you don’t act quickly. Remember, it’s your job to size up the fire and perform the correct tactic.
Door Control. Confining the fire may be as simple as closing a door to the room involved. In today’s modern dwellings with open floor plans, fire, heat, and gases can rapidly reach the upper floor. Closing a door to the room when performing vent-enter-search tactics isolates that room to protect you while searching.
Also, “Look, Listen, and Sweep” before you just close the door. Look under and into the smoke (with a thermal imaging camera); try to see room layouts or doorways and heat conditions. Maybe you’ll even see a victim or obstructions or locate the fire. Listen for the sounds of the fire crackling or victims moaning for help. Sweep behind the door. Is someone behind the primary escape route or is there a wall, hallway, hidden room, or stairwell behind the door?
Hoseline Management. As the first line goes, so does the fire. If you end up stretching short or have the wrong size line, an operation can go sour fast. Remember, “Big Fire/Big Water.” Pull the larger-diameter hose, and don’t rely on the normal stretch for every fire. If you’re using preconnects, you had better train or have an alternate means of extending your stretch; this could be in the form of a dedicated bed of hose on the apparatus (2½- or three-inch hose with a gated wye at the end) or having folded hose (standpipe rack) available.
Another important part of this process is reducing kinks. You never hear after a job, “Who chased the kinks?” We can call for increased pressure all we want, but if there’s a bunch of kinks in the line, you still won’t get what you’re asking for! It’s everyone’s job to touch hose that has kinks or a coupling stuck on a stair tread or door frame.
Search. Try to always search in teams of two and work together; freelancing alone can often end badly. When searching, listen to your surroundings: Hearing a tool slide across a sill onto a tile floor on the second floor could mean you found the bathroom. Sweep inside the tub with a tool; remember, many seek shelter in a tub or use it as a plumbing device in vacant buildings (oops, they’re occupied if squatters are in them!).
Also sweep the walls. If you hear the sound of plastic blinds or glass, you’ve most likely found a window, which could quickly become one of your emergency escape routes. Yes, I know it could be a fish tank, china cabinet, or mirror-I’ve vented one of those before-but use your hands to try and identify it! Remember, hooking a boot on the door frame of the room and just sweeping in with a tool isn’t a primary search. If conditions are tough, have your partner remain at the door and monitor conditions while you search the room. Get up on the bed, and don’t forget to sweep under it and above it-maybe it’s bunk beds; and, if you find a closet, search it! Once you’re done, proceed to the next room.
If you’re searching with a halligan, prop it up with the adz and pike, forming a tepee. As you move forward, slide the tool; if it drops into a hole or over a stair, it will pin your hand to the floor. In this case, stop immediately and sweep cautiously in front of you with the tool or your leg to identify what you’ve encountered.
Ventilate. “Communicate and coordinate” ventilation efforts-this is as important today as it was in years past. When you take the fire room’s windows or open a bulkhead door, coordinate it with the search team or hoseline. If you’re the one outside, stop for a second and think: Is the wind blowing back at the building or in your face, especially if you’re on the upper floor of a high-rise residential dwelling? Will your conditions have an adverse effect on the crews operating inside? It’s not just about breaking windows; it’s about releasing the by-products of combustion from the structure.
Don’t abandon vertical ventilation, either. An attic or cockloft fire is producing deadly and explosive smoke and gases in that space. Cutting a vent hole to allow the smoke and gases to flow outward is much better than having the ceiling blow back down on you!
No two calls are alike. If you hear the words “never” and “always,” chances are you aren’t listening.
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.
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