BLOWING THE BASICS
BY TOM BRENNAN
Anyone in this business who has spent any time objectively analyzing a snafu in an entire fireground operation has (almost) always been able to tie it to a breakdown in the most basic operations–operations so basic that they are listed in informational bulletins and department SOPs and evolution indexes with single digits. They are usually called Hose 1 or 2, Ladders 2, Search 1, or Communications 2 or 3 and have inception dates older than the birth dates of most current members. Rarely do we get in trouble because of a breakdown of Incident Command 9, Hazardous Materials 7, or even Electrical Emergencies 1.
Some examples follow.
Fire in a grass lot behind a “homeowner” supply warehouse extends (is pushed) into the outdoor lumber storage area behind the still-locked fence separating the new fuel supply from the weeds. Shortly it is into the “hangar-like” building, into the paint section, through the entire 450 linear feet of building, and finally out the front doors as the roof is collapsing. No one has ever stretched to or into the front door!
A room and a half of fire on the first floor becomes a third alarm because no one remembers to check for the possible presence of a shaft and its involvement in fire. The unseen fire quietly spreads from the closed shaft into 10 more apartments and the entire cockloft of the 80- by 120-foot building.
A trapped firefighter jumps from a front fire escape because he believes he has no alternative, as the rooms behind and below him are on fire. He really has no alternative because the ladder truck is forced to be out of position and down the block behind the third-arriving pumper, ambulance, and heavy rescue box.
A two-line fire in the center store of a strip mall creates a downtown parking lot because basic strategic factors of quick initial roof cutting, ventilation of the rear of the fire occupancy, rapid forcible entry, and extension examination of the exposures were performed poorly or not at all–not to mention that Command was playing catch-up with personnel and equipment the whole time!
A major city fire department burns down a Gothic cathedral because the tower ladders do not “take out” the round stained-glass rose window in the front of the church and place streams directly into the truss loft (that is the fire load, gang!). Members spend hours playing water from the exterior onto the top of the truss-supported wood and slate roof until the fire runs out of fuel (the roof and trusses) and the stained-glass rose window fails from the proximity of the fire and lack of support.
These are only some results of early mistakes on the fireground. What are some of the “fuses” (in random order) that could “blow” the entire operation?
Forcing security assemblies. These rollup steel assemblies (bars or solid) must be opened by removing locks or cutting apart the door itself. Pictures of strip store fires show up in the newspapers with evidence of failure to get these devices out of the fire problem. The biggest cause is the fact that the firefighter still believes he can force these open from the ground with a hydraulic spreading device. We only twist the assembly and make “little tent openings” along the sidewalk. This is especially true with door devices made with rods so the public can see through and into the lighted and locked store in the evening (common in enclosed malls). There are tons of pictures and videos of firefighters directing hose streams from the sidewalk through the bent and mangled bars still in place and preventing humans from entering the building.
Always stretching the preconnect! Whew, this is a mess! You cannot stretch a five-length preconnected handline up and into a top-floor fire of a four-story building (sometimes three if more than one length is taken away by distance from the pumper to the fire building)! Where does the additional length(s) get inserted when you find out that you are short some hose? Who gets it from the pumper? What about the operations above and the related risk to escaping civilians and brother firefighters assisting them while you shut down and back down? A mess!
Count the floors. Check the stair construction–one length for the building if there is a well hole and one length a floor if there is not! Add a length if there is a floor above the fire, and account for the distance from the pumping position of the apparatus to the door. Now follow Hose Stretching 1 and take what you need.
Portable ladder access removed! The second or third pumper, the rescue, the ambulance, or worse–the command car–pulls too close to the portable ladders stored in the rear of the aerial device. You cannot slide out a 20-foot ladder (35-foot extensions are also 20 feet when nested) in a 19-foot or less space! In today`s fire department, where everyone wants to send too few trucks carrying too few firefighters, these are the only ladders you have for above the second floor! You will play catch-up with the fire because of lack of venting and with human life because of poor search procedures.
Compartment blocked. How many of you needed that extra fitting for the hoseline or the other nozzle or the tool from storage and found that the side compartment containing that equipment cannot be opened because the apparatus is parked too close to other vehicles on the street? Sure, there are position emergencies that may cause this, but when this becomes routine, it is a crime.
Incorrect tools or not enough tools at a remote location. Screwed-up operations in the front of the fire building get fixed easily. But taking incorrect tools and equipment–or no tools at all–to locations remote from the apparatus causes havoc on the fireground. It`s silly for first arrivers to take more than one hook to the fire floor if the fire is not a top-floor fire. Bringing fewer than two hooks to the top-floor fire will cause us to play catch-up or abandon the floor if the fire has extended to the cockloft or attic. Roof persons at top-floor fires who do not take some type of cutting tool make a serious tactical mistake that may alter the entire strategy. And those assigned to force openings in the rear of commercial occupancies who take only one tool should have stayed home! This is not the place for the pickhead ax or the hook!
I remember seeing 16-foot pike poles in the hands of a couple of firefighters outside a one-story building in which firefighters were reported trapped. And remember, the eight-foot pike pole is the most useless tool on the truck–unless you have 10-foot ceilings and the firefighters are certified midgets!
We`re out of space but not out of mistakes. See you next time.
TOM BRENNAN has more than 33 years of fire service experience. His career spans more than 20 years with the City of New York (NY) Fire Department as well as four years as chief of the City of Waterbury (CT) Fire Department. He was the editor of Fire Engineering for eight years and currently is a technical editor. He is co-editor of The Fire Chief`s Handbook, Fifth Edition (Fire Engineering Books, 1995).