Cohesive Operations

by MICHAEL N. CIAMPO

Have you ever taken up from a fire or an emergency scene and your mind begins to replay the incident numerous times? While you are driving home with the car radio playing, lying in your bed, or sitting in your favorite chair with the television on, you zone out and replay the incident over and over in your head, questioning your actions or tactics and self-critiquing. Sometimes you are happy with what you did but wish you had done one more thing to make it perfect, while other times you beat yourself up if things didn’t go according to your plan. We’ve all been trained up to standards and continue to train throughout our careers, but every fire or incident is different, so our tactical thoughts and actions may be different because of our size-up and experience levels.

After a long night tour of running the roads and watching the “Bronx Sunrise,” we smelled the aroma of coffee, bacon, and eggs as we backed into quarters. A few members were going home after a sleepless 24 and took up immediately when they saw their relief. Of course, there was the sarcastic chatter about beauty sleep and certain “black cloud” firefighters who are known to get these busy and unusual kinds of nights.

As the daily equipment and tool checks were completed, the runs just kept coming in. The alarm tones blurted out: “Engine, Ladder, Battalion” while the housewatch firefighter announced, “Second due all around—caller states fire,” and then read the address as lunch was being dished out. Everyone geared up, but there was no sense of urgency; maybe the barrage of calls had worn most of our excitement levels down. Plus, the run ticket information wasn’t so urgent, and too many times it was just some child calling 911 and turned out to be a false alarm.

As we began our route and made a turn onto a major thoroughfare, heading down a hill, we noticed a column of smoke in the distance. It was hard to judge the color of smoke, but as we got near the location its color kept changing from a light gray to a darker gray. The chauffeur blurted out, “We’re going to work.”

The first-due truck was on scene but was blocked out by double-parked cars; luckily, their owners returned to move their cars, but it still took a few members to get the rigs into position because of overhead obstacles. The working fire signal was transmitted for a fire on the top floor of this “E”-shaped multiple dwelling.

As we entered the block, the dispatcher was getting reports of people trapped in the fire apartment. The hoseline stretch was going to be difficult because there were return stairs with no well in the “A” and “C” wings and no windows in the hallways to initiate a quick rope stretch up the front of the building. Because of these factors, two engine companies would have to stretch the first hoseline up six flights.

As we climbed the stairs, we noticed the fire apartment’s line was right next to the stair. Glancing up to the top floor, we noticed the smoke was beginning to bank down and visibility was limited. Although our second-due duties consisted of searching the adjoining apartments and public hallway, we had a minor change of plan. We stopped on the floor below and forced the door, entering the apartment. We saw the room layout and radioed the information to the first-due truck.

We then proceeded to the top floor and forced the two adjoining apartments; both had light to moderate smoke conditions, and our searches proved negative. As we came out of those apartments, we could see that the hoseline hadn’t reached the top floor yet and the first-due truck needed a second pressurized water can. We gave them our can so they could try and control the fire as they continued to search for the trapped occupants.

As we handed off the can, the nozzle firefighter reached the top floor with the horseshoe folded 50-foot section of hose. We helped him flake out the lead length in the public hallway as the backup firefighter was working his way up the stairs flaking the line out. Once the line was in position and waiting to be charged, the rest of the public hallway needed to be searched, even though there were smoke doors present (self-closing doors in the public hallway, normally separating wings in large buildings).

We went through the first smoke door and located the fire apartment’s elderly tenant leaning up against a rear-facing window. Seeing soot stains around her mouth and nose and bloodshot eyes, we informed command that we had a victim who was going to need medical attention. Even though the smoke wasn’t as heavy on the other side of the smoke door, the carbon monoxide levels were still a hazard. The victim wasn’t mobile on her feet, so we brought her down to the floor below, where emergency medical services came up with their equipment and a stair chair to treat the woman.

Meanwhile, the engine put water on the fire and extinguished the large living room. As we regrouped and went back up to the fire floor, we assisted the first-due truck with searches and overhauled in hoarding conditions. Afterward, we held an informal critique in front of the building, discussing the value of the following tactics:

  • Providing the layout to the first-due truck because of the hoarding conditions they faced was key.
  • Letting another company have our can allowed them to control the fire or hold it back as members performed a search for a reported life hazard.
  • Searching the entire public hallway led us to the victim.
  • Having a 50-foot lead section of hose properly flaked out on the fire floor enabled it to cover the fire apartment.

This incident was proof that cohesive company operations are vital to all operations.

MICHAEL N. CIAMPO is a 33-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 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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  • MICHAEL N. CIAMPO  is a 33-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.

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