ENGINE COMPANY OPERATIONS
BY BOB PRESSLER
Photo 1. As the officer of the first-arriving engine company, you must make many decisions that will determine the outcome of the firefight in which you are about to engage. With your company, you must determine where to position the apparatus, how you will establish a water supply, which size handline to use (or a master stream), and where to put the line in operation. Your size-up of the fire`s extent and location in the building is critical to the safety of your crew and any trapped occupants.
The fire in this photo involves a heavy fire condition showing from two windows on the exposure 2 side of this large, 212-story, wood-frame building. As you approach the fire building, you start your mental size-up. Your department uses a fire-to-hydrant stretch. The engine will stop in front, and the crew will remove enough hose to stretch into the building.
Your team today consists of all young personnel. What do you tell them as you stretch the first line? How much hose will the company need? How tough a fire are you facing? How hard will it be to get the line into position? Will booster tank water be enough for a quick knockdown, or should you wait for the hydrant supply?
Although this is a serious-looking fire, the actual engine company operations are quite simple. From the front of the house at the curb, the stretch to get the first line into operation is a relatively easy one. The main entrance to the house is on the righthand side of the photo. Once you are inside the main entrance, the stairs to the second floor are right there. The stairs run from front to rear, terminating just past the midpoint of the house but more toward the rear. This puts the top of the stairs opposite the fire room.
If the door to this room is in the open position, the fire will most likely be out into the hallway on the second floor. If this is the case, the handline may have to be operated from several steps down from the top. Once the fire is out of the room of origin and into the public hall, you must think about where the fire will be spreading. If there is an attic stairway and that door is in the open position, expect the fire to rapidly move in that direction. If that door is closed, the fire will spread toward any other supply of oxygen. This may be an open window in an adjoining room or toward the fresh air coming up the stairs behind the advancing companies.
If the door is partially or completely closed, the line can be advanced to almost the top step. The width of the stairs and the number of personnel trying to ascend the stairs at one time will affect how far the line can advance. If the door is completely closed, the engine officer or a member of the truck company will have to open it. The line should be charged, the air bled, and the company prepared to advance before the door is opened.
What about water supply? Could tank water be enough to knock down this fire? A lot depends on the condition of the fire building itself. If the door is closed, and the plaster and lath is in good condition, this fire is probably still just a room-and-contents fire. If the fire is out in the hall or has extended into the void spaces, then the chase is on. A properly stretched 134-inch handline flowing 175 gpm is more than sufficient to knock down this fire. No matter what fire flow formula you may use, this fire is within the capabilities of a 134-inch handline, as long as it is properly pumped.
As the company arrives at the fire floor, check to see how much fire is in the hallway. As long as the fire is not out the door and up the stairs and already into the attic, call for tank water. The 500-gallon tank on the engine is plenty to attack this fire as the pump operator hooks up to the hydrant. If your operator is good and properly trained, you should have continuous water before the tank runs dry.
Where is the proper location for the officer? Some departments say the officer should remain outside and be the incident commander until relieved by the next-arriving officer. This may work fine in some locations, but with a young, somewhat inexperienced crew, why would you leave the person in charge away from the members who are in the most danger? If the engine company is stretching a handline to the interior of a burning building, then the officer should be with the crew. The entire company is relying on the officer`s knowledge, experience, and decision making. The officer should be where the attack is being made with the members of the company.
Photo 2. The engine company arrives on the scene to find heavy fire showing from the three front windows of this 212-story frame building. From the exterior, it is hard to tell whether the building is occupied or vacant. A quick look in the front door shows that the stairs are already burning and the fire is out into the public hall. Heavy fire has at least two rooms burning; the fire has extended into the hallway and is rapidly extending to the rear rooms and the attic.
How is this fire different from the one in the first photo? What tactics should you, the first-due engine officer, employ? Why will this be a tougher fire for your engine crew?
For starters, there is a heavier body of fire in this house than there was in the first. Where the first fire had maybe one room and the hall, this fire has at least two rooms and the hallway all heavily in-volved. In this fire, the run of the stairs does not help the operation; it actually hinders handline movement. As the company advances up the stairs, members must knock down the fire directly in front of them in the hallway. They must then turn the line 180 degrees to drive the fire back toward the rooms of origin. But the position of the doors to the front rooms will prevent complete knockdown. As they advance up the stairs, the line has to remain in operation, or the fire will continue to roar out into the hall.
Once the engine has made the second-floor landing, members must bend the line back toward the front to continue toward the front rooms. The tight staircase in this house, which is slightly smaller than the house in the first fire, will make operating on it difficult. It will also make the use of a 212-inch handline difficult at best. There is just not enough room to make the bends and turns with the big line. The amount of fire, depending on the experience of the crew, may make this a tough push with the 134-inch line, but two rooms and a hallway are well within the extinguishing capabilities of this size line. This is another reason for the officer to be with the crew.
One possible difference in this fire is that the company officer may wait for hydrant water before making a push. With the two rooms and hallway involved and the need for the line to keep flowing water as the company makes the turns to get onto the second-floor landing, the 500 gallons may not last long enough to knock down most of the fire. Again, much depends on the experience and resolve of the officer and crew.
Both of these fires are “everyday” fires–a couple of rooms in private houses. Are you prepared to attack these fires? If there are trapped victims, are you sure that your company is ready to make the stretch and push into the house? This is America`s true fire problem. More civilians and firefighters are killed in these fires than in any other type. This is where we should be making the difference. How comfortable are you with your department`s operations at such fires? n
n BOB PRESSLER, a 23-year veteran of the fire service, recently retired as a lieutenant with Rescue Company No. 3 of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY). He created and produced the videos Peaked-Roof Ventilation and SCBA Safety and Emergency Procedures for the Fire Engineering video series “Bread and Butter” Operations. Pressler has an associate`s degree in fire protection engineering from Oklahoma State University, is a frequent instructor on a wide range of fire service topics, and is a member of a volunteer department.