By MICHAEL N. CIAMPO
Riding in the older rigs with a sliding window separating the front of the cab from the crew cab always seemed funny to me. Why do we have a divider when communication is one of the most important tasks we need to do as a company? I’ll admit, seeing the officer’s hand banging on the window as we turned into the block or sliding the window open and hearing him say, “We’re going to work,” seems like ages ago. Now that we have open-style cabs, direct communication with the crew is more prevalent. Plus, with improved radio speakers and computer screens in the crew cab, firefighters get more information faster than in years past. However, with all this information, are we preparing ourselves for going to work when we get on scene?
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Sure, we can pull up and have nothing showing, and it’s our third time in the tour coming here for an automatic fire alarm. So, that gives you the right to leave your self-contained breathing apparatus on the rig and walk into the 24-story residential high-rise without respiratory protection? An old-timer once told me years ago: “Hey, kid, monster buildings, monster problems, be prepared!” I won’t lie to you: Maybe my coat isn’t buckled up like I’m preparing to enter the den of hell, but it’s on my back and ready to do its job.
Now that fall is here and the weather has cooled off a bit, think back: How many times did you respond in the hot summer months without all your PPE on? Maybe you got lucky at the last auto wreck and only got a small scrape on your forearm instead of a bunch of stitches from a jagged piece of metal. Hopefully, while operating on the highway, you had on your safety vest or bunker coat so the reflective striping made you more visible to the oncoming drivers who are busy gawking or trying to get their cell phones out to capture some video or a photo. Most of us are wearing dark clothing and, of course, one of our blue T-shirts from some department, and it’s dark outside. Let’s wear some PPE so the drivers can see us!
Know your tool assignment, and carry your tools on every run. It’s easy to get lazy on the nonfire runs such as a stalled elevator or a water leak. As an officer, I’ve often seen the firefighter who doesn’t want to bring a six-foot hook in because it’s easier to carry just his halligan. It will be embarrassing if we need to go to the floor above and use our hook to pull down on an elevator car and no one has a hook or if we want to poke a hole in the bathroom ceiling above the tub to let the water drain into it and not all over the floor.
Having to stand directly under the weighted floor above with a halligan to make this hole puts you in harm’s way, especially if years of water rot have weakened the floor joist. Pull bathrooms from the safety of the door frame, and be aware of a collapse potential from a heavy tub set in concrete or a thick tile floor!
Run or Walk?
Jumping off the rig and running to the building don’t always allow you to conduct a proper size-up. Do you have time to see the construction, hazards, direction of fire travel, or flame spread or read the smoke conditions as they’re changing? I think walking at a quick pace is a better option, glancing at the building and its conditions while dodging fleeing tenants and looking for potholes or uneven sidewalks. When I was in the DC Fire Department probationary fire school 33 years ago, some of the recruits were talking about “running the line” during the first day’s lunch break. I felt kind of awkward asking what that phrase meant, but they were kind enough to explain this backstep jargon meant you were assigned the nozzle position.
As the years passed, I’ve seen firefighters try to pick up speed while advancing the line as it flakes out behind them and then suddenly stop dead in their tracks when the hose or one of its butts got caught up on a car tire, newel post, or stair tread. Many times, because of limited staffing, they had to go back and release the hose from its obstruction.
Everyone on the fireground is responsible for hose. If you see a hoseline with a kink in it when you’re making your way to the scene, fix it. If you see a firefighter pulling more hose, stop and pull with him or pick up the length and move it forward. If it snags, reach down and release it. More lives are saved by a properly positioned and operating hoseline than by any other means, so do your part in getting the line into operation.
The actions of individual firefighters combined with companies on the fireground will assist us in extinguishing fire and saving lives. On each run, we have to be mentally and physically prepared to operate in hazardous environments while geared up with our tools to perform our lifesaving measures. To borrow a quote from Fire Department of New York Lieutenant Andrew Fredericks, a dear friend who perished on 9/11, “The garbage men don’t get excited when they turn the corner and see piles of garbage.” We shouldn’t either when we reach someone else’s tragedy.
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 .