BY TOM BRENNAN
I still sit here for hours. This column would take all of 10 minutes to write for the past bunch of years once I figured out what I wanted to say. But now I sit.
Fire Department of New York ghosts of the Past, the Present, and the Future sit all over the room telling stories, rattling hooks and axes, repairing nozzles and couplings, and telling stories and more stories. It is so hard to think normally and return to some respectful sense of order and to try to create herein what was when what was will never be the same. But, being what and who we are (to us), I will try to get on with communication for the good (or not) of all the “job.”
I thought that getting simple again would do it-that a few simple thoughts about what we do so often could open a path for some routine, at least in this column. So that is it then-let’s return for a moment to the K-I-S-S rules for all of us structure firefighters. To put it another way, what simple thought could make a problem tactic become easier to accomplish or help prevent injury while operating?
Position the apparatus at the fire scene. We are really talking here about the first truck and the first two engine companies. There are tons of theories, folktales, standard operating procedures, regulations, and procedures, but the one thing that will help all of the chauffeurs and officers, too, out there is to simply slow down!
There is so much to think of as you approach and enter the fire block. There is twice as much routine scenery to take in, not to mention the fire condition you are approaching. How can you do any of it if your only concern is not hitting the unit in front of you when it stops? So slow down, and give the size-up thought process a chance to build up its speed. Where are the hydrants? Where is the truck coming from? Where are the trees? What side of the street has the wires? Where are the hoselines? Do I need this aerial? Where is the fire building? Where in the building is the fire? Whew! (And that is only a light brush on impact factors.) Slow down!
Suppose you can’t see? Funny, this remark. I remember that some firefighters said they had trouble seeing because the facepieces that they had on were scratched. Shoot! Ya’ll must be going to different fires today-seeing was not one of the senses available on our firegrounds! With the joke aside, we are still suffering severe injuries and worse from falls into holes that were there before the fire, walking off roofs that were not in line with the others, tripping in hallways, and falling down stairs and through banister railings. The common thread here is all were reported by the injured with the statement ” ellipse and visibility was zero!” The simple rule for all time here is: If you can’t see, crawl!
That means crawl on the sidewalk, on the roof, in the yard, on the fire floors, and on the floors above the fire. If you are crawling, nothing structural will surprise you enough to “alter your intended path of travel.”
You’re burning, and you are in or near a staircase or on a ladder. That is not the time to plan. If the first time you think of what you would do is when you are burning, you have too many chances to make that one remaining move, and it may not be the best, to say the least. If it is too hot as you ascend, always go down! Some of you may be laughing and thinking, What the heck is wrong with him? But, I have seen firefighters worsen their injuries as they ascend the ladder after the fire had blown out under them or try to get up the gooseneck of the fire escape they are using or the scuttle ladder from the top floor to the roof. The trick of success in searching the floor above the fire is to ascend the stairs rapidly (especially the top three treads and risers). It should get cooler on the landing; if not, jump back down! It is not an automatic reaction. You have to think to plan to think!
Hoselines make the upper floors but are not moving so well. Where is the hose? Probably in a bunch at the top step of the front door. The simple rule here for the officer is, If you are on your landing and you can see all the firefighters assigned to your engine, you are guaranteed to run out of hose!
What portable ladder do you take? What portable ladder do you use (physically) more than any other ladder? The answers to both of these questions are the same. The sad part is that it almost always results in improper or impossible laddering procedures. The answer is, “The one on the top of the pile!”
The simple rule is to put the ladder that is most effective in your response area on top!
One of the most confusing times for most of us is when we find real victims at real fire windows; our mentality is shattered. We almost always get the wrong size ladder against the building in the “not really best” position. Rearrange your ladders for firefighting, not for parades or the hold-down devices the manufacturer is forcing you to use.
Well, this was easier than I thought, but the ghosts are back now and are calling out names.
TOM BRENNAN has more than 36 years of fire service experience. His career spans more than 20 years with the Fire Department of New York as well as four years as chief of the 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). He is the recipient of the 1998 Fire Engineering Lifetime Achievement Award. Brennan is featured in the video Brennan and Bruno Unplugged (Fire Engineering/FDIC, 1999).