BY MICHAEL N. CIAMPO
If you’re like many of us, you are still sorting through the documentation and findings of all the recent studies and tests that numerous fire departments and agencies have performed. Whether the tests were about wind-driven fires, ventilation, staffing for high-rise residential fires, or transitional attack, reading and studying the findings, documents, videos, and Web site comments and individual responses could keep you busy for hours. Many of these studies have valuable information and can probably benefit all of us in some way, but we also have to remember that no two fires are alike and water application is still what puts fires out!
Pulling out of quarters in single-digit temperatures with a report of fire on the second floor, many of us hoped it would be something small so we wouldn’t also have to battle Mother Nature on this cold night. In the back of our minds, many of us thought that the possibility of a frozen hydrant could exist and delay our water supply. Arriving at the six-story multiple dwelling with people fleeing and carrying children in blankets, we got the impression we were going to work. When we entered the building, the engine officer reminded his crew to stand fast in the lobby with the line until the fire apartment was identified. The building had a front and rear stairwell, and stretching to the wrong one could be counterproductive.
As the truck members reached the second floor, the excited tenant was out in the hallway, pointing and yelling, “The fire’s in the first room,” and didn’t answer our question, “Was anyone inside?” Kneeling down, we opened the door and saw the orange glow under the thermal layers of smoke in the first room on the right. The truck officer radioed the engine to use the front stairwell, turn left off the second-floor stairs, and come down to the last apartment on the right-the fire was in the first room on the right. A simple transmission told the engine where to go to operate and told the units going to the floor above where the apartment was and where to check for extension.
Entering the apartment and proceeding to the first room, we saw fire engulfing half the room and rolling across the ceiling toward us; a few quick shots of water from the pressurized water extinguisher didn’t knock the fire down completely but put a slight damper on it. Our next tactic was to close the door to the room and leave the can man at the door. He would control the fire by closing the door and use the water left in the can to hit any flames that would expel through the small space between the top of the door and the frame. Initially, he sprayed the area to make it wet and less likely for the flames to ignite the materials. As the remaining members of the forcible entry team went past the fire room, they reminded him to radio them if the fire got worse or burned through the door or when his extinguisher was nearly empty.
Going past the now “controlled” fire and searching the remaining rooms of the apartment were well worth the risk vs. reward in our minds. In our response area, illegally subdivided single-room occupancies are always prevalent, and what if the tenant was unsure of who was in the apartment in the first place? Having the door to the fire room closed and a radio-equipped firefighter there with a water extinguisher, an engine company with a 500-gallon booster tank of water stretching a line to the second floor was enough “insurance” for us to make a search past the fire. In addition, we were working toward the front of the building and were counting on the chauffeur to raise the tower ladder to cover the windows in the front or throat while other members positioned portable ladders at other windows.
Our primary search proved negative, and we got back safely to our original position near the fire room door. The fire began to blow through the top crack of the door more violently, and the outside vent firefighter asked permission to vent the fire room’s window. He was told to NOT take the windows yet, and he replied, “10-4, and the room is glowing orange.” The can was almost completely empty and the upper door frame had started to ignite; luckily, the engine was now at the apartment door. The truck members left the apartment, allowing the engine to have unimpeded access to the fire room through the narrow hallway. The engine officer called for water and, once the line was bled, they began their advance, first knocking down the fire on the ceiling in the hallway. As they opened the door to the fire room and began to operate, the officer called for the window to be taken, and the sounds of broken glass could be heard throughout the apartment. The coordinated process went off without a hitch, and the fire was knocked down.
During our critique, the outside vent firefighter related how he didn’t notice any wind conditions while operating on the outside fire tower but if he did he would have informed us and the incident commander of the situation. Throughout this fire, communications existed among all units, allowing a proper size-up for tactical considerations and operations to take place. Sure, we can learn from each fire and each new study, but we’d better start with a back-to-basics approach and communicate so we can say, “Happy Old and New Procedures!”
For related video, go to (http://bcove.me/9b4lfkd9)
MICHAEL N. CIAMPO is a 28-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 Ladder chapter and coauthored the Ventilation chapter for Fire Engineering’s Handbook for Firefighter I and II (Fire Engineering, 2009) and is featured in “Training Minutes” truck company videos on www.FireEngineering.com.
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