In support of smooth bore (tips) nozzles

In support of smooth bore (tips) nozzles

This refers to Bill Nemick’s “The Constant-Pressure, Variable-Gallonage Combination Nozzle” (Fire Engineering, October 2015).

Although automatic nozzles have their place in the fire service, in my opinion, they are no substitute for fixed orifice smooth bore (tip) nozzles during aggressive, offensive structural firefighting operations. The direct method of hoseline attack using smooth bore nozzles is the procedure of choice for the Fire Department of New York and many other prominent fire departments in the United States. Smooth bore nozzles are effective by creating little disruption to the heated products of combustion. At the same time, they reduce heat generation by extinguishing the fire at its base and interfering with the burning process at its point of origin. This practice also halts the upward release of additional heat, smoke, and gases. The solid stream, with more mass than the “hollow” straight stream produced by an automatic nozzle, generates far less steam as it travels through a heated enclosure on the way to the fire. This is a good thing. Steam generation lessons the chance of survival for building occupants and delays search and rescue operations. It burns exposed and protected skin and hinders engine company firefighters from advancing on the fire.

A solid stream aimed at the ceiling for a brief moment allowing large droplets to rain down on the fire will noticeably lower the temperature of a room and prevent flashover without introducing an untenable environment. Moreover, the low working pressure of the smooth bore nozzle allows the firefighter “on the knob” to work the stream over all six sides of the fire area, enabling final extinguishment.

The solid stream of water emitted from a fixed orifice smooth bore nozzle facilitates our success for many reasons: simplicity, low working pressure, high water volume, low nozzle reaction, long reach, minimal air movement, quick fire knockdown, excellent penetrating power-and, most importantly, it is victim friendly.

Ronald R. Spadafora
Assistant Chief
Fire Department of New York

Confessions of an inmate firefighter

“Wow, man,” said the contract firefighter, handing me a one-inch lateral hose from his engine. “I can’t believe you guys make only six bucks a day! And you guys are the hardest working crews out here.”

We had been mopping up the Stouts Creek fire for two weeks-a wildfire in Southern Oregon (caused by a lawnmower) that had scorched 26,367 acres. We worked side-by-side with contract and government fire crews in an effort to suppress one of the biggest fires Oregon saw in the 2015 fire season. We were exhausted from the 14-hour days; rough, near vertical terrains; and light, fitful sleep.

I took the lateral hose and the reducers from the young, thin-faced engine crew boss, who reluctantly admitted to making $300 a day (at this point in the fire). My face, smeared with dirt and ash from the hot spot we were mucking out with hand tools for the past hour, had to grin at his embarrassment.

We were dressed the same. We both wore Nomex®, the standard yellow long-sleeved shirts. We had pulaskis, McClouds, and hazel hoes. We punched in miles of handline, sometimes two feet or less from the flames. We lived at fire camp with the civilian and government crews. We worked side-by-side with them on the fire line. We gridded, potato patched. We dropped hazardous snags with chainsaws. We were called from district to district at the behest of the incident commander. We ate the same food, under the same tent. In a sense, we were the same-but at the same time, very different. I took the hardware he handed me and returned down the hill to the two other inmate crew members who awaited water support. Several minutes later, there was a crater under the smoldering tree stump and an ice mud-cap where embers once existed.

I fought fire for the Oregon Department of Corrections partnered with the Oregon Department of Forestry for two seasons while serving a four-year prison sentence for assault. While aware of the pathetic little money we were making risking our lives and working our fingers to the bone, I learned valuable skills and, through the experience, felt that I was giving back to the society my actions had wronged and from which I had removed myself.

When I sense outrage and shock in the faces of the contract crews who hear how little we make for the work we do, I remember that I could have been sitting in a prison cell in the penitentiary. I think a lot of inmate firefighters feel the same way. We work hard because we are grateful. We work hard because we are fallen and in need of redemption in the eyes of our community. We work hard because we were given the opportunity. We work hard not because we can support our families with the income but support the mentality we will need if we are to make it when we are released back into society as ex-convicts, a disadvantaged minority group.

Inmate fire crews carry with them a sense of pride in the midst of much shame. It becomes a balancing act, a foot in the right direction of restoring our image. I have been out of prison for a little under a month, and I plan on joining up with a contract crew this summer and making some real money. I feel thankful for the experience and the skills I received this summer.

So next time you encounter inmate firefighters on the fire line and they ask you for a can of chew or a cigarette, forgive us. We are just trying to feel normal.

Joshua Bligh
Vancouver, Washington


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