LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

Getting the hoseline to the fire floor

I read with great interest “Hoseline Operations for Residential Fires” by Captain Bill Gustin (Fire Engineering, April 2007). The article had a lot of great information, but I must take great exception to one tactic he mentioned-that is, using a utility rope to bring a hoseline into the fire-floor window from the outside when it is known that the door to a fire apartment is controlled. I don’t agree with this tactic. Should there be a water problem, for any reason, and the crews are be pushed back out into the hallway and have to follow the hoseline out to safety, they will have only a window instead of a stairway to lead them to the floor below.

The better alternative is to find a window near the stairwell on the floor below the fire floor, or even a window on the mid-landing of the stairs, and bring your line in this way. You can still stretch dry by bundling one length and using this as your “carry length” to the fire apartment. This way, the hose stretch is in a protected area, and there is a fall-back point if there is a water problem or if wind and fire conditions force the members off the fire floor. Hauling a line up the side of the building is a great tactic, but bringing the line into a window on the fire floor is the equivalent of hooking up to a standpipe outlet on the fire floor. You just don’t do it!

As an added safety measure, you should access an area of refuge in the form of an apartment between the fire apartment and the stairwell on the same side as the fire apartment. This should be a mandatory standard operating procedure in all Class 1 and 2 multiple dwellings.

Stairwell operations, including standpipe operations, are personnel intensive. My department has three-person engine companies. We work with low-staffing situations all the time. A fire on an upper floor may need the teaming of two engines. Taking shortcuts in the name of short staffing is a recipe for disaster.

Russ Chapman
Lieutenant
Milford (CT) Fire Department

Bill Gustin responds: I assumed that if there are windows in the hallway of a center hallway building that they will be located at the stair landing of an open stairway or at the ends of a hallway in a building with enclosed stairways. Hence, I assumed that windows will be located in or next to the stairways. From Russ Chapman’s letter, I see now that that may not always be the case.

Hoisting hose from windows that do not lead to a stairway places firefighters at greater risk-no argument there. Is this risk justified? That depends on the extent to which fire is threatening occupants. I cannot entirely rule out the use of a window remote from a stairway if occupants are in extreme danger and that window is the only means to get water on the fire quickly.

There is an advantage to not stretching a hoseline up a stairway. If a stairway is enclosed, the fire door separating it from the fire floor must be held open to allow the hoseline to pass. This allows smoke to flow into the stair shaft, turning it into a chimney and trapping occupants using the stairs for escape.

Accessing an area of refuge is an excellent tactic, and you should implement it whenever staffing permits. When staffing is limited, you must perform tactics in order of priority.

Our first priority is to get a hoseline in operation to protect civilian lives from fire. If firefighter safety took priority over civilians’ safety, then I suppose we would never perform inherently dangerous operations such as searching above a fire without a charged hoseline.

Protecting occupants in a multiple dwelling is most effectively accomplished by rapidly stretching a hoseline to confine the fire to the living unit of origin. Fires in multiple dwellings require a fast attack because many occupants cannot or will not evacuate and few fire departments outside of the big cities have the resources to carry out an extensive rescue operation. A “protect-in-place” strategy requires that we rapidly confine the fire.

When deciding how to get a hoseline to an upper floor, you must consider the number of firefighters available, the risk to firefighters, and the risk to occupants. Fires in multiple dwellings can place occupants at considerable risk; hence, firefighters may have to operate at a higher level of risk than they would if civilians were not endangered.

Hoisting a hoseline through a window on the fire floor is one of the fastest ways to get a hoseline in position to protect occupants. It is not without risk, but that risk may be justified if it saves civilian lives. If this is considered a shortcut, then it is a shortcut I may be willing to take.

Stop cutting posts blindly

Iread with great interest the article “Side Airbag Tank Explosion Complicates Extrication of Victim” by Dave Dalrymple (Extrication Tactics, April 2007). The author discusses an incident in New Jersey in which a fire department cut a vehicle C post and cut into a stored gas canister for the side-curtain airbag system. The description said no one was injured, but it did slow down the extrication.

To my knowledge and research, this is the first documented case of this occurring in the United States at an actual emergency scene. It is the first I have read about.

I firmly believe these canisters are going to kill a firefighter. At the very least, they will kill or injure one of our patients to the point that it closes a fire department as the result of a negligence lawsuit.

I know the U.S. fire service has a lot of fish to fry based on our lack of funding and staffing. We are not getting the support we deserve from our localities, much less from the federal government. The zero funding propositions for the SAFER grants and reduction in the FIRE Act grants are disheartening. It would be great to have some of our organizational lobbyists start pushing for a “disarming” switch in all vehicles. Put one switch somewhere in an easily accessible location that will disarm all supplemental restraint systems. Easier said than done, I know, especially on the canisters. This does not mean we should not work toward that goal, though.

I have been lucky to listen and learn from Dalrymple and others in the fire service industry who I consider to be experts in vehicle technology. One thing I have learned is that we must stop cutting posts blindly. It used to be that these canisters were only in the A or C post. Now they can be found anywhere in the vehicle’s posts or roof rails. We must slow down the extrications and get the plastic off at least one side of the car’s interior as soon as possible.

We must take care of ourselves-the car makers are not going to take care of us anytime soon. Mercedes’ new cut zone markings (hard to see, in my opinion) are a step in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go.

Bobby Pitman
Deputy Chief, Training
Bartow (FL) Fire Department

Buckle up and drive safe!

When do we stop this endless, mindless dying in apparatus accidents? This is not a volunteer or career issue. This is everybody’s issue! As of May 23, the day I am writing this, there have been 40 line-of-duty deaths (LODDs) in the United States; 15 of those have been a result of driving! That is 37 percent of all LODDs to date. On average annually, LODDs as a result of accidents hover around 25 percent. This has got to stop! Put on your seat belt and slow down! One of this year’s LODDs was a subject ejected from a fire/police van responding to assist with traffic control. The spokesperson for the department was quoted as saying that his state does not require seat belt usage by department personnel, so that is why the driver was unrestrained. Get with the program, folks! The fire will still be there when we get there. Am I making light of this? Absolutely not! But think about what we are responding to when we unfortunately collide with some other object. I am not advocating we stop responding or go no lights all the time or some other knee-jerk reaction. I am just begging my fire service brothers and sisters to buckle up and slow down and go home after the call or when the shift ends. Please. If this keeps up, by the time this is published, there will be three or four more LODDs as a result of driving accidents. Stop it, and stop it now.

Michael J. Lopina
Lieutenant, Lockport Township (IL) Fire Protection District

In “Tricks of the Trade: Seat Belts Carry the Load and Keep Hands Free” (Fire Engineering, May 2007), photo 5 on page 40 was taken by Jason Jefferies of the Charlotte (NC) Fire Department.

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