BY BOB PRESSLER
Photo 1. It`s just past 1:00 a.m. as you put your study material away. As a covering lieutenant, you find time to study for the captain`s test as you pass through different fire stations. Tonight`s assignment brings you to a slower, out-of-the-way engine company–usually good for studying but not for much action.
Just as you shut off the study lamp, the alarm lights come on and the alert tone sounds. “Attention Engine 3, Engine 3 alone, for rubbish in the vicinity of Fifth and Adams.” The company starts to assemble as you climb into the cab. When the chauffeur gets into the rig, you ask him about the neighborhood to which you are heading. He informs you that it is an area of commercial buildings, usually desolate at night. He also informs you of the “nightly” car fire that the company usually gets in that area.
As you turn onto Fifth Street, you see a large glow in the night sky, accompanied by a large column of black smoke. “Some rubbish fire,” you think to yourself as you reach for the radio.
The fire has complete control of a large, open shed used to store lumber. The structure is approximately 30 feet deep by 150 feet long and one story high. Exposures consist of open lumber storage, other buildings within the lumber facility, and adjacent commercial buildings.
As the initial incident commander, what strategies can you develop and what tactics can you employ to safely bring this fire under control?
Your first thought should be to call for help. The large fire area, the severe exposure hazards, and the fact that this is in a remote section of the city require the transmitting of at least a second alarm or a mutual-aid response from adjoining jurisdictions (for the purpose of this article, an alarm assignment consists of three engine companies and one ladder company, staffed with four personnel). With an original fire area of 30 feet by 150 feet and exposures on all fronts, engine companies will be needed for coverage on all sides of the fire. These engines will need an adequate water supply to perform properly.
Where the first engine sets up depends on the fire`s severity and where the fire is heading. What water supply is available to me as the first engine? What can I do, alone, to buy some time until the balance of the assignment arrives?
Before you can extinguish a fire, you must contain it. A fire of this magnitude requires that large amounts of water be supplied and applied. Two options for the first-due engine officer to consider are a hydrant-to-fire stretch and a fire-to-hydrant stretch. You can use both stretches, depending on the equipment and the water supply available. The hydrant-to-fire stretch would put the engine in close proximity to the fire for possible use of a preconnected deck gun. If large-diameter hose is used, there may also be enough water available to put handlines into service. For large fires such as this, 212-inch handlines should be the weapon of choice.
A drawback of the fire-to-hydrant stretch is that the supply line, once charged, may inhibit other apparatus–especially tower ladders or other aerial devices–from getting close to the fire scene. Such a stretch also may make the apparatus an exposure if the fire conditions intensify or the fire changes directions. It is much easier to abandon a handline or deluge gun than it is to abandon a pumper.
When using a fire-to-hydrant stretch, the pumper ends up at the water source. You can leave portable deluge sets as well as additional lines for any incoming tower ladder at the fire area. If possible, you can set up a portable hydrant, thus enabling several handlines to be stretched from this one position. Depending on equipment, the four-member crew may be able to put a deluge gun and one handline in operation. Remember, the lines are not being advanced; you`re trying to slow the advance of the fire front.
Regardless of the stretch you use, the object is to get large quantities of water on the fire. Apply the water from the fringes of the fire area back toward the main body of fire, protecting the most severely threatened exposures in the process.
Once your initial line or lines are in operation, any progress (or lack of it) should be relayed to the rest of the incoming first alarm. All other engines should be assigned positions that will support your initial operation. Take care to utilize independent water sources. This may necessitate longer stretches or that one engine supplies another closer to the scene. As more engines get master streams or handlines on the fire, you will start to surround the fire area and should start to limit fire spread.
You can control large-area fires such as these only by using the resources of several companies on different fronts. The initial operations will directly affect the outcome of the entire operation. You must use the first lines in an attempt to limit the fire area. What starts right has a much better chance of ending right.
Photo 2. Almost as dangerous as the previous lumberyard is this style of “lumberyard” that is springing up across the nation. Townhouse complexes are being constructed to meet the demand for more reasonable housing and use of available land.
From a firefighting standpoint, this is the most dangerous time for a devastating fire. Once the building is completed and occupied, the life hazard increases, but many construction features actually help attempts to contain and extinguish the fire. Properly installed gypsum board will help to contain fires to room and content size. It may also be used to divide void spaces such as attics and cocklofts into smaller areas. Siding or brick veneers will slow fire spread on the exterior.
But when the building is in the framed stage, fire will spread unchecked along all surfaces throughout the entire structure. The radiant heat and usual flying brands that can be expected with this large lumber pile can readily spread the fire to other clusters of buildings.
As with the en-closed lumberyard, the main objective of the first engine company will be to put large quantities of water on the fire front. If only one unit of the entire structure is well involved, there are two options for the first engine. The first is to lead off with a master stream and hope that you can darken down the fire in the original unit. This can be done with either tank water, depending on booster tank size, or an established water supply. The problem with this tactic is that if you are not successful in extinguishing the majority of the fire, or if there is a delay in establishing a water supply, the extending fire has quite a head start on the rest of the structure.
Unfortunately, experience shows that most times these fires are further along than you suspect on arrival. This fact, coupled with the usual time delay in getting equipment set up and a water supply established, suggests that the second option is a more viable one: to write off the heavily involved unit and concentrate resources on the most seriously threatened exposure. If the fire is located in the center unit of one building, it becomes a judgment call as to which end is more seriously threatened. Remember to take into account external exposures, such as buildings adjacent to the original one. While the IC waits for a water supply to be established, he should survey the involved units to see if any fire breaks or partition walls are present that may help limit fire spread.
Once you have established a water supply, use a master stream to sweep from the next unit in line, or fire wall, back toward the main body of fire. Pay special attention to the attic areas. The stream must penetrate into this area to stop horizontal fire spread.
Once water is flowing on the exposed unit, additional lines can now fill in on both sides of the master stream. You can bring smaller handlines into the areas behind the stream to help check fire spread while using larger-caliber handlines on the main body of fire.
Like the open lumberyard, the main thrust of attack should be to try to contain the fire. Once you have stopped the spread or extension, you then can extinguish the main body of fire.
Photo 3. Probably the most frequently encountered “lumberyard” is the one found under most older flat roof buildings. This area, called the cockloft or just a loft, contains more exposed, ready-to-burn lumber than most houses. Everything in this area is wood and exposed.
The different parts of the cockloft include the wood roof rafters, usually 2 2 10s, and the wood bracing between the rafters, usually 2 2 4s. The top of the void is the roof decking, which can be either tongue-and-groove boards or, if a newer or renovated building, plywood. The bottom of the void, if original, is wooden lath to which the plaster ceilings were adhered. Even if the building is renovated, the gypsum board is frequently hung from wood strips.
When fire enters this particular lumberyard, large cumbersome handlines with their high water flows are seldom needed. What is needed is a combination of good, aggressive truck work and several smaller handlines that can be easily maneuvered throughout the top floor.
The truck work will fall into two categories. The first and most important is good vertical ventilation. A well-placed, large ventilation hole over the main body of fire is the most important step in controlling a cockloft fire. As soon as this hole is cut and pulled, the venting fire slows the spread of gases and fire through the cockloft. The larger the hole, the more of a draft created and the more the spreading fire will be pulled back toward the vent hole. Although ventilation hole sizes of 8 feet 2 8 feet or 12 feet 2 12 feet are commonly mentioned, if correctly located over the fire and with fire venting from the hole, cuts of this size are extremely difficult to complete. Companies should concentrate on expandable holes, such as the coffin cut, which gives an overall size of 3 to 4 feet 2 8 feet and can be expanded to either an “L” shape or eventually 8 2 8. Most times the final cuts to get the larger size will have to be completed after the engine companies have knocked down most of the cockloft fire.
The second category of truck work for these interior lumberyards is dropping or pulling ceilings. Even with proper ventilation holes cut and drawing, the fire will not self-extinguish. The ceilings throughout the top floor must be pulled so the engine can get water into the cockloft.
Getting multiple handlines into position will be a difficult task for the engine companies. In large apartment houses, stretch the initial line up the interior stairs to protect escaping occupants. Stretch subsequent lines up the exterior of the building using rope stretches, fire escapes, or available ladders. In smaller buildings, where two handlines will probably suffice on the top floor, you can stretch both lines up the interior stairs. If you need a third line, stretch it up the exterior.
Once the lines are in position, the truck companies can start to drop the ceilings. The engine companies should wait until the truck has the ceilings down over a large area of the room before hitting the fire. If water is introduced too early, visibility will decrease and heat levels will increase, hampering operations. Once the entire ceiling is dropped, truck personnel can move to the adjoining room while the engine knocks down fire in that area.
Coordination is needed between the roof operations and the interior forces. As the ventilation holes are pulled on the roof, the interior forces must get the ceilings down and get water into the cockloft. Multiple handlines as well as numerous firefighters will be needed for both roof ventilation and ceiling pulling. n
BOB PRESSLER, a 22-year veteran of the fire service, is a firefighter with Rescue Company No. 3 of the City of New York (NY) Fire Department. He created and produced the videos Peaked-Roof Ventilation and SCBA Safety and Emergency Procedures for the Fire Engineering video series “Bread and Butter” Operations. Pressler has an associate`s degree in fire protection engineering from Oklahoma State University, is a frequent instructor on a wide range of fire service topics, and is a member of a volunteer department.
Photo by John Mielcarek
Photo by author.
Photo by author.