MEMBERS IN DISTRESS
BY BOB PRESSLER
It`s just your second run of the day, and you`re acting as a battalion chief. As you respond, the first-arriving engine reports on scene and informs all units that there is a working fire in the rear of a two-story private house. Due to other fire activity in the area, you know it will take a while for the entire assignment to get on scene, as most of the units are coming from a distance.
The cloud of smoke is visible from several blocks away, and portable radio traffic indicates that the fire is rapidly extending toward the front of the house and into the second floor. As you climb out of your buggy, the fire starts to vent out of the three front second-floor windows. Reports over the radio now indicate that the interior stairs to the second floor are burned away and access to the second floor should be attempted via portable ladder (see top left photo).
As the ladder is put into position, a handline is used to darken down the venting fire to allow entry. As soon as the fire is darkened, one of the firefighters starts up the ladder, followed by another firefighter with the handline. Even with the heavy smoke and heat condition, the firefighter is able to enter the narrow window (see top right photo).
Before the second firefighter can ascend to the top and pass the line into the house, conditions deteriorate rapidly. Smoke rolls down over the front of the house, obscuring your view of the operation. The yells of other firefighters confirm that the first person is in trouble. As the smoke lifts again, you see the first firefighter rolling out of the window and into the arms of the firefighter at the top of the ladder. Steam rises from his helmet and turnout gear, but his protective clothing has done its job; the firefighter is not injured (see bottom photo).
When advancing a handline over a portable ladder into a fire area, following certain procedures will make the operation less risky. Remove all obstructions in the window itself before attempting entrance–including screens, drapes or curtains, and horizontal cross pieces of two-piece windows. When you encounter narrow windows, remove the vertical separation between individual windows to make a larger area for entering and exiting. Position the ladder at the opening you`re using, not off to one side. When beating a hasty retreat, it is very difficult to swing from one window over to a ladder positioned at the next opening, even if they are close.
If the area you are entering already has been involved in fire, then the first person to ascend the ladder should have the line. This way, he can operate the line into the fire area from the top of the ladder immediately prior to entering the room. Operating the line will afford greater penetration of the stream into the fire area and also cool down the immediate area near the window, making it more tenable for the firefighters.
If room and manpower permit, you can raise two ladders to the same location–allowing two operations to be performed at the same time. The hoseline can protect the members as they remove the vertical supports between the individual windows and also cover the entrance of another firefighter into the room. He then can pass the line into the room and enter himself.
Portable ladders should be raised at all fires in private homes. They should be positioned on all four sides of the building and raised to cover all levels if conditions permit. They can be used for access by operating forces, escape by fleeing occupants or trapped firefighters, and stretching handlines to upper levels.
With the push for accountability on the fireground, many systems have been devised. Some involve the use of personnel tags, a riding list carried by an officer or pump operator, or a combination/variation of the two. When an incident such as a collapse occurs, the incident commander gathers the tags, conducts a roll call, identifies any missing members, and prepares the rapid intervention company (RIC) for entry. This is fine when the outside teams realize that someone is potentially missing.
What does an officer on the inside of the structure do if he determines one of his crew is unaccounted for? Immediately notifying the IC is most important.
The information re-layed should include the following:
The last known location of the missing individual. This will give companies trying to locate the missing firefighter an area from which to start their search.
The unit of the missing firefighter. With SCBA face pieces donned and in place,
a member`s facial features may not be noticeable, but his helmet front might tip you off. If, during your search, you see a helmet front from the missing company, you can inquire if it is indeed the missing firefighter. Remember, this member may not be “missing”–only separated from his officer.
The name of the member. Transmit it over portable radios. Again, this member may only be separated from his crew and working in a separate area. Remember to be specific: “Firefighter Smith, of Ladder Co. 5, was last seen in the top-floor rear apartment on the exposure 4 side of the fire building.” The more specific the information, the quicker help can be sent to the specific area.
The missing member`s assigned position (number 1 hoseline, search and rescue, roof ventilation, etc.).
Whether the missing member is radio-equipped. Just because a member is assigned a radio, don`t assume he can communicate or hear you. Do not overlook the possibility of equipment failure. Radios rubbing against bunker gear can have their volume lowered without the firefighter`s being aware of it. Batteries also can go dead at the worst times.
Remember, be as specific as possible. Many times, individual members are not really missing, just misplaced. n
BOB PRESSLER, a 21-year veteran of the fire service, is a firefighter with Rescue Company No. 3 of the City of New York (NY) Fire Department. He 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.