My Turn Under the Microscope

I guess it was only a matter of time before I was caught on social media operating at a fire. One of the most frightening parts was that when I got home, my daughters had already seen it on one of their social media addictions, even though it only happened a few hours before. Sometimes that’s scary to those of us who aren’t on all these social media apps or “tweeting.” Information these days can be transmitted in an instant. You’d better believe it will be your turn soon to be caught on “film” and broadcast to millions surfing the Web or social media.

Trying to put on my self-contained breathing apparatus shoulder straps while wearing the seat belt, my hand got tangled in both straps. I jumped off the rig a bit frazzled and grabbed the thermal imaging camera (TIC) and officer’s tool and walked up the sidewalk. The building was a five-story multiple dwelling; the fire in the alley was burning up the side of the building, and window frames on the first and second floors were involved. The first-due truck was in the alley using the pressurized water can and forcing the side apartment door; that looked like the entrance to the apartment whose windows on the first floor were on fire.

As we approached the building, we glanced upward, knowing we would be in charge of the floors above. Although we didn’t have any visible smoke showing, the windows could have been cracked open or failed, or fire could have entered the window where the air-conditioning unit was.

While walking across the front of the building, we spotted a first-floor doorway pushing smoke around the frame. Although we were in charge of the floor above, the first-due truck was going into the other apartment, and this one needed to be checked simultaneously.

As we began to force the door, we were informed that the paper affixed to the door was a building permit. Don’t ask me what kind because my glasses were buried in my pocket. As the team began forcing the door, I tried to shine my light in their direction and give them a little encouragement. I was proud that they chose the concave of the halligan tool toward the frame so the forks didn’t bite into the door frame, which works wonders on metal doors in metal frames.

As the door popped open, I took a knee to look under the thermal layers of smoke as the firefighter who entered and checked behind the door came back outside. As they masked up, I tried to quickly read the TIC but didn’t spot much. Luckily, as we controlled the door, I was able to spot that there was no floor in the apartment: It was soil and broken pieces of concrete. Plus, the walls had no plaster – they were just exposed lath. If the fire entered the window, it would have a field day consuming old dried lath.

Since there was no floor, I wanted to reiterate that information to the crew and that we could have trenches dug inside the apartment and to move with caution. That’s where the video ended and the comments on social media began:

  • “They didn’t close the door; they created a flow path.” In our neighborhood with multiple locks, we don’t completely close the door for fear it will lock again. We control the door after we lie flat on the ground or kneel under the thermal layers of smoke and gases to get a read of the conditions inside, learn the layout of the rooms or hallway, spot obstacles or retrieve information like missing floors, check behind the door for victims, and read the information from the TIC. You don’t need to completely close the door to control it; you can put a tool handle in between the door and the frame on the knob side to control it.
  • “They didn’t have their waist straps connected.” In the cab of the rig, it’s very difficult to put straps on because of space limitations and watching the response. I usually put mine on when walking into the building; but, in this case, we got caught. One win for the social media gurus; and, yes, we will drill on it. Remember, they can get caught on an object, and they help transfer the weight of the pack off your shoulders and onto your hips.
  • “They didn’t go on air when forcing the door.” Have you ever put on a face piece and it steamed up as you left the rig and walked up to the building or left the regulator out with your hood halfway over the face piece and saw everything? This operation was done flawlessly because of teamwork, communication, prior training, and full visibility of the operation.
  • “They think they’re tough going in with just a can.” Our standard operating procedure has a firefighter assigned a hook and pressurized water extinguisher. We can hold back a room of fire by closing the door and spraying a pattern at the top of the door to prevent burn-through while the other members search for life. We use the can on a regular basis and are familiar with its capabilities.

Sure, I’d like to have that moment in time back and fix my faux pas. I watch videos of other departments and fires and use them as learning and teaching tools, but I really enjoy the keyboard experts’ comments the most. Don’t get me wrong. Some are awesome responses and provide detailed information, but some are comical or so far off you wonder if we’re in the same profession. We all have different experiences and might not know the full story behind the scene we’re viewing, but be aware that millions are watching; give it your best shot!

MICHAEL N. CIAMPO is a 31-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 Ladders and Ventilation chapters for Fire Engineering’s Handbook for Firefighter I and II (Fire Engineering, 2009) and the Bread and Butter Portable Ladders DVD and is featured in “Training Minutes” truck company videos on

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