Pressure ventilation vs. Class A foam

Pressure ventilation vs. Class A foam

I read with great interest and concern the letter “Pressure Ventilation vs. Class A Foam” by George R. Cowan (Letters to Editor, March 1997). Although in theory he stresses some good points in reference to using steam to extinguish a fire, he forgets to mention the importance of ensuring that the structure is unoccupied. This is crucial to avoid burning firefighters and victims with the steam cloud that will be generated by the fine droplets of water (mist).

By using sound ventilation practices coupled with the effective application of water, firefighters and victims will have a better chance with cooler temperatures and greater visibility at floor level. Life safety is a firefighter`s primary responsibility. If a few holes must be cut or a couple of windows must be broken to accomplish this, then so be it.

Although I agree that there may be certain situations in which Cowan`s tactics would be feasible, the IC would have to weigh the risk-benefit factor heavily before considering an operation of this nature.

Todd L. Halter

Instructor NJDFS

Pennsville (NJ) Fire & Rescue Co. I

Training = practice, practice, practice

Reference is made to “What Is Training?” (Editor`s Opinion, May 1997). Bill Manning asked for ideas on training. This really isn`t an idea, but it is something that I still live by. It was told to me by a battalion chief from the town of North Providence, Rhode Island, back when we were both members of that department`s call system. He used to tell me, “Practice until you can do it in your sleep, because that`s when you will have to do it.” Words from the best company officer I ever worked for.

Joe Klucznik


East Providence (RI) Fire Department

“What Is Training?” is the testimonial essence of this profession. In my thoughts and ideas as a fire instructor for New York City, I believe that this occupation requires a constant level of learning and practicing.

Chief Hollins` statement quoted in the editorial that “Knowledge is not what you are taught; knowledge is what you remember!” can really be reexamining Editor Bill Manning`s initial question by rephrasing it as “What is really training?”

We can start with the process by which we learn. As instructors, learning is the basis for our existence. How well we understand and master the learning process will go a long way in forecasting our success as instructors and inspires, motivates, uplifts, and transforms our students (firefighters). Our students won`t care what we say until they know that we care. This all starts from the instructor`s creating an environment that will help students teach themselves. Instructors and students must understand the four stages of learning, identified by Abraham Maslow, according to whom the fundamental framework of learning evolves as follows:

1. “Unconscious incompetence–We don`t know that we don`t know.

2. Conscious incompetence–We know that we don`t know.

3. Conscious competence–We work at what we don`t know.

4. Unconscious competence–We don`t have to think about knowing it.”

These four stages of learning constantly remind us that training and retraining must be reinforced. The old adage “Practice makes permanent” really works.

So, training is the learning process called “practicing.” What we do best is what we have most thoroughly learned and practiced the longest. One final thought: Failing to train is training to fail!

Dan Pontecorvo


City of New York (NY) Fire Department

Standardized training for officers

I read with great interest “Company Officer Certification: A Minimum Standard for the Fire Officer” by Bruce J. Cavallari (Training Notebook, May 1997). I have spent most of my career in the same state as the author, Florida, and have been through the seven-course Fire Officer I (FOI) certification program (created through Florida Statute 633). I can testify to its merits.

I agree with the author that this program and the FOI state certification it offers should be “basic education for the company officer.” Some fire departments in Florida require FOI certification for eligibility for promotion to lieutenant and higher ranks. Cedar Hammock Fire Control District and Southern Manatee Fire & Rescue District are two of the several departments in Manatee County that require this certification.

As the former training director at Cedar Hammock, I was involved in and heavily supported the requirement that our future and present officers, from the rank of lieutenant to chief, be state-certified fire officers. I would like to share the process we undertook with other department leaders who may wish to set similar standards.

Our executive committee (all chief officers) discussed the issue at several meetings over an 18-month period before finally agreeing to the following “standards for officers,” adopted in January 1995.

Beginning on January 1, 1997, to be eligible for lieutenant, a candidate must have a valid Florida Certificate of Competency as Fire Officer I or equivalent.*

Present officers with the rank of lieutenant and above must have or attain a valid Florida Certificate of Competency as Fire Officer I or equivalent* prior to January 1, 1998.

*Equivalent would be a college degree in fire science (which contains the seven courses in the Fire Officer I program but not necessarily the final certification exam).

The standard was implemented at Southern Manatee in 1988, before I became affiliated with the department. (Cedar Hammock and Southern Manatee have been working under an “interlocal” agreement since 1995). However, I am familiar with what occurred. At that time, most of the First Class firefighters and officers at Southern Manatee were already FOI-certified, so the adoption and transition were not issues.

I encourage others to take Cavallari`s suggestion and require their officers to be certified–just as they do their firefighters, pump operators, and inspectors. It not only enhances their knowledge and performance when they are promoted, but it also provides the department with many firefighters who reap the same benefit as they develop and prepare themselves to be officers. If your county or state does not have a fire officer program, set your own standards. Be the leader into the next millennium, not the follower.

Leigh T. Hollins

Battalion Chief

Cedar Hammock and Southern Manatee

Fire Districts

Bradenton, Florida

In reference to Bruce J. Cavallari`s article, the fire service in the state of Florida is very progressive in training and operations. The Sarasota County Fire Department has required all candidates eligible for participation in the promotional process to hold a Fire Officer I certification prior to being considered for entry into the promotional process for the positions of lieutenant and captain. The department has required this minimum training level since 1983. Other departments in this state have had this same minimum requirement. I`ll bet that if we went on-line and surveyed departments in Florida, we would be greatly surprised at the number that have Fire Officer I certification as a “minimum standard.”

Bill Costello

Administrative Captain

Fire Suppression Training Officer

Sarasota County (FL) Fire Department

Mandates must come with funds

I agree with “The Proposed 1200 Standard: What Nerve!” (Editor`s Opinion, June 1997), but let`s get the horse in front of the cart. Bill Manning suggests that we install these rules by some magic means and follow this guide without question. Please tell me how to pay for these changes.

In West Virginia, we have about 417 fire departments, of which three are paid. That leaves 414 that have to make it on their own. The state gives us some funding, and the county government gives us a small amount of money. Other departments have money-raising projects like bingo. My annual budget is about $50,000 per year. Try to make your changes on that. If NFPA 1200 were law, we could not have a department at all. That means that the people in my area would not have a 7/9 ISO class rating, and the insurance companies would cancel a lot of policies. If you want to push for something to help small fire departments, work for federal laws to mandate funding for all fire departments, and I will quit my job and run my fire department. That way, all fire departments will be paid departments and have your NFPA 1200 staff on hand. But you`d better get ready for a public outcry: “Read my lips; no new taxes.”

Rodger M. Bell

via e-mail

West Virginia

Advertising our failures

I guess you can say that no one advertises its failures as well as the fire service. Take a good look at all of the cover shots (except the white one) of Fire Engineering over the past years. In fact, I defy anyone to find any fire service magazine that doesn`t have a major fire on the cover most of the time. Take a good hard look at the magazines geared toward firefighting and firefighters. What is to become of us? What happened to prevention first? How many times have you heard the phrase “Every time the door goes up and the apparatus rolls, we`ve had a failure”? Why then do we advertise our failures on the covers of our national and international periodicals?

Would it be that bad to show a building that`s not on fire and discuss its construction and protection features; employee, public, or residential educational programs; and the like? I know that the fire protection and engineering fire magazines do this, but what about the fire service magazines? Isn`t the fire protection-engineered building something the line people can use and understand? Couldn`t someone explain to the nation`s fire service how all of these “things” plus more of the same will enhance their job and personal safety?

Fire Engineering has served us well for 120 years, and I suspect it will continue successfully for another 120. How about a cover without devastation, injury, death, and failure? Let us leave those to the inside of the jacket where the educational process takes place and where we read about the lessons learned from someone else`s misfortune.

Let us shift the emphasis to victories and positives. How many sprinkler systems were installed last year in this country? How many smoke detectors? How many fire and evacuation alarms? I would venture a guess that less than two percent of the people reading this know the answer. Line firefighters don`t care, you say? They should, because it directly affects the way they respond and do the job whether volunteer, career, industrial, military, or other structural firefighters. Smoke detectors cause us to arrive prior to flashover. Sprinklers will change the environment we enter on arrival at a working structure fire, especially in a residential occupancy where one may now unexpectedly encounter a heavy steam condition prior to opening up the first line. Wouldn`t it be nice to brag about the number of runs you didn`t do last year? Will we still need to measure how effective the fire department is based on the number of “runs and workers” into the 21st century? I`m afraid to hear the answer to that. (One large municipal department now only looks at “workers” in “occupied” structures. I guess firefighters don`t get injured or worse at vacant building fires. I guess they use less energy and less equipment, and their core temperature and blood pressure stay normal at vacant building fires.)

Less fire is less manpower, you say? Closing fire stations all around town? A smart chief and mayor will take those extra members and transfer them to fire prevention. Maybe that town will own the bragging rights to the “least number of runs, no deaths or injuries, no property losses, the greatest number of schools visited, the greatest number of seniors trained, and the most successful public education program in the country.”

Interestingly enough, I recently overheard two U.S. Postal letter carriers talking about the “extra” mail they deliver–e.g., magazines and advertisements. One was heard saying, “There must be no operating fire prevention bureaus in the whole country. Have you looked at the covers of those fire magazines lately?”

Ron Kanterman

Chief, Emergency Services

Merck & Co., Inc.

Rahway, New Jersey

Automatic alarm calls: another reason for “going in”

Captain Rudy Rinas makes a good point in “Where there`s an alarm, there could be a fire” (Letters to the Editor, July 1997). Fire departments respond to more automatic alarms in private homes than I care to count. Usually no fire is found. It is not practical to force entry into each and every home. Entering the building often means doing damage and then not leaving until the police department arrives to take control of the building for security purposes. This would tie up at least one fire unit until the police arrive and a police officer until the owner or occupant shows up. A few such incidents occurring simultaneously would quickly deplete the area of available fire and police units. On the other hand, as Rinas points out, “leaving an alarm that turns out to be a fire that had been there all along cannot be justified.” It is a dilemma.

Most of these “automatic alarm” responses turn out to be [for] a defective unit or an unwarranted alarm. As a result, firefighters are reluctant to damage the building and tie up units. We look into the available windows for a haze of smoke. If we have a good view and see no smoke, we often do not enter the building.

Now, however, with the onset of carbon monoxide alarms, there is something else to consider. I responded to a report of an automatic smoke alarm in a private home and found no smoke visible in the building. While we decided whether to enter the building, the owner arrived and opened the entrance door. We entered and found the sounding alarm to be a carbon monoxide alarm sounding as a result of residual CO from the occupant`s car. He had let the car warm up before pulling it out of the garage, and the CO had eventually reached the sensor located in the basement, causing the alarm to sound.

The alarm company reported a smoke alarm. We–thinking it was a smoke alarm and seeing no smoke–might well have left the scene without entering the building. In doing so, we could have left a carbon monoxide victim dying–out of our view–in a toxic atmosphere. I do not know if connecting carbon monoxide alarms to a central alarm system is a common practice. If it is, the alarm company must differentiate between a smoke and a carbon monoxide alarm. The information they give us in part dictates our actions on the scene. Misinformation from the alarm company could have disastrous results. This is one more argument supporting Rinas` policy of “going in.”

Frank C. Montagna

Battalion Chief

City of New York (NY) Fire Department

We need good examples

While reading through the May 1997 issue, a question comes to mind. The ad on page 67 extols how wonderful New York City feels about its leather boots. Wow! But the front cover shows one of FDNY`s finest working on a ladder with only street shoes. These leather boots and bunker pants are an option?

Page 110 (“In Memoriam,” The Ol` Professor) addresses the usual concern for firefighter safety. My question is, How can I and others train these no-name crossroad fire departments to wear complete protective gear when [their excuses for not doing so are] “cause we don`t do it that often” and “Lookit, FDNY does it 353,000 times a year, and they don`t have ta.” What do we tell them?

Don Copeland

Deputy Chief

Mt. Chase (ME) Fire Department

Pressure ventilation vs. Class A foam

Pressure ventilation vs. Class A foam

Todd L. Halter



Pennsville (NJ) Fire & Rescue Co. 1

I read with great interest and concern George R. Cowan`s letter in the March 1997 issue. Although the letter, in theory, stresses some good points in reference to using steam to extinguish a fire, he doesn`t mention the importance of ensuring that the structure is unoccupied. This is crucial to avoid burning firefighters and victims with the steam cloud generated by the fine droplets of water (mist).

By using sound ventilation practices coupled with the effective application of water, firefighters and victims will have a better chance with cooler temperatures and greater visibility at floor level. Life safety is a firefighter`s primary responsibility, and if a few holes must be cut or a couple of windows broken to accomplish this, then so be it.

I agree that Cowan`s tactics would be feasible in certain situations, but the incident commander would have to weigh the risk-benefit factor heavily before considering such an operation.