BY TOM BRENNAN
We were talking about safe operations for responding and returning, and perhaps we should visit there for a little longer (a term I stole from my recently retiring friend in the West).
First, let’s talk more about moving forward and back at the fire scene, and specifically apparatus. There is no way to safely reposition any fire apparatus at a structure fire scene without a member(s) gathered to specifically check all “other three” corners and stationed at the rear in the view of the driver’s mirrors and on his receiving device (even if it is an old ear). The maneuver will generally cost something, mostly the smooth operation of advancing or supplied hoselines or tools or storage or gasoline and hydraulic supply tanks, water, and more, even perhaps the painful injury and deaths of firefighters and other human beings surrounding (unseen) the apparatus previously thought to be parked.
One good practice in stopping aerial devices at fire scenes is that if the front of the structure is clear of other apparatus (and staffing including the never-reported police cars) AND there is no immediate objective indicated by the fire location or seen victims, it is often best to stop the cab just short of the near building side. The rule here is that you can almost always pull a truck forward (with the extra eyes, of course), and you can almost never back it up even with a dozen eyes.
A bit of humor here is found in the National Fire Protection Association document outlining the specifications of aerial devices and in particular tractor-trailer tiller rigs. Some of the committee must never have been assigned to those rigs when emergency movement (forward, relocate, restart failed motors, or shut down power devices) was needed at fire scenes. Sometimes, this safety business is in overkill, and this is one of those times. They have required that a dead-man type switch be placed under the tiller seat; it must be depressed with a firefighter’s body weight before a driver can start or restart the apparatus.
If in quarters, whatever happened to just looking back to see if the firefighter is there to receive audible and mechanical signals from that location? This is an officer and chauffeur problem that MUST be solved. None of them have ever had to pull an apparatus forward to reach newly showing victims in and on the structure on fire-such as now-trapped firefighters in the escalating fire on the fire floor.
The firefighter, to restart a motor to drive the hydraulics of the aerial operations from the turntable, must find a weighty firefighter to sit on the tiller switch. Hmm. Safety by committee!
Another improvement that has nothing (little) to do with real-world safety is the flow from a tower ladder stream. Now we require a flowmeter at the base of the inlets to the straight extending boom pipe to the nozzle at the bucket. For what?
First, that device may be necessary and the valve(s) of the nearest pumping engine in the layout supplying the tower-and maybe other hose streams, and not controlling the stream flow by the gated inlet at the tower- should be fully opened.
Second, if you start a tower ladder stream, your first concern is for the interior teams that have been ordered to orderly exit the building in a controlled shift to defensive strategy. (We hear of too many noisy Maydays in situations that should be orderly and urgent.) Once the personnel are accounted for and the apparatus are in a better location and properly supplied, you want the most water that anyone can give you. A tower ladder responsibility is to simply PUT OUT THE FIRE so well that no one will even think of having to return inside-most of the time, that is.
I used to say, “If you give me and the team this building as defensive tower ladder operations, send the other brothers for sandwiches.”
A true safety rule for this series is that when you are mounting an extending offensive operation, you NEVER have enough firefighters or tactical logistics. But, once you change to defensive, I guarantee you will have too many of all mentioned, AND aggressive firefighters have to be part of the operations, God bless them. If you go defensive, consider ordering different jobs, different locations, or send them home and let the outside streams finish the job.
We will talk more about water use and its weight and location in structures as we review collapse indicators at ongoing firefights. ■
■ TOM BRENNAN has more than 35 years of fire service experience. His career spans more than 20 years with the Fire Department of New York as well as five years as chief of the Waterbury (CT) Fire Department. He was the editor of Fire Engineering for eight years and currently is a technical editor. He is co-editor of The Fire Chief’s Handbook, Fifth Edition (Fire Engineering Books, 1995). He was the recipient of the 1998 Fire Engineering Lifetime Achievement Award. Brennan is featured in the video Brennan and Bruno Unplugged (Fire Engineering/FDIC, 1999). He is a regular contributor to Firenuggets.com.