SAVING PROPERTY: SALVAGE OPERATIONS, PART3
BY ANTHONY J. PASCOCELLO, JR.
Part 1–which discussed personnel, training, equipment, and strategy–was published in September 1996. Part 2–which covered the various uses of salvage covers and how building engineering/maintenance personnel can assist firefighters with salvage operations–was published in October 1996.
In Part 2, I discussed how properly deployed salvage covers can protect contents and catch runoff water. Sometimes, however, water can find a way around or under the covers. Also, there may be too much water for the covers to control, possibly the result of delayed salvage operations.
A word of caution is in order here: Before conducting water-removal operations, always ensure that the building structure is not already overloaded with water runoff. You should not be in a building where the quantity of runoff water could cause the building to collapse. Remember, water weighs 8.3 pounds per gallon.
Squeegees are simple to use and can be very effective for removing water. They are available in lengths appropriate for large, open areas or for closed-in spaces and with straight or curved heads. The thickness of the rubber can vary. With squeegees, water can be pushed to floor drains, out doorways, or to areas where pumps or wet/dry vacuums have been set up and down enclosed stairwells leading to ground-floor or exterior exits. In older factory buildings, scuppers (drains located in the exterior wall at floor level) may be available.
If using squeegees, keep the following points in mind:
Begin at the edge of the water or at the barrier containing it–a wall, a partition, or machinery, for example.
Push the water to the chosen removal source.
Remove door thresholds that block the water`s path to facilitate squeegee use.
If water needs to be squeegeed from a large, spread-out area, several members with squeegees should position themselves side-by-side and push the water together.
The important thing is to keep the water contained and prevent it from spreading. Before pushing the water, block off areas (doorways, hallways, and dry areas, for example) into which you do not want the water to travel. Do not direct water to areas where it will overload the building structure.
If water needs to be squeegeed from an area that has a bend or right angle–such as in the inner section of high-rack storage aisles–one member should push the water out of the aisle and another member, positioned at the end or angle, should push the oncoming water to the removal source.
PUMPS AND WET/DRY VACUUMS
Submersible pumps are useful for removing moderate to large amounts of water. These pumps, available in different sizes, come in a variety of suction capacities and discharge sizes. The larger-size pumps are used for situations involving deep and large volumes of water. Smaller pumps are suited for water that is less than a foot deep and within a contained area.
Several means can be used to drain discharged water. The hose can be placed out a window or door to the outside or in a drainpipe, or it can be inserted down a toilet bowl or a sink drain. Whichever method is chosen, check periodically to see that the hose has not become dislodged and begun discharging water into the wrong place. Also check to ensure that the drains can handle the excess water and that an overflow problem is not created. Sometimes debris can clog the pump`s intake port, causing the pump to overheat and shut down. Examine the area around and under the pump to be sure it is clear of debris.
Wet/dry vacuums are useful for removing spread-out, small amounts of water. They come in tank capacities ranging from five to 55 gallons. Some of the small-version vacuums are designed to be worn on the firefighter`s back, facilitating mobility. The only real drawback of vacuums is that they may have to be emptied often if a considerable amount of water is present.
Like pumps, vacuums can become clogged by debris such as waterlogged ceiling tiles, stock, or stored goods that may fall and disintegrate. Therefore, inspect the vacuums periodically to make sure all nozzles, hoses, and intake ports are clear.
Some fire departments may use siphon ejectors for dewatering operations. These devices generally are used for very large-scale incidents such as flooded basements, perhaps the result of a watermain break or the operation of several large master streams. Siphon ejectors work on a venturi principle, in which moving water from a pumper or hydrant creates a suction and draws up the excess water for removal.
Several other pieces of equipment may be helpful in salvage operations. Pushbrooms can be used in conjunction with squeegees to push excess water and also to clean up debris. Use a broom that has fairly heavy and durable nylon bristles; otherwise, water and debris may cling to the broom, reducing its effectiveness.
Another useful tool is a scoop, or square-pointed shovel. The shovel also can be used to push water and, in conjunction with the broom, remove debris.
While not very glamorous, a simple mop and bucket can be effective for getting rid of runoff water. They are especially helpful for small, shallow amounts and that little bit left behind after pumps and vacuums have been used.
This equipment can greatly assist firefighters in their salvage operations. I have worked at incidents where some of this equipment was used at different locations by itself, in stages, and together. At one incident involving a hospital, pumps were placed in operation at one location in a hallway while members used squeegees to push water to a group of wet/dry vacuums in a different location.
Salvage operations usually are performed after a fire or some other emergency incident. Hazardous conditions, therefore, generally exist where such operations are being conducted. Safety should be a priority. The following recommendations will improve safety.
Wear full protective equipment. Helmets will protect you from falling debris (ceiling tiles, light fixtures, stock, and so on). Gloves will protect hands from cuts and possibly contaminated water. Eye protection–face shields or goggles–will protect from operating sprinkler heads or glass when trimming windows.
Use SCBA if smoke is present or the air is of poor quality.
Protect yourself from electrical hazards. Water is an excellent conductor of electricity. During salvage operations, the danger from electrocution is very great. Use caution if wiring is hanging, electrically operated equipment or machinery is waterlogged, power has not been cut, or separate shutoffs are used. Also, make sure that electrically powered equipment such as pumps, vacuums, lights, and generators are equipped with ground fault circuit interrupters.
Carry two quality-made flashlights–one as a spare. Often, there is no lighting when power is shut down. At some incidents, such as those at night, portable lights and generators may be needed. Make sure visibility is adequate.
If gas-powered equipment, such as generators or large-capacity pumps, is used, make sure proper and safe ventilation eliminates or diminishes the risks from the exhausts. In addition, allow such equipment to cool off before refueling, to avoid creating a fire hazard.
Use extreme caution around hazardous materials that may be present in laboratories, plants, and manufacturing locations. Hazardous substances may have spilled or may be leaking if their containers are damaged. Confirm that personnel and equipment will not be contaminated with hazardous materials.
Be aware of special security systems, such as guard dogs or self-closing and self-locking doors, that may be present.
Remember that the risk of a floor collapse increases with the presence of excess water, which can add considerable weight to a floor. The added weight from the water might be enough to cause a collapse when floors are overloaded with machinery or stock. Be on guard if a floor appears to be overloaded with stock, supplies, or machinery; if water seems very deep; or if little or no runoff is taking place.
Firefighters performing salvage operations can greatly reduce the amount of damage that might occur in fire or water emergencies. Successful salvage operations are effected by preplanning, training, a good size-up, education, and experience. n
Squeegees come in various sizes and styles. The one on the left is aluminum and has a span of 36 inches. On the right is a heavy-gauge metal squeegee with a span of 20 inches. The smaller squeegee can also be turned upside down and used to push water off carpeting.
ANTHONY J. PASCOCELLO, JR., a fire alarm dispatcher for the City of New York (NY) Fire Department, is a volunteer firefighter and a former member of the New York City Fire Patrol. He has a bachelor`s degree in fire service administration.