Scenes from a Well-Coordinated Attack

By GREGORY PERRICONE

During a safety inspection of a New York City water main by a replacement contractor on March 30, 2007, I witnessed a fast moving four-alarm fire that ripped through four two-story frame private dwellings in Jamaica, Queens, New York. The fire required the response of three divisions with 17 engines, 12 ladders, a squad, a satellite unit, a rescue battalion, a safety battalion, Fieldcom, a borough commander, and a significantly large number of support apparatus with more than 150 personnel. Following are some observations I made as to the strength of effective fireground communications, apparatus placement, and aggressive firefighting tactics.

Tower Ladder (TL) 142 was special called as the firefighter assistance truck (FAST); it arrived behind Ladder 125, one of the second-alarm companies (photo 1). The division chief’s car was purposely parked on the sidewalk, away from the fireground, which provided plenty of access for the incoming companies. In fact, it permitted second-alarm units direct fireground access (photo 2).


(1) Photos by author.
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Parking chief and staff vehicles on sidewalks or cross streets provides more room for responding apparatus to pass and set up. The last thing you should do is compound apparatus positioning and placement.

Although the practice of making side A of the fire building accessible for ladder companies is common throughout the Fire Department of New York (FDNY), it serves as a “best practice” reminder for those who do not and need a ladder company on-scene. Leaving the fire building’s front open in anticipation of a ladder company’s arrival (photos 3, 4) guarantees unfettered fire building access (in this case, first alarm TL 155). Remember, if a ladder company is due in, hold this spot open. In some situations, the engine company may have to pull even farther past the dwelling to allow the tower ladder’s boom to have access into the alley.


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The TL chauffer raised the unmanned platform to the second-floor window on side A (photo 5). He radioed the inside crews of its location in case conditions quickly deteriorated and members needed to bail out or self-rescue. The portable ladder to the platform’s right was raised to this window prior to the TL’s getting into position.


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Firefighters removed window guards, stretched attack lines, and searched the dwellings (photos 6-9). Members placed ground ladders below the sill of every second-floor window (photo 10). Throwing up ladders is a key element in the maintenance of consistent personnel safety. This is another best practice. Placing ground ladders ensures that if the searching members find a victim or need to bail out, a ladder will be where it is needed when it is needed.


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The incident command board (photos 11, 12) was set up on the side A/D corner. From here, chiefs’ aides and the incident commander assessed conditions, tracked progress, and accounted for all units.


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This location also became the staging area for the FAST truck (photo 13). The FAST truck’s equipment (photo 14) was loaded into a stokes litter for rapid deployment, with company members standing fast but actively listening to the radio for urgent or Mayday radio calls. The firefighter received the yellow FAST team radio from the chief; one firefighter monitored the display screen, which showed the unit’s number and member’s position ID number in case of a Mayday transmission. The FAST team was staged in the command post’s vicinity (20 to 30 feet), with the officer at the post.


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By 1440 hours, the 13th Division chief ordered a third alarm. In the interim between the second alarm call by Battalion 51 and the third alarm, incident command was seamlessly transferred to the 13th Division. Remember, as an operation’s size and scope increases, additional chiefs and often superior officers arrive and assume command. The transfer of command must be seamless, and all operating units must be informed.

By 1447 hours, the 13th Division reported a fire in four private dwellings with window bars on the first floor (FDNY has a policy on window bars) (photo 15) and fire on side B (photo 16). An extra engine and truck were assigned to respond. If a TL is not assigned on the initial response ticket, then the extra truck will be a TL. At such fires, raise at least one ladder to each floor where the bars have been removed, and notify members of the ladder locations.


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The fire then extended into a single private dwelling across the alley behind side C (photos 18, 19). At one point, eight attack lines were stretched, with four of them operating. Heavy fire load and heavy fire conditions followed.


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Note Ladder 133’s position in photo 18. Approaching the single unattached private dwelling, the chauffer positioned the apparatus to permit raising the aerial without blocking the street. The next arriving ladder, Ladder 150, duplicated this and positioned its apparatus to the right of Ladder 133 on side C of the dwelling (photo 19). Although an effective tool for ladder companies, engine companies hooking up front suction should refrain from using this tactic; the apparatus’ rear could block the road and access to the fire buildings.

Also note in photo 18 that the attack lines being stretched into the dwelling’s side A are supplied by Engine 298. The engine’s chauffeur positioned his apparatus so as not to block either the intersection of Princeton Street and Lakewood Avenue or side A of the dwelling (photo 20).


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On Princeton Street, you can see that an engine was stretched to another hydrant on one side of the street while leaving room for additional alarm companies to park on the opposite side (photo 21). Good practices lead to successful operations.


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At 1452 hours, the 13th Division reported it had eight attack lines stretched and in operation and heavy fire load in all four buildings. Heavy fire now involved the entire cockloft. The power company was needed forthwith, as live electrical wires were about to drop (photo 22). This report was right on target and to the point, permitting all operating personnel to know and beware of the increasing fireground dangers.


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The fire progressed through the third and into the fourth alarm before being declared under control by the borough commander and the acting chief of department. Total time from start to finish was two hours and 20 minutes.

From the initial alarm to the final extinguishment, this operation was extremely successful. The first-arriving companies’ actions, their officers and chauffeurs, and the 51st battalion chief set the pace for a well-coordinated attack that emphasized effective fireground communication, apparatus placement, and solid firefighting tactics.

GREGORY PERRICONE is a Board of Certified Safety Professionals-certified safety professional in private practice; a member of the Setauket (NY) Fire Department; and a deputy chief instructor at the Suffolk County (NY) Fire Academy, where he instructs in the firefighter 1 and volunteer emergency service management programs.

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