Tactical Tidbits for Firefighting Operations

Mike Ciampo with firefighters working on a forcible entry prop
ON FIRE ❘ by MICHAEL N. CIAMPO

Here’s a quick list of tactical tips:

  1. Start the tour by checking your equipment and ensuring the air cylinder is full.
  2. Always check behind the door for victims, closets, hidden stairs, and hallways.
  3. When searching, get up on one knee and slide forward; you’ll have more visibility into the thermal layers above.
  4. If the door to the room on fire is burning through, pop off another door and place it over this one to try and stop the fire’s extension.
  5. If you carry a pressurized water extinguisher, you don’t have to knock the fire down. Close the room’s door and contain the fire. Soak the door down when the flames appear through the cracks. The “can” is there for our protection first.
  6. If you have rubbish on the ground, deflect the can’s pattern with your finger for a wider pattern; you won’t blow the material around.
  7. A little more air and a “hair” less water can make the can last a little longer.
  8. Try before you pry: Always turn the doorknob before forcing a door.
  9. Get up on the bed, sweep it, and feel with both hands; don’t sweep it with a tool.
  10. Check in closets, under beds, and in bathtubs for victims. You’ll find them there.
  11. In some instances, sheltering a victim in place can be beneficial for all involved.
  12. If you notice a kink in the line, stop for a second and fix it—water matters!
  13. Leaving the nozzle cracked open and hearing the rush of air tells you water is on the way—plus, you’re “bleeding the nozzle.”
  14. Don’t forget to sweep the floor in front of you while advancing. A rapid side-to-side motion can throw hot debris out of the way of your advance.
  15. If it’s difficult to access the attic or cockloft and fire is above you, extend the line a few feet into a hole in the ceiling and whip it around.
  16. A charged line operating off a standpipe makes an excellent dike in front of the elevator shafts.
  17. It’s perfectly okay to lob or dump water from the monitor gun to “flood” a dumpster and extinguish it. Who knows what dangers lurk inside!
  18. Having a single gate valve on the engine’s master stream device allows the chauffeur to charge it and climb up to it and then use it for protection or extinguishment.
  19. If you can’t uncouple a tight coupling, place the couplings in a vertical position, female on top. Then kneel and bounce on the bent hose and female coupling while twisting it; it helps loosen it up.
  20. When you stretch to supply a tower ladder or ladder pipe, don’t just stretch a “clothesline”; bring enough hose to make a wide loop at the intake to prevent kinking. It may also allow the apparatus to be able to move out of the collapse zone without adding a length.
  21. Creating a “loop” in a charged line and lowering it through a hole in the floor can help you remove a firefighter who has fallen through the floor.
  22. When “fog venting” with a straight stream nozzle, just crack the nozzle about halfway; it will move plenty of air.
  23. When entering a door or window to perform a search, sweep and sound the floor first. Don’t just sound it; you don’t want to hit the victim!
  24. If you enter a window to perform a search, try to close the door to the room as soon as possible; this will protect you from an advancing fire, and it may lift the smoke up off the floor for a better search.
  25. Holding the thermal imaging camera “sideways” will give you a better “vertical” picture of what lies ahead of you from floor to ceiling.
  26. If you’re on a medical run and you pulled the lock cylinder and can’t find the “k-tool’s pick,” use the medical shears to turn the tumbler on the lock.
  27. When encountering a “double ceiling,” poke the smaller butt end of the hook through it to penetrate it and gain purchase points.
  28. When opening up tin ceilings, start at an area that is opened already or at a seam. Using a gypsum board rake with its three teeth allows you to get a better bite in the material and the blade will be able to cut the tin. Tin is sharp—watch your face!
  29. When pulling lath and plaster, place the hook’s head next to the joist. There’s less flex in the lath, and short strokes easily release the small nails at this location.
  30. Carrying a hook with two workable ends gives you more flexibility and uses, allowing you to perform many tasks.
  31. When using the baseball swing to force open a door, if you’re operating as a team, place the pike end of the halligan exactly where you want it and have the other firefighter drive it in.
  32. In lightweight construction, be fearful of an earlier-than-anticipated collapse.
  33. Exterior streams from tower ladders are better through the windows than over the roof.
  34. Hydrate and shower immediately after a job.
  35. Wear your mask as long as possible and when needed; air is free, and life can be short.

These tactical tips are just a short list from spending the past 35 years on the fire floor; each one has operational value. Look at the fine points and the lessons learned from fires and emergencies you have responded to. Many of these jobs will be forever engrained in our heads, whereas hundreds of other runs are lost or simply forgotten. It’s okay to forget all the stories, but we shouldn’t ever forget those we stood side by side with while protecting others from the perils of fire.


MICHAEL N. CIAMPO is a 35-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 International 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.

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