THE PRIVATE-DWELLING FIRE
BY BOB PRESSLER
The mark of a well-trained fire department is the ability to perform well under adverse fireground conditions. The simple tasks of stretching a handline, forcing entry into a sealed building, conducting searches, performing ventilation, and extinguishing the fire still are not consistently performed on the fireground. When these tasks are properly executed, most often it is because of well-trained, highly motivated company officers.
At working building fires, the first-arriving company officer should be able, without input from a chief officer, to start the appropriate fire attack. This means that the officer must be able to evaluate fire conditions, identify any building construction deficiencies, and apply known strategy and tactics that result in a safe and efficient fire attack. Other officers should be able to evaluate what actions the first-arriving company officer has implemented and be able to supplement this action plan.
In most departments, an engine company will be first to arrive at the scene of a working fire. The officer should start a size-up of the fire building and plan his attack accordingly. Most building fires require stretching a handline for control and extinguishment. Once the officer has given the order to stretch a handline, he should start into the fire building. This will enable him to guide the line to the correct position for operating.
The first-arriving engine company officer should stay with the company as its members put the first line into operation. It is more important for him to ensure that the first line gets into operation at the proper location than to be elsewhere doing other duties.
In a three-person engine company, if the officer remains outside to establish a command post, who will enter the building to fight the fire with the lone nozzleman? If you are fortunate enough to have a four-member company and if you haven`t left someone at the hydrant, the officer should still enter the building with the engine crew but will not have to perform the duties of the backup firefighter. By not being the backup or, in some cases, even the nozzleman, the officer can pay more attention to the fire, more closely monitor the nozzle team`s advancement, and maybe even perform some searches off the handline during advancement.
For fires in most one-family houses, stretch the first line to the front door, even if the fire is in the front room. The theory of attacking from the unburned toward the burning area presents several problems in private dwellings.
First, the prevalent use of preconnected handlines makes short stretching a distinct possibility. A 212-story house set back from the street 40 feet, dimensions 25 feet wide by 50 feet deep, will use up most of a 200-foot preconnect getting from the engine, across the lawn, down the side of the house, around the deck, up the stairs, into the house, and back through the kitchen and dining area into the burning living room. While this is going on, the fire burning in the living room has extended up to the second floor via the stairway normally found in the vicinity of the front door.
Second, even if your preconnect is long enough to stretch to the rear, the fire has the extra time to spread horizontally throughout the first floor and vertically to the second floor.
Third, even if the fire is not rapidly spreading as you stretch around to the rear, you are not stretching the line to the position between the fire and any possible trapped occupants.
If the stretched handline will flow sufficient water (in the 175-gpm range) needed for private dwelling fires, an attack through the front door at the main body of fire will darken down the fire and protect the stairway to the second floor. Protecting this stairway gives truck personnel (who will be performing searches of the sleeping areas) and the second handline access to the second floor.
Training on and enforcing proper SOPs will help later-arriving companies to be able to assist the first engine. The second engine should always ensure that the first engine has a water supply. If department SOPs dictate that all engines stop on the way in and lay their own supply line, the officer of the second engine should monitor the department radio while responding to determine if the first engine may have deviated from normal procedure because of an out-of-service hydrant or another problem. On arrival at the fireground, the second officer should verbally and visually check to see that the water supply has been established. If not, this becomes the number one priority.
If the first-due engine has its own water supply, personnel from the second engine should help get the first line into operation if necessary. If the first line is operating and the crew needs no other immediate help, the second engine can stretch another line. Some departments even have the first engine drop two handlines, one the first engine will operate and one the second engine will operate when it arrives on scene.
Photo 1. The first engine has arrived on the scene and is confronted with heavy fire in a 112-story wood-frame dwelling. The fire has possession of most of the first floor and is threatening the adjoining building on the exposure 4 side. The first engine has established a water supply and started its first handline toward the front of the building. It has also dropped a second line for the second engine to use as an exposure line.
The magnitude of the fire and the severe exposure hazards dictate starting off with at least a 134-inch line flowing in the 175-gpm range; a 212-inch handline used just to knock down the heavy fire would be acceptable.
Photo 2. Personnel stretch the lines into position, making sure not to entangle them as they pull the lines off the apparatus. They must pull the line for the fire building toward the rear and drop the second line toward the curbside of the apparatus. This will help keep the two separate as personnel flake them out. The officer takes a quick look between the buildings to check if fire is into the exposed house or just burning on the exterior. The first line waits for water at the base of the stairs.
They stretch the second line to the alleyway between the two buildings. The second-due officer also takes a look between the buildings and, depending on whether the ladder company has arrived and where its personnel are operating, he may quickly check the exposed building to see if fire has extended into the interior. If it has, the second line needs to reposition as soon as possible after the exterior fire has been knocked down.
Photo 3. The exposure line actually flows water before the initial handline does. Personnel quickly give a quick shot at the exposed building and then apply water to the front porch area before they advance down the alleyway. This prevents any fire from the porch area from wrapping around the corner and threatening the advance. It also knocks down a little of the overlapping fire into which the first line will soon be advancing.
Photo 4. The first line now has water, and personnel start their advance into the main fire building. The second engine must prevent its handline from operating into the main fire building via any windows in the alleyway. This could drive fire or steam onto the advancing engine. The second engine should concentrate its stream on the exterior fire of the exposed building. Once the exterior fire is darkened down, they can advance this line into the exposure building. A truck company or at least one member, if you have only one truck on the assignment, also will be needed on the interior of exposure 4 to pull ceilings and open up any areas into which fire may have extended.
As the first line advances into the main fire building, the officer and nozzle team must be aware that they are advancing into an area that has just had a very heavy fire condition in it. They must advance slowly and cautiously. The nozzleman must be aware of holes in the floor and of any fire that may have extended into the overhead or attic area. They should use the reach of the stream to darken down the fire in advance of their forward movement.
The ladder company, if only one is initially assigned, probably will have to concentrate its efforts on the exposed building because of the heavy fire condition in the fire building. The crew members should remove curtains or drapes on the exposed windows. They should open ceilings along the exterior walls opposite the impinging fire using inspection holes. They should also check the attic area near the eave line. Once they have checked the exposure, the operation can switch to the main fire building.
If the fire is concentrated at only the front of the fire building, truck company personnel may be able to enter the rear of the fire building on the first or second floor. Operating personnel must be aware that once the engine gets water, their position may become untenable.
If the fire has extended into the attic or half-story area, you may need to open the roof. The truck officer must determine if the structure is safe enough to operate on. If the building is vacant or the fire has been burning long enough that the structural stability is in question, do not commit firefighters to the roof.
Through proper training and standardized SOPs, company officers should be able to perform their operations based on what tactics previously arriving companies have implemented. n
Photos by author.
BOB PRESSLER, a 22-year veteran of the fire service, is a firefighter with Rescue Company No. 3 of the City of New York (NY) Fire Department. He created and produced the videos Peaked-Roof Ventilation and SCBA Safety and Emergency Procedures for the Fire Engineering video series “Bread and Butter” Operations. Pressler has an associate`s degree in fire protection engineering from Oklahoma State University, is a frequent instructor on a wide range of fire service topics, and is a member of a volunteer department.