The RIT/FAST Engine: Operational Guidelines
LARRY COHEN–An urgent report blares across the radios: Chief, we have heavy smoke and heavy fire conditions. Companies are making an aggressive attack on the fire. Progress is slow because of severe conditions. The ladder companies are searching, forcing doors, and checking for extension.
A period of silence. Then the radio blares out every incident commander`s worst nightmare: MAYDAY! MAYDAY! MAYDAY!
The IC transmits back: Unit with a Mayday, report your problem!
Chief, we`ve had a collapse of the roof into the top floor with several members trapped. We have heavy fire conditions and can`t get to them. Request the FAST team!
As the FAST team members enter the building to locate the firefighters in distress, they ascend the stairs to the top floor, where they are confronted with heavy fire conditions in the top-floor hallway. They notice a hoseline that disappears under a section of collapsed roof. The engine officer advises the FAST team members that the rest of his crew is under the debris farther down the hallway. The only way to make progress down the hall is to extinguish the fire while advancing toward the trapped members. The FAST team officer calls for a hoseline to the top floor. In the chaos and confusion of the urgency, the line is severely delayed in being stretched. Finally, the hoseline gets to the top floor, and the fire is extinguished, but three firefighters are lost.
Whether you are an officer or a firefighter, hopefully you will never have to experience such a situation in your career. Entrapped or lost firefighters in a structure fire give us little time to react and begin lifesaving measures to save our own. The FAST team was developed to do such a task without interrupting the aggressive attack on the fire by first-due units. By establishing these teams, we have come a long way in providing an insurance policy for our fellow firefighters. As more Occupational Safety and Health Administration and National Fire Protection Association requirements are being enforced on the fireground, we firefighters tend to look only at what is mandated by bureaucracy to make our jobs safer. We stop using our “street smarts” to keep us safe. Progressive thinking on the firefighters` behalf is probably the best form of fireground safety.
In the scenario described above, the best tool we could have had to save the firefighters was a readily available charged hoseline. Hence, a FAST ENGINE or a FAST HOSELINE. Most FAST teams consist of members equipped with ladder company tools such as axes, halligans, search ropes, and other truck company tools. These tools are invaluable in extricating a member from debris or rubble or for breaching walls to locate them, but they are of absolutely no use in extinguishing fire to penetrate to the location we need to reach.
Calling for a hoseline after the Mayday situation has occurred is too late. By the time the orders are received (if they ever are) and members are organized to initiate a hoseline stretch, it will be too late. We need to deploy a hoseline specifically to enhance the FAST team`s efforts in rapid search, rescue, and removal of an injured or trapped firefighter before the situation necessitates it. Not all situations will require the use of a hoseline to make our rescue, but we`d better be well prepared for the one that does; members confronted with fire will not get too far without the protection of a hoseline.
In the fire service there is a generic rule of thumb: The positioning of a hoseline between the fire and the life hazard is one of the best ways to provide protection for building occupants trapped because of fire conditions. If this is the case, then why have we not considered the same actions for our own members? Discussed below are many options. Consider every aspect to avoid the typical chaotic problems we experience within the first few minutes of arriving on the fireground.
Size-up and Briefing
Hopefully, you were advised while responding to the scene that you will be operating as a FAST engine. This information should redirect your thinking from fire suppression to firefighter safety. On arriving at the scene, members should try to size up the fire building from the apparatus and stay with the engine until ordered to report in. This way, members can assemble all the equipment needed without running back to the rig. Most firefighters are aware of the size-up that must be done; however, the information the FAST engine needs should include the size of the building, including height and width (remember that we may not always be called to the fire floor and have to be ready to respond in any part of the building–flexibility is the key word here); alternate means of access into the fire building (exposure buildings, aerial apparatus, rear access, and so on); location of stairwells; and any apparatus positioned in front of the fire building.
The officer should report to the command post or the officer in charge. Any critical information has to be relayed to the FAST engine officer so he can coordinate the best plan if a hoseline is needed. Vital information should be discussed with both the FAST truck officer and the FAST engine officer. This will provide both officers with knowledge of where companies are operating, the location of the fire, the number of personnel operating in a specific area, and the locations of operating hoselines. The officer can also determine the best location for staging of the hoseline and the best access into the building. One thing to remember is that by the time you arrive at the scene, numerous lines will be in operation and the front door to the fire building may not always be the most appropriate spot from which to begin your stretch .
Establishing Water Source
Locating a “good hydrant” is an important operation in fighting fires. The same holds true for the FAST engine. Most of the hydrants near the fire building will probably already be in use, or they will be blocked out. For this reason, a supply line from a remote hydrant is a consideration. Use the same standard operating procedures as you would when arriving at a fire. Before committing to a hydrant, check for water by opening the hydrant slowly; this also flushes the hydrant of debris. Ensure that you have a good connection to the hose coupling, especially if using the apparatus to deploy the line out. Be aware that the hydrant selected may be supplied by the same main from which the firefighting units are operating. Be careful not to steal pressure or volume from companies involved in fire operations.
Another option is to stretch the FAST line from the engine in front of the fire building. If you elect to do this, it is a good idea to confer with the pump operator to make sure he is aware that you are planning to stretch another line off his apparatus and also to make sure that water is available to supply that line. This is a viable option, but let`s consider the stress that the pump operator is under even before you request an additional line and have it charged, especially at a large incident. The engine may be operating at or near pump capacity and cannot supply any additional lines. Also, if for some reason the engine loses water as the result of a burst length of supply hose or mechanical failure, not only will the companies fighting the fire not receive water, but the FAST line will also lose water. Be selective about your water source. Booster tank water should not be an option for extended operations and can give members a false sense of security. Nothing would be worse for the FAST team than to make a good aggressive attack and suddenly run out of water. Finally, relay pumping can also be used if the supply is a considerable distance away. Supply lines should be at curbside, to prevent other incoming units from parking on the line. Whatever it takes, obtaining a good water source is critical.
Preparing the Attack Line
The primary purpose of this line is to provide immediate protection to firefighters. To get the line into position right away, 112- or 134-inch hoseline is recommended. The only time a larger attack line should be considered is under heavy fire conditions where the flow of a smaller line would be inadequate or the stretch is so long that friction loss becomes a factor. Even in a standpipe operation, reducing the fitting down for a smaller hand-line will get the line into position faster (remember that this line is not considered a primary suppression line). Larger handlines are also extremely hard to stretch and get into operation, especially with limited personnel. If your department runs with preconnected lines, they should be stretched out of the bed and flaked out on the ground. This way, you can avoid stretching short by adding additional lengths, if needed, prior to stretching into the building. This also affords the firefighters a visual check to see where the folds of the hose must be picked up to help facilitate a quick stretch. When not using preconnected lines and stretching is directly from the bed, one firefighter should stay positioned at the rear to make sure the line moves easily into the building from the street. Make sure that the hoseline is out of the way of companies already operating at the fire, and remember that falling glass from the fire building can cut a hose. Try to protect the line.
A combination nozzle is recommended; its variety of patterns makes it possible to use the one most appropriate for the prevailing conditions. FDNY advocates smooth-bore nozzles for fire suppression. The reasons for this are superb stream penetration, less steam production, and lower operating flow pressures. In a FAST engine scenario, it may be necessary to change from a “long-reach” attack mode to protecting members with a fog pattern until the firefighter can be removed. Regardless of the nozzle used, the officer and the nozzleman are responsible for proper positioning and effective operation of the nozzle.
Stretching the FAST Hoseline
As always, the successful stretching of a hoseline is a team effort. Every member must be aware of exactly where and how the line is going to be deployed. Is the operation going to begin from the engine in the street? Or, must the engine company bring the hose from its engine from down the block? Or, is it going to be a standpipe operation; in which case, hose packs or rollups will have to be taken into the building to be connected to the riser on an upper floor? When the FAST engine reported in, the officer should have obtained this information from the officer in charge.
Stretching the hoseline directly from the engine. If feasible, one of the apparatus operating in front of the fire building can be used. If this is the case, let the operator know exactly what you are doing. Don`t just run off with a hoseline. This can be disastrous and cause a good fight! If the engines at the scene cannot be used, the FAST team must be prepared to get enough hose from its engine or another engine in the immediate vicinity. Do not underestimate the number of lengths that may be needed. It is harder to stretch under these conditions than “stretching the initial attack line” because the team may not know exactly where the line is needed. While advancing into the building, listen to radio reports of changing conditions. You may have to change the direction of the stretch after it was initiated. Explore alternative means of advancing the hoseline to the desired location (using the exterior of the building, for example). Be flexible!
Standpipe stretch. In large commercial and residential buildings of significant height or area, standpipes could be located in one or many areas of the building. The large square footage of these buildings works against the FAST team. You may not be able to readily determine the best location for a stretch from a standpipe. This will cause some delay in getting the line into position for the rescue. Most likely, initial arriving companies will be operating from this system.
The location of the fire sometimes can indicate the best type of stretch to use. For example, if the fire is on a lower floor and access is good from the street, it may be beneficial to stretch directly from the engine instead of the standpipe in the building. The benefit is that water will not be taken from the attack lines already in operation. The negative side is that the stretch may be considerably longer.
If the standpipe must be used to supply the FAST hoseline, consider several factors that can affect the outcome of the fire and the rescue attempt. Most standpipe outlets will be used by companies trying to extinguish the fire; this usually includes outlets on the fire floor and the floor below and outlets in the hallways of the fire floor. Therefore, the FAST team will not be able to hook up close to the fire if necessary. Any water used will affect the volume and pressure of the other lines. If the fire is a major factor in reaching distressed or trapped firefighters, the last thing in the world rescuers would want to do is reduce the effectiveness of the lines fighting the fire. Be careful when selecting the method of supplying the hoseline. You can make conditions worse. Consider all options, and pick the best one for the situation.
The following considerations can be useful in situations where difficulties are encountered while trying to operate as a FAST engine:
Consider using a manifold or water thief in front of the fire building to help establish a water supply to the hoseline.
If members are trapped at a window with fire conditions in the area, use a handline, and direct a stream over their heads to cool the atmosphere in the room.
Members should be prepared to add additional lengths to a line that has previously been stretched into the building. Do not use a line that is in operation for fire attack; try to add the lengths at the front of the line to avoid dragging the entire length of the stretch. One length of charged 134-inch hose weighs almost 80 pounds.
Whether interior or exterior, master streams may be used in certain circumstances to protect firefighters. Be cautious while operating near or on members to avoid injury from the force of the stream.
In extreme circumstances, do not rule out the use of a house line from a standpipe. While not recommended by most departments, it may be the fastest way to get water until a department line can be stretched.
As discussed earlier, most standpipe outlets on at least the fire floor and the floor below will be in operation and not available for the FAST team`s use. Another option would be to connect to the outlet on the floor above. At times, this can be a dangerous practice and goes against most fire departments` SOPs. Just remember that we are in a lifesaving operation for our own members, and every second counts. Do not jeopardize your safety. If the situation dictates that you can safely operate from the floor above, do so. If not, find another source–another riser, for example.
Luckily, most fires we respond to will not need the operations of such a hose team, but we need to be aware of the fact that some fires that look “routine” suddenly can change drastically at a second`s notice. Recently, many fires have challenged the fire service in an area that is new to us. Without warning, firefighters throughout the country are getting seriously injured or losing their lives because of conditions that are explosive in nature with little or no indications. Sometimes these situations are unavoidable. However, we can prepare for the rapid emergency removal of firefighters endangered by these conditions. We know about backdrafts, flashovers, and sudden collapses, but we still get caught in these situations. As we know, firefighting is inherently dangerous, so we are doing ourselves an injustice by looking the other way and not providing an insurance policy for ourselves and fellow firefighters. The FAST team is a great idea. Now, let`s make it a reliable, lifesaving evolution for all of us. Consider the FAST engine.
LARRY COHEN is a firefighter with the Fire Department of New York ( FDNY), where he is currently assigned to Squad Company 18; a staff member of the Rockland County Fire Training Center in Pomona, New York; and co-owner of Fire Ground Technologies, which provides firefighter training. He is a New Jersey State-certified instructor and a past member of the New Jersey State Training and Educational Council. He has a bachelor`s degree in fire science technology from Jersey City State University.