Will political agenda “pettiness” erode standards?

Will political agenda “pettiness” erode standards?

Regarding Bill Manning`s remarks (Editor`s Opinion, February 1996) on the wisdom of having an “experience lite” candidate chosen assistant chief of the Madison (WI) Fire Department, it seems clear to me that the chairwoman and members of the Police and Fire Commission saw its choice of chief as an opportunity for restating the oh-so-politically correct mandate of the City of Madison government–a city that has been described as “16 square miles surrounded by reality.” It is my understanding that among other things, the terms “male” and “female” (describing hose couplings) and “manpower” have been forcibly expunged from the Madison firefighter`s lexicon.

Some call this empowerment and progress. While I have no quarrel with equality in the fire service, the wrongheadedness of these gestures simply mirrors the pettiness of this country`s politically correct agenda. My concern is this: How much farther will the pendulum swing before (a) the fire service no longer is able to quickly and efficiently deliver the level of service (read experience) that it currently manages to produce and (b) when the pendulum does swing back, will a fire service career field still exist that is recognizable for the high standards it previously defined?

Regarding the comments on the news media`s apparent inability to recognize the presence of firefighters at the scene of an emergency…accuracy and attention to detail have not been the media`s strong points for quite some time.

Jeff Burke


Milwaukee (WI) Fire Department

Smooth-bore or combination nozzle? Try each

The debate on solid-bore vs. combination nozzles has raged and probably will rage for years. We duel with words and videos to try to convince each other. However, the easiest way to convince one in this area is to let the person experience the effects of each nozzle in a realistic fire attack demonstration.

For the past 10 years, I have done just that while teaching basic engine company operations at the Rockland County (NY) Fire Training Center. In our concrete burn building, I build a fire of reasonable size. The fire is made up of eight average-size pallets; some hay is used to get the fire started. After the fire has become fully involved and the thermal layer is about four feet off the floor, I bring trainees in (in full gear and SCBA). We sit on the floor. They remove one glove and sense the coolness of the floor and then carefully put their hand up into the thermal layer. I remind them that the fuel load is very limited and that the fire is contained to one area of the room–not quite a real fire situation but a good representation of conditions that will be more severe in a real fire.

The nozzleman knocks the fire down with a smooth-bore or at least a straight stream from a combination nozzle. We sense conditions again. The hot air is still up, cool air down–tenable. We repeat the process using a fog or spray pattern, moving the nozzle in wide circles, as many of us were taught years ago. I point several hand lights straight up from the floor so trainees can see the smoke, steam, and heat be driven by the spray. We sense conditions again. The air currents created by the fog pattern now have circulated the air in the entire room, mixing the superheated upper layers with the previously tenable lower levels. Trainees groan as the steam begins to penetrate their gear. We have now created what I have been calling for years “fireman`s soup.” Can you guess what the main ingredient is?

During an after-action review of the evolution, I discuss what we did, experienced, and felt. I always ask one question: If you had to move through that room to knock down another room of fire, which nozzle pattern would you use, and why?

One of the confusing factors in this debate is that using a spray pattern will work for a one-room fire. The problem arises when we have to move through or remain in that nasty, hot, moist, steamy soup we just created. The fact is that the straight-stream pattern will not disturb the natural thermal layering of a fire as a spray will. The straight stream will not create heat and steam and then drive them back onto firefighters.

Another confusing factor about spray nozzles and fire attack is the nozzleman. When using a wide spray pattern, it appears he is doing a great fire-killing job. We have all been there: You just can`t see past the water. In fact, the reach of the water is not very far at all. If the fire is intense, the weak, small drops of water may be vaporized before they even reach the fuel. This obviously does not put the fire out. Remember, the perception the nozzleman has is that he is putting big water on the fire.

I often hear about the “versatility” of the combination nozzle. I don`t understand the versatility of a tool (fog or spray pattern) I can`t use for interior structural fire attack. Granted, spray patterns are necessary for other uses we are all familiar with, but versatile for what in structural fire attack? Many say ventilation can be easily accomplished by putting a spray pattern out a window or door. This is true, but if you are depending on your nozzle team to vent, it`s time to revisit your SOPs.

While other factors such as nozzle pressure, flow, clogging with debris, and ease of operation all need to enter the decision on which nozzle to use, it appears that the most important answer is, Use a straight stream for interior fire attack. Other issues are negotiable.

Jerry Knapp

Fire Instructor

Rockland County Fire Training Center

Pomona, New York

The risk must be proportional to the gain

After watching the movie about the firefighters killed on Storm King Mountain and the ceremony commemorating the first anniversary of the deaths of our three brother firefighters killed in Pittsburgh, I felt a need to share my feelings. Before anyone jumps to conclusions, please read this twice and think about the implications. My comments aren`t out of disrespect. To the contrary, they are made so that the losses will not be in vain.

We must stop glorifying deaths caused by poor command and control procedures, lack of maintenance programs, failure to use proper protective equipment and devices, and numerous other failures. The heart attacks caused by physical and health conditions that have been ignored claim half of our people. Another quarter are killed by driving techniques that would be banned at Daytona. The incessant proclaiming that firefighting is the most dangerous profession is not borne out by statistics. Fortunately, we have moved down the list in injuries and fatalities. Even so, why should we be proud of killing so many of our own when our mission is to “protect lives (our own?) and property.”

If we ever hope to be accepted on a level with other professions, it will be necessary to progress past putting the “wet stuff on the red stuff” to “proper agent application to effect extinguishment.” Yes, we have heroes. No, it isn`t a requirement for firefighters to die before they become heroes. Some of these deaths border on the criminal. I`m not talking about pouring water in the windows until all the furniture floats out the attic. I am talking about training and education, maintenance, and competent leaders who account for their personnel and ensure their safety while they take the calculated risks necessary in our profession. The amount of risk must be directly proportional to the gain. Until then, we can expect to drive used police cars and be turned down on most of our budget requests.

It`s time to raise ourselves to the technically professional level required of today`s firefighter. Let`s keep our heroes around long enough so they, too, can enjoy it.

Allen Clark

Assistant Chief/Safety Officer

Bell Township Fire Department

Salina, Pennsylvania

February cover as a training aid

What`s wrong with this picture–that is, the cover of the February issue? Really, the question should be, What seems right?

I have made the following observations:

1. At least three of the firefighters have their SCBA waist straps hanging loose. The firefighter in the foreground may not have his coat closed.

2. Only one firefighter appears to have his face mask in place, and he is not on the hoseline.

3. The pattern and reach of the water stream and the slack condition of the hoseline in the foreground indicate very low water pressure.

4. I count four firefighters on the one line. Does it take that many in New York?

5. The fire is igniting the exposure to the left. The crew should have been split to get a second line in operation to prevent or reduce extension to the exposure.

6. The smoke coming from the top of the rollup door and flame visible on the porch under the railing indicate there might also be a basement fire.

I am not a firefighter but have attended enough fires to see how problems like this can cause firefighter injuries. Strict adherence to training and self-protection through proper use of all protective equipment have resulted in a minimum of firefighter injuries in this area.

Publicizing pictures such as this one is good, as they promote discussion and can be used as training aids (how not to act).

John Fisken

Brier, Washington

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