Be Ready for the Big One During Every Response
Because most fires are minor, every fire company must be constantly on the alert for the big fire that requires maximum effort by every fire fighter and optimum use of apparatus. The first-in officer sets the pace, so he must be quick to recognize a working fire and order initial operations that will be a foundation for the eventual size of the attack.
The building with flames thrusting through the roof and reaching out windows is no problem because even the newest recruit knows that a large-scale attack is needed. It’s the building with only a few wisps of smoke showing but with fire starting to race through concealed spaces or nearing hazardous material that offers that unwanted surprise.
Some fire departments put the odds more in their favor by making it a standard operating procedure to stretch a line down the street at every response to a building. If the fire is extinguished with a few gallons of water from a booster tank—or there is no fire on arrival—the line is never charged. In areas where hydrants are closely spaced, only a few lengths of 2 1/2-inch or larger hose have to be picked up. However, if the need for a good stream develops when the building is entered, substantial water can be applied to the fire that much quicker.
Laying groundwork: The objective of every company responding on a first alarm should be to operate so that they are prepared to mount a full-scale attack on a working fire or, if necessary, establish an effective defensive operation. Apparatus should be maneuvered so that there will be no backtracking when the use of all units is required. This means that possibilities must be anticipated.
As the initial size-up is being made at what appears to be a one-company fire, the second and later arriving companies should stay loose so that if they are needed, they can resume moving forward to operate as they would have if the fire had looked like a worker when they reached the fireground. The objective is to always be ready to move into a full-scale attack.
When smoke is showing, it should be standard procedure to stretch at least one large line from a water source, whether it is a hydrant, a pond or even a brook. Hopefully, your apparatus has a split hose bed and will stretch parallel lines whenever the distance is not excessive. This immediately doubles the volume of water that can be moved and if less than half of the potential volume is required, then only one of the two lines need be charged. This, of course, will make everyone happier when it is time to pick up. But the point is that you will have that second line in the street if and when you need it.
Hooking up big: Inline pumping is a useful operation when it appears that the fire can be handled by two or three lW-inch lines because this maneuver speeds the application of an unlimited supply of water on the fire. However, the quantity of water per minute that can be applied to the fire is limited by the supply lines. What this adds up to is that inline pumping should be limited to the first-in engine company.
Other engines should hook up to a hydrant to obtain a maximum flow. This means using a large suction whenever a hydrant has a steamer outlet and at the same time gating one of the 2 1/2-inch outlets for a 2 1/2 or 3-inch supply line. When a hydrant has only two 2 1/2-inch outlets, then gate one and attach a supply line to the other. After opening up the hydrant and putting the pump in operation, a second supply line can then be attached to the gated hydrant outlet. This assures you of getting the maximum amount of water from a hydrant with only two 2 1/2-inch outlets.
Sometimes at a working fire the last engine to lay hose is not needed at a hydrant because it has stretched to one or more pumpers already at hydrants. When this is the situation, this engine should then go to the nearest available hydrant and hook up so that it is ready to take lines if another alarm is struck. The driver can do this alone, so the other men in the company can handle a regular fireground assignment while their apparatus is prepared to support an expanded attack.
Hit hard immediately: One of the difficulties encountered at a fire that doesn’t look too big at first glance is the tendency of first-due companies to stick to their standard operating procedure for small fires when the extent of the fire is doubtful. And sometimes this is true even when there are indications that the fire is extensive.
The first-in officer must be alert to stretch big lines immediately under these conditions. At the same time, he must quickly evaluate the situation with a second alarm (or even third) in mind. If there is the slightest doubt that the first alarm response can handle the situation, then the officer should not hesitate to call for an additional alarm or mutual aid. The borderline situations are the ones that create problems.
Whether it is stretching hose or calling additional companies, the trick is to do immediately what will have to be done eventually.