BURNS AND THE INITIAL ATTACK HOSE TEAM
Firefighters who advance the initial attack hoseline are some of the toughest and most hard-working, courageous, and dedicated members of a fire department. They often are the youngest and strongest, too. They are the unsung heroes of every successful firefighting operation. For example, after a fire is extinguished, the firechief is interviewed by television reporters, and the firefighters who operated outside the burning building are photographed and will have their pictures appear in the next morning’s newspapers; but the firefighters who put out the fire are in a small group by their pumper nursing their wounds: scalded necks, blistered knees, and scorched wrists.
Firefighters who advance attack hoselines suffer the most serious burns and most frequently are burned at a fire. These firefighters are burned because they work in extremely close proximity to raging flames and intense, heated gas and smoke. They come face to face with fire. Their work environment is hellish. They crawl over a bed of red hot ashes or beneath falling burning embers, dragging a hundred pounds of hose, whipping around a high-pressure nozzle, throwing tons of water around a flaming hallway or room.
The water from this hose stream immediately turns to steam and scalding rain, which pours down—along with heated chunks of collapsing ceiling plaster and melted paint—around their helmets and shoulders. Into this environment they stumble forward blindly, stopping only when the heat appears to lessen, signaling the extinguishment of the fire.
Firefighters operating an attack hoseline suffer more than twice the number of burn injuries as firefighters performing other duties. Scientific tests show that temperatures of 280°F to 320°F cause intense pain and damage to skin. The temperatures in a burning room are much hotter than these. Flames at ceiling level are 1,000°F. Steam created by the vaporization of the hose stream is 500°F.
Three areas of a firefighter’s body often are burned and blistered during an attack hoseline advance: thighs, wrists, and the neck and ear area. Skin on these body areas suffer first-, second-, and third-degree burns: redness, blistering, and charring. The fireground first-aid treatment for all types of skin burns is to immerse the burned area in cold water from a hose stream for two to five minutes and cover the area with a dry, sterile dressing. Cold water then is applied to the dressing. If the burn is thirddegree and covers a large area, the firefighter is treated for shock.
Firefighters can protect themselves from these types of burns by wearing fire gear that covers the legs, wrists, and neck. Bunker pants are superior to pull-up boots; they cover the upper leg and thigh better. Protective hoods can be worn to protect the neck and ears; and well-designed and properlyfitted gloves and coat wristlets must cover the wrist area completely when the arms are fully extended, the position used when moving a nozzle from side to side.
In addition to wearing protective clothing, the following safe operating practices can help reduce burn injuries:
- Wear your turnout coat fully buttoned and with the collar pulled up. Pull down the ear flaps of your helmet.
- Crouch down low when advancing an attack hoseline. Stay below the thermal balance of superheated gases at ceiling level.
- Do not stretch an uncharged hoseline into the room containing the fire and then hit the fire when water is received at the nozzle. You will be trapped in the room with the expanding steam and the blowback of heated gases. Get water outside the room and hit the fire from the doorway first. Use the reach of the stream to cool down the room first, then move in.
- Coordinate venting with hoseline advance. Vent the room just before the line advance. Open all doors, windows, and skylights to the room to
- reduce heat flame and expanding steam.
- Wash the floor down to cool off ashes, sparks, and burning embers falling from the ceiling and furniture before advancing into the room.
- To avoid plunging a leg through a burned-out floor deck and suffering upper thigh burns before pulling your leg out, use a crawling technique: Place one outstretched leg in front of you when advancing the attack hoseline. Support your body weight with your back leg tucked beneath you. The outstretched leg can “feel” the stability of the floor deck, the presence of holes, or weakened flooring.
- Never pass fire that threatens to cut off your retreat.
- Never go above a fire unless a protective hoseline is protecting the floor below you.
- When wind is blowing through a window into the path of the attack hose team’s advance, notify the officer in command of the fire, and request that another attack hoseiine be advanced with the wind from a fire escape or ladder. When ready, back out the initial attack line, close the door, and protect exposures while the second line advances from the opposite direction with the wind.
- When the fire commander orders that an outside master stream be used and that the initial attack hoseline back out, comply with the order— withdraw the hoseline and back out to a safe position. Do not continue to attempt to advance the hoseline.
- Do not bunch up and overcrowd the hallway or stairs behind the attack hose team firefighters. Allow them room for a temporary retreat if flames, heat, and steam blow back to them. You may not feel the same degree of heat as firefighters who are two or three feet ahead of you.
Advancing the initial attack hoseline is a basic firefighting service provided by every fire company in America. It is also the tactic that produces the highest number of injuries, the most significant of which is burns.