Company Officer Can Make Fire Attack More Effective
The Volunteers Corner
At best, fire fighting is a physically demanding job, but there are times when it need not be as difficult as it is. An alert company officer can often make the going easier for his men—particularly at fires in dwellings and small to medium-size stores.
While the chief in command of a fire must develop appropriate strategy for his companies to attack a fire effectively with minimum physical punishment, the company officer is the man who has the duty to recognize when the going is rougher than it should be. Furthermore, the company officer has the responsibility for alerting his chief to difficulties his men have encountered and for alleviating those problems that can be minimized by actions of the men in his company.
One sure indication that a company is heading into trouble is the failure to advance its hose line. Frequently this is the result of lack of proper ventilation when a company is trying to move into a building with a fog line. When the fog is applied at the right place, there is a tremendous development of steam and as the water expands into steam at about a 1600 to 1 ratio, the superheated fire gases surge for what is sometimes the only available sizable opening—the door the fire fighters have entered.
Ventilate at once: The result is that the men hold their position with difficulty or may even have to back out. The reason for this is lack of ventilation. In some cases, the engine company officer must request the chief, hopefully by walkie-talkie, to have a ladder company (or other men if there is no ladder company) ventilate from the outside ahead of the fog stream. This ventilation will let the advancing fog stream push the fire gases and steam out of the building so that extinguishment can proceed with minimum physical difficulty.
But there also are times when the company officer can take care of the situation himself. Perhaps all that is needed is to order a fire fighter to go around the building and open a door or window to provide adequate ventilation. There are other situations when it is possible to reach a window or door from inside and obtain additional ventilation. At this time we are not discussing vertical ventilation, which requires more manpower.
Even when the fire has been darkened down, the inside atmosphere can be extremely hot and smoky, making it uncomfortable to work and difficult to see. To alleviate this condition, project a fog stream through an open window or doorway. Adjust the fog pattern and place the nozzle so that the fog pattern will almost fill the width of the opening while the nozzle is a few feet back from the opening.
This operation will move a tremendous volume of smoke and steam to the outside and conditions inside will become noticeably more comfortable in a couple of minutes. The alert officer will take this action to make his men more comfortable while completing suppression of the fire. When there is no need to be uncomfortable, a good company officer will take advantage of any opportunity to improve the working conditions.
The second line: When a hose line cannot advance, the reason may be that it lacks sufficient volume to control the fire. Remember, any water application on fire must be large enough in gpm to take more Btu out of the fire than the fire is generating. The fire will continue to burn as long as it generates more Btu than the water application is removing.
The company officer must quickly recognize the failure of his hose line to subdue fire and immediately act to get more water on the fire. This is the reason for having a backup line. This second line may add sufficient gpm to the attack to make it successful. The officer must not let false pride stand in the way of getting the second line into operation. There is no point in a company holding its position alone and taking a beating when the object of any fire attack is to extinguish fire as rapidly as possible. Once the fire is out, all other problems become minimal.
ChieFs responsibility: When a hose line is unable to advance, the chief officer should become aware of it, either through a report initiated by the company officer, by observation, or by questioning the company officer by radio about his progress.
If the initial attack is with 1 ½ -inch lines, one of them should be a backup for the attack line. This backup line is readily available for the chief to order to help the first line if the officer on the second line has not already done so either at the request of the first officer or on his own initiative.
Whenever manpower permits, it also is advisable to stretch a 2 1/2-inch line to back up an attack with l 1/2-inch lines. This gives the chief a much more powerful line to add to the attack the moment its use is indicated. The company officer on the initial attack line also should keep in mind that the heavier line is available and should not hesitate to ask for it when necessary.
Asking for the larger line when it is needed should be regarded as a mark of competence on the part of the officer requesting it. It shows that he is thinking both of the success of the fire attack and the welfare of his men, who will do the job better with less physical exhaustion with the additional help.