DECK GUN DRILLS FOR THREE-MEMBER ENGINE COMPANIES

BY TOM SITZ

Probably one of the toughest operations for a three-member company is performing a deck gun attack off the booster tank and securing a water source before running out of water. How many engine companies regularly train on this type of scenario? Do you know how long it should take your company to get an effective stream out of your apparatus-mounted deck gun? Do you know how much time you have before the tank goes empty when you charge the gun?

How much time you have before the tank goes dry is a pretty easy question; it depends on the tip size for the stacked tips, which determines gpm or how much water the officer wants to apply if the deck gun has an automatic fog nozzle. Divide your booster tank capacity by the gpm delivered from the gun; that will tell you how much time you have to get a supply line in ser-vice.


(1, 2) Photos by author.

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Now, you need to go out and test your calculation. Charge the deck gun off your booster tank and time how long it takes for the truck to run out of water. Stop the clock when you can no longer produce an effective fire stream out of the gun. Why should you do this? Because nobody likes surprises on the fireground. Your engine might be plumbed improperly, which limits the rate of water flow into your pump.

Figuring out how long it should take your company to develop an effective stream through your deck gun is a little more complicated. You actually have to go out and do it and record the times. In fact, you’re going to have to do it at least a dozen times to get accurate information so you can average out your times and come up with a realistic goal. Also during this testing phase, you should be critiquing and modifying your operations, so your times should be getting progressively better.

My company has found that through extensive drilling, timekeeping, critiquing, and modifying how we did things based on all members’ input, after every evolution the times will have a breakover point just like a fire stream. Eventually, your company will achieve a speed at which it can accomplish the task faster than ever but at which it will not be able to accomplish the task correctly and consistently. Consistency is the key to any good company. At a certain speed, the chances of a misstep increase dramatically.

When we first started running the drills to see how long it would take us to get the gun in service, we were achieving times of around 20 to 25 seconds. Through constant critquing and modifying our operations based on everyone’s input, we cut the time down to 12 seconds. When we ran these drills after this initial training period, we would perform evolutions in which we could get the time down to eight seconds. The problem is we cannot do it consistently—at this speed it is very easy for someone to make a mistake, which will take the time beyond the 12-second average we want to maintain. We considered this our breakover point—we now know how fast (nobody ever ran on the drill site) we need to move to achieve the 12 seconds for the gun and how fast is too fast.

Something else we considered to be very important was that everyone drilled in every position, which is part of team building. When we go out and run our engine company drills, we usually run them three times so everyone can rotate through the positions. This was a big benefit in the critiques and modifications we made to improve our operations. You will need to find a fourth member to keep time and take notes every time you run a drill.

Once we had determined these two times (i.e., amount of time before the engine runs out of water and how long it takes us to charge the gun), we could figure out how much time we had to get our supply line in service. Keep in mind that the time for your supply line is a purely arbitrary number. You need to see if you can accomplish your objectives based on how your engine is currently set up and on training involving different scenarios.

SCENARIO 1

Heavy fire is visible as you pull into the street. The engine stops at a hydrant and forward lays into the scene and starts the attack with the deck gun off tank water.

Setup/execution. Place a cone 75 feet past the hydrant to represent the house. The engine stops at the hydrant to lay up to the cone. The main objective of the drill is to see if the jumpseat firefighter can get the hydrant in service before the tank runs out. It’s a fairly easy drill since he can be dressing the hydrant as the engine goes down the street. By keeping the forward lay as short as possible, you are making it harder for the jump seat firefighter to get the hydrant in service. (A short lay means less time).


(3, 4) Photos by Art Lagerstedt.

Variation. Place the cone 90 feet past the hydrant. When the engine stops at the cone, the chauffeur will find that the coupling is five to 10 feet short from the apparatus because of how the hose lays out in the street. Hopefully, he will remember to use the short section of supply line most engines carry instead of flaking off another 100-foot section of hose (photos 1, 2).


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SCENARIO 2

Heavy fire is showing as you pull onto the street. You know the hydrant is within 100 feet of the scene from prefire planning information. The engine reports directly to the scene and takes a position that will best facilitate a deck gun attack without blocking the rest of the responding companies, requiring a handstretch from the jumpseat firefighter. The goal is to see if your jumpseat firefighter can hand-stretch one section of supply line and charge the hydrant before your booster tank is empty.

Setup/execution. Place a cone 75 feet past a hydrant and have your company pull up to the cone and see if your jumpseat firefighter can hand-stretch your supply line back to the hydrant and get it in service before you run out of water (photos 3, 4).

Variation. Place a cone 75 feet in front of the hydrant and have the engine approach from a direction so that the hydrant is in front of the truck when it stops at the cone. This will make this drill substantially harder since you have to stretch around the front of the engine, which will require more communication and teamwork between the jumpseat firefighter and the chauffeur if you do not have a front suction and some supply line on your bumper.


(5, 6, 7) Photos by Pat Tosti.

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SCENARIO 3

The engine reports directly to the scene and finds a fire condition beyond its handline capability. The next-due engine is still several minutes away, and the hydrant is too far for a hand-stretch. The engine dumps the tank through the deck gun, then reverse lays its attack lines. It’s a fairly common tactic in the urban setting but not too common in the suburban setting. In fact, most suburban engine companies probably do not train on this tactic or their hose loads are set in such a way that it makes it virtually impossible to do this type of operation in an effective time frame.


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Setup/execution. Place a cone 200 feet in front of the hydrant and have the engine report to the cone, dump its tank, and reverse lay its attack lines. When we started running this evolution, we wanted to see how long the attack team would have to wait for water while the chauffeur flushed and dressed the hydrant, tied in the supply and attack lines, and charged everything. The initial times when the chauffeur operated by himself had an average time of 3 minutes, 11 seconds to get water out of the attack line. The more we ran the drill, the less we liked the time it took to get water to the attack line. This was not the chauffeur’s fault—he shows up at the hydrant with an empty booster tank. After some critiquing and input from everyone in the company, we decided to see what the time would be if the jumpseat firefighter got back in the truck and assisted the chauffeur with the hookups. By sending the jumpseat firefighter with the chauffeur, we were able to knock the time down to 1 minute, 31 seconds, a savings of 1 minute 40 seconds (photos 5, 6, and 7).


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One Sunday morning last summer, we ran this drill three times. Eight hours later, these same three firefighters were first due at a private dwelling fire that was exactly the type of scenario we talked about when we started running this drill. An attached two-car garage was heavily involved in fire, which was rapidly extending into the dwelling by three different routes: the interior door from the garage, the front door as a result of autoexposure, and into the attic through the soffits. The engine pulled up and immediately darkened down the extending fire with its deck gun. Just as it was getting ready to reverse lay its attack lines, an off-duty member showed up and hand-stretched the supply line for them. It still took a 21/2-inch line to the garage and a 13/4-inch line to the interior to finish the fire. Had they not knocked down the fire that was racing across the front of the dwelling and into the attic through the soffits and slowed the fire in the garage to prevent the kitchen door from failing, the damage would have been far more extensive.

Going to fires and training are key to becoming an outstanding engine company. The going to fires part only counts if you are critiquing every fire, good and bad points, especially the bad points. To quote Tom Brennan, chief (ret.) of the Waterbury (CT) Fire Department and a technical editor of Fire Engineering, “It’s not how many fires you go to but what you do with the ones you have.”

Company officers have no control over how many fires their company goes to, but they do have a say in how they train. Let’s face it, every engine company will eventually get water on the fire. The question is, Will they do it in a time frame that will allow a positive outcome for the homeowner? Barring any extenuating circumstances, if a company can’t consistently get water on the fire within a time frame in which what was unburned when they showed up is still unburned when they leave, it is the officer’s fault.

Versatility, consistency, and aggressiveness are the marks of a great engine company—the kind of company that makes the stretches appear almost effortless, and the kind of company you want to be a part of. Keep the faith; remember what you signed up for; and drill, drill, drill.

TOM SITZ is a lieutenant and 19-year veteran of the Painesville Township (OH) Fire Department.

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