Don’t Ever Be Surprised When You Meet Smoke
The Volunteers Corner
It’s not unusual for the first-in company to pull up to a building and see no flames—only smoke in varying degrees from light to heavy. It may even look like a practically-nothing situation, but what this first company and the others responding now do may make the difference between a single alarm and a multiple alarm fire.
At the moment, time is on your side, but how you use this time will determine whether this alliance remains an asset or deteriorates into a deficit. Will a flashover or—much worse—a back draft catch you with your bunker pants down? You won’t be surprised by a smoke situation if you treat it with the seriousness it demands.
Make use of time: Even a light smoke condition in a building calls for immediate action to make the most of the available time. While no fire is visible, the officer in charge should order his companies to prepare to stretch lines and hook up pumpers to hydrants. While a few men search for the source of the smoke, others can prepare for a working fire.
The men searching for the fire should carry axes, pike poles, claw tools, portable extinguishers and hand lights. Although the smoke is light, self-contained breathing apparatus and a hose line should be brought to the building entrance.
When you find the hot spot in a wall or in a floor and ceiling assembly, you will have men at hand who are equipped to open up. No time will be lost in calling for tools that are still on apparatus. Hand lights are needed even when the sun is shining because your search may lead to cellars, dark attics and cocklofts.
On the other hand, the smoke source may be nothing more than an electrical fixture, a malfunctioning oil burner or a pile of smoldering papers or clothing, and portable extinguishers may be all you need to handle the situation.
Opening up: But if the fire is in the walls, in a ceiling or a concealed space, a hose line must be brought in before opening up the hot spot. Prepare for the worst. A second line should be taken to the floor above the fire and a third line should be positioned to back up the first line. And it’s a good precaution to make this backup line a 21/2-inch line, although in many situations a lVi-inch will be sufficient.
Now you are ready for the expected increase in flame as the fire receives more oxygen. Your actions should have reduced the possible surprises to a minimum.
The moment your search indicated the possibility of fire in a concealed space, you ordered lines stretched and pumpers to hydrants or other water source in accordance with your department’s operating procedures. This was all done while there was still no crisis, so the lines were ready when needed.
After the fire has been located and lines are in their proper positions, ventilation can be effected as the structural design of the building and fire conditions dictate. In other words, you have found the fire and you now ventilate just as you would if the fire has been visible upon arrival.
Heavy smoke condition: So far, we have been discussing the “walk in” type of smoke condition. Now let’s consider the building that is loaded with smoke that is coming out the eaves, cracks around doors and windows, and other openings in the structure. This is the condition that signals “back draft possible” in capital letters. And if the smoke is coming through cracks and under doors in puffs, you can bet on a back draft potential.
As long as you leave the building closed, time is on your side. Take advantage of this by stretching lines into position and getting pumpers to hydrants. If you have no hydrants, start setting up a relay to a water source or a tanker shuttle.
This is also the time to position master stream equipment if you have it because it is likely that the best you can hope for is a flashover in a sizable portion of the building. This means big fire and big fire means big streams— right away, not when it’s too late. Hand lines also should be ready to take advantage of the possibility that men will be able to enter the building.
Ventilation becomes the single most important operation on the foreground after your lines are in position and you are ready to attack the fire. Start venting from the roof to avoid a back draft. A hose line at the roof opening should be used only to prevent extension of fire to the roof and never should be directed into the opening, as this will halt ventilation.
As ventilation removes unburned, superheated gases, the atmosphere within the building will clear sufficiently for hose crews to attack the fire. You have reduced an extremely dangerous condition to the type you are accustomed to handling.