Drills and Training in the Smaller Fire Department
Knowledge and Efficiency as Important to Volunteer Fire Fighter as to Large City Department—Officers and Men Should Be Well Trained
THE proper instruction and training of both officers and men of the small volunteer fire departments are equally essential to that of the fire forces of the larger cities. Mr. Stephen has given some very good suggestions as regards the requiring of a thorough knowledge both of fire fighting and the uses of fire apparatus in his article which follows:
Two elements that are absolutely essential to the successful operation of a small town fire department, regardless of any question of apparatus or equipment, are capable officers and trained men. Any one holding an office in a small department, if he acquits himself as a man should and carries out the sacred responsibility that is upon him, will sooner or later arrive at the conclusion that this is a job for a man in the Spartan sense of the word. Criticism by the public, indifference by individuals to affairs that vitally concern them and interference and opposition by persons whose own welfare is most at stake are often to be met and contended with, and leave their mark on the soul of every man whose efforts are directed to safeguard his community.
Small Town Officer Should Educate Himself
It is possible, however, in this present day and time, for any small town fire officer, by close and careful study of the words that are written by men who are authorities in the science of fire engineering, to so educate himself that he may not only be trained by the experience of other men, but be able to appreciate and be more fully benefited by his own experience.
To be even a village fire officer means not merely to be able to direct the laying of hose and the playing of water. It means the acquisition of a thorough knowledge of fire apparatus and its use, a certain amount of scientific information, and an appreciation and a familiarity with the technique of fighting fire.
It means an ability to instantly realize what any situation demands, in short, to think clearly, act quickly, and take the pipe on in.
Importance of Drill and Training
With reference to the question of having trained men in a small town department there is one answer, and that is—drill. The evolutions for company drill, as published in FIRE AND WATER ENGINEERING, the New York Fire College Course, and other publications devoted to this subject, are a basis upon which any organized department, by repeated practice, may be properly trained, even though there be no drill tower and little equipment available. Army officers, in their schooling, are taught that the best drilled men fight the best, and that statement is true of any organization whose duty is to cope with public emergency. The factor of discipline—that is, the assurance that your officers and men will do the right thing together at the right time, is a natural consequence where capable leaders direct trained subordinates.
“With reference to the question of having trained men in a small town department there is one answer, and that is—drill.”
By discipline we do not mean rigid Prussianism or loud shouting of orders. It has been the writer’s privilege to see a small department operating almost without spoken words, the officers giving arm signals and the men acting apparently on their own initiative, yet absolutely under the direction of their superiors.
Some Excellent Examples of Good Discipline
The following examples are given to demonstrate that it is possible for occasions to occur in the operation of any small town fire department where it is necessary to observe many of the fine points of fire engineering, and by their prompt observance to improve some bad situations.
Example one. Fire occurred in remote interior of one-story brick cotton warehouse, 200×100 feet, with wooden floor, wooden, tin-sheathed roof with plate glass skylights, and two sets of large sliding doors.
Interior of building was heavily charged with smoke, about twenty bales of cotton being partially involved. Department quickly forced one set of doors and officer in charge, sending a ventilating party by short ladders to the roof, took in pipe of single line available himself.
The pipe was advanced into the building as far as possible, but it was evident that the dense smoke, which prevented further advance, would soon make untenable this position, which was not near enough to the fire to permit effective work. The nozzlemen held their place for a minute or two, despite severe punishment, which was augmented by the fact that it had been necessary to advance the hose line over the tops of closely packed cotton bales, rather than along the floor. At this moment, the ventilating party reached the roof skylights, quickly breaking out the glass panes of one of these openings, whose frame could not be pried off, and removing intact the entire frames of three others.
“It is noteworthy that the pipemen operating the line upstairs had perfect confidence that the other line would back them up, for they were taking a chance that the fire would not come into the first floor hall from the rear and cut them off. Thus there was exhibited a creditable amount of teamwork, and the men demonstrated that they knew their officers were looking out for them.”
“To be even a village fire officer means not merely to be able to direct the laying of hose and the playing of water.”
The effect upon the atmosphere in the warehouse was immediate. Great volumes of smoke rolled up from the roof openings. The smoke pall over the cotton bales began to lift, the blaze became visible, the hose line was advanced and the fire was quickly’ under control, the damaged bales being removed from the building and carefully overhauled, although the interiors of some of them were not completely extinguished for two days. A moment’s delay in venting the roof would have been fatal. The men detailed for the ventilating party, although this was in a village department, had, as part of their training, studied the printed volume of the New York Fire College Course, and the observance of some of the principles outlined in this course was shown by the fact that they took care to remove the expensive glass covering of three of the skylights instead of breaking them.
Another Example of Good Teamwork
Example two. Large two-story frame residence, shingle roof, with rear one-story wing. Department, after a long run to the suburbs of town, found rear one-story wing of house almost entirely involved, also entire roof, loft, and rear wall of two-story portion.
A high wind was blowing, driving the flames almost horizontally against the main part of the house, and it was evident that hard work was necessary if any portion of the building were to be saved. Two lines of hose were laid from the nearest and last fire hydrant at the edge of town, there being, fortunately, available a working pressure considerably higher than that found in most gravity supplied water systems.
First line was operated for several minutes from the ground on exterior and roof of rear portion of building, and on rear side of two-story portion to check spread of fire here from direct exposure, then pipe was taken through front door into first floor of main part of building to stop fire from coming into it through hallway from the rear. Second line was taken into front door and directly up hall stairway into second floor.
The second floor was almost untenable on account of falling plaster anti woodwork and hot smoke. Pipemen cleared hall ceiling above them from fire and then operated stream from rear second story window directly down upon roof of one-story wing, partially clearing it of fire and cooling down the hot blast the wind was driving directly toward them.
Line was then operated in several second floor rooms adjoining hall, where the fire had dropped down and was taking hold. Windows were opened and atmosphere partially relieved of smoke.
A section of the partially destroyed hall ceiling was pulled down with a plaster hook and a small ladder put up into the loft, which was still fiercely involved. Line was taken up ladder and pipe operated from top, the nozzlemen at first suffering considerably. From this point of vantage, the stream began to take effect, and within a short time the fire on top of main part of house was under control. The first line, meanwhile, had driven the fire back from the main part of the first floor and operating from room to room cleaned up the partially consumed one-story wing where the blaze had originated.
In short, within a few minutes, this small department, with only hydrant pressure and hose lines over a thousand feet long available had saved by hard fighting more than half the value of the big house. Had they hesitated a moment about coming to close and bitter grips with the fire and stood outside, as it is the human failing of too many small departments to do, instead of taking their pipes in and fighting desperately, the main portion of the house would have been quickly involved, the heat would have backed everyone away and the loss would have been total.
It is noteworthy that the pipemen operating the line upstairs had perfect confidence that the other line would back them up, for they were taking a chance that the fire would not come into the first floor hall from the rear and cut them off. Thus, there was exhibited a creditable amount of teamwork, and the men demonstrated that they knew their officers were looking out for them.
Officer Used Head and Saved Water Damage
Example three. Large two-story frame residence, shingle roof, no basement. Department found a considerable cloud of smoke rolling up through the shingles over almost entire area of roof, apparently indicating the presence of fire in the loft. Line was laid and water started. Charged line, with cut-off on controlling nozzle closed, was taken into front door and up hall stairway to second floor, where a small ladder was put up to scuttle hole in bathroom ceiling. Officer in charge climbed ladder and looked into loft. Smoke was dense and impenetrable but did not seem hot.
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Training in Small Fire Departments
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Officer came down ladder and ordered nozzlemen to stand fast, despite the protests of subordinates who advocated immediately operating stream into loft. He began to feel the walls on the second and then first floor, detaching two other men to do the same.
Presently, a spot on a wall on the first floor was found to be hot, and upon the plaster being removed it was discovered that the area between a flue and an upright studding was on fire, the studding being charred nearly in half. The use of a small soda acid tank quickly put the blaze out, and an investigation revealed that the fire had not risen as high as the second floor, although the smoke had been carried directly up into the second story loft through the vertical opening between the upright and unstopped studding and the flue.
The point of relating this instance is to show that sometimes taking thought concerning what seems an obvious situation will prevent a considerable and unnecessary water damage. The officer in charge had studied well his copy of the New York Fire College Course, and did the proper thing despite the advice of others to the contrary.
Showing Value of Study and Drill
We earnestly ask the reader’s tolerance in relating these occurrences, which must indeed seem trivial affairs to any professional fire officer. They are given not merely to show how the evolutions described should be performed, for perhaps they could have been done better some other way, but their purpose is to show that no department may be too small for the earnest study of fire engineering to be of value in training its members. Trained officers and men are absolutely essential for the successful operation of any fire fighting organization, from the smallest to the largest, and the answer to the question of how these may be developed is—study and drill.
Study imparts the experience of others; drill is experience itself and the combination of both is productive of results of which any fire officer whose heart is in his work may be justly proud.
One of the most efficiently trained fire departments that has ever come to the writer’s knowledge had only a Rumsey hand pump and a hand-drawn ladder truck, with no water supply except cisterns to aid them, and yet they worked with the precision and sureness that a football team runs its signals, and often obtained results that seem incredible.
The small town fire brigade is still a mighty force in the great game of safeguarding our land, and it may be made each day a greater force.
Small Town Fire Brigade a Great Force
The results that invariably come from the establishment of a drill school or fire college in a city department are exactly indicative of what may be brought about on a corresponding scale in any small organization.
If every small town fire officer in the United States could, in some way, be brought to realize what it means to study fire engineering, and if every small town fire department were placed under the control of men who did study the science of fire engineering, there would be an incredible reduction in our next year’s fire loss.
Property and wealth in our nation are being destroyed here and there as surely as if we were under a bombardment of missiles from the long range guns of a malignant and unseen power.
To those of us who can, it is as incumbent upon us to fight this war as it was upon those of us who could to do “squads right” in the stirring days of “seventeen,” and God grant that in this contest, too, we may some time see an Armistice Day.