BY JERRY KNAPP
We were second due as our engine pulled up to the scene. Heavy fire was showing from the fire building and was rapidly extending into the third exposure (B-2) of the attached row houses. An assistant chief from the home department ordered us to stretch two 2½-inch lines to the rear. It was clear this would be a defensive operation; all occupants were out, and the roof had already collapsed on two of the units. The chauffeur caught a hydrant near the fire building and connected with the help of some members who met us at the scene. As soon as the two lines were stretched, the pump operator made sure we had a good supply of water. Our two big lines with smooth bore nozzles helped make the difference. We were able to cut off the fire before it extended to the next exposed attached dwelling.
This success story may seem to be what you would expect from any engine company across the country. Unfortunately, what we are seeing more and more are fire departments that, despite being well funded, well equipped, and well staffed, can’t execute their most basic play: to quickly deliver sufficient amounts of water efficiently and effectively to extinguish the fire.
It cannot be stressed enough: Quickly getting water on the fire minimizes all fireground hazards and problems; most importantly, it minimizes risks to firefighters. Equally important from a firefighter safety perspective, as the late Andy Fredericks of the Fire Department of New York would say, “If you put the fire out, you don’t have to jump out the window!”
In short, the quality of your engine company skills will make or break your fire attack operations and ultimately determine the success or failure of your entire fire department. Some may argue that forcible entry, ventilation, and search operations are equally important. Certainly, a good truck company is a huge asset on the fireground. But in the end, given all the best truck work in the world, if the engine cannot deliver a sufficient volume of water quickly and efficiently, the operation will fail and firefighters will face additional and unnecessary dangers.
The fire scenario in the opening paragraph was a recent fire to which the Highland Falls (NY) Fire Department (HFFD) responded. The HFFD is a typical New York state fire departmentit has 53 active members, two engines, and one rescue truck, which may have outgrown its firehouse but not its long and proud history. This village department has very creatively and aggressively sought and successfully obtained grants to supplement limited village funding.
Dispatched to a working structure fire a few weeks later, the HFFD suppressed a daytime fire with very limited staff and was backed up with lots of mutual aid, just in case things did not go our way early on. Firefighters found fire under the porch of a balloon-frame building (photo 1). Chief officers arrived on the scene and ordered the first-due engine to establish a reliable water supply at a nearby hydrant while firefighters stretched the first line. Acting as the truck company, other members opened the area under the porch to expose the fire. Supply lines were charged as the attack team used the engine’s tank water. In a few minutes, the fire was out. Overhaul revealed that the fire was only moments away from gaining access to the stud channels of the balloon-frame house, which would have allowed fire to race to the roof and ultimately turn this property into a total loss. Instead, this was another great stop, and two families still have their homes and belongings, thanks to superior engine company skills.
(1) Photos courtesy of Fred Brennan, The News of the Highlands.
Approximately two weeks later, the HFFD responded to a late-night working fire in an apartment in a three-story ordinary construction building. The dispatch information gave us chills. A few years ago, the same street was the site of a multiple-fatality fire in an area of limited water supply in a typical older section of a northeastern town. However, this fire would be different: The water supply was established, lines were stretched quickly, and the fire was controlled rapidly.
The above examples show the path to success that this average department has used to achieve extraordinary fireground success. What led to these outstanding successful scenarios?
LESSONS LEARNED AND PRACTICED
First, let’s reiterate the point of this article. This department’s success, demonstrated repeatedly on the fireground, depends on its ability to execute the critical engine company plays: establish a reliable water supply, stretch the appropriate size lines, and deliver decisive quantities of water on the fire quickly. The incident below illustrates the effectiveness of these well-honed skills.
Arriving on the scene of a well-involved basement fire, the engine company laid a large supply line and stretched into a well-involved basement fire, applying decisive amounts of water to quickly control the fire. Personnel performed aggressive overhaul and fire extension search on the first floor, stretching lines in the first floor as well as into adjacent exposures. When fire in the void spaces showed from the first floor, backup lines quickly extinguished it (photo 2).
The HFFD understands the value of the critical plays: establish a reliable water supply, stretch proper size lines, and deliver decisive amounts of water effectively. It trains on the basics that work on the fireground. There are no fancy four-way valves, no automatic nozzles, no double doofus connectionsjust hardware that works every time. The firefighters get a big line to the engine from the hydrant, stretch an attack line, and start water.
En route to the first fire at the attached row houses described above, I asked the lieutenant in charge of the engine which lines he wanted to stretch. He answered that if we were going inside, we would take the crosslays, but if we were going defensive, there were two preconnected 2½-inch lines off the back. The lesson: The HFFD was ready because its leadership and members had carefully thought out the engine’s design and setup, including that of the hoselines, to ensure success on the fireground.
There are no names in this article because the success of this fire department is embedded in the mind of each member and officer, is reinforced by training, and is kept in their hearts. The success of this fire department transcends any one officer, one year, or one group of line officers. Its success is not limited to one officer, one chief, or a few select members. It is departmentwide and has been a long-term team effort that has been successful, and it looks like the successproviding cost-effective and efficient and safe firefightingwill continue for years to come. The basic, critical playputting decisive amounts of water on the fire quickly and efficientlywill never become outdated.
JERRY KNAPP is the assistant chief for the Rockland County (NY) Hazmat Team and a training officer at the Rockland County Fire Training Center in Pomona, New York. He is a 35-year veteran firefighter/EMT with the West Haverstraw (NY) Fire Department, has a degree in fire protection, and was a nationally registered paramedic. Knapp is the plans officer for the Directorate of Emergency Services at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York.