FACT OR MYTH?
I think one of the finest compliments I have received since beginning this column was being told, “You seem to be hanging in there on basics-basic firefighting tactics.” Well, if that is true, then I’m making my point, right or wrong. When basics are violated, ignored, or passed over in favor of innovation only, losses increase and fireground trauma is ensured.
Let’s talk for a while about heat. 1 know we would not have jobs without heat, but did you ever ask yourself why so many firefighters are admitted to burn units and burn centers today? The number of burn injuries is on the rise, as is the painful and disabling intensity of the burns themselves. Why?
Some of the answers lie in the conditions surrounding us in this age; others lie in the myths we are willing to accept and perpetuate as the truth.
“These fires are hotter.” True! They’re hotter and faster “plastic bombs.” Yesteryear, one pound of human-use material — bedding. drapes, flooring, siding, furniture, and other creature comforts —produced approximately 8,500 Btus when consumed by fire. Today, the same functional products, made of new, lessdense, space-age materials, produce twice as much heat—17,000 Btus.
“My ears tell me of the heat rise of impending flashover —that’s why I hate to wear a hood.” A myth! Ears are made of cartilage. Your ears tell you nothing—at least not in the time you need to avoid the pain and misery of a flashover experience. You need an area of flesh with mega nerv e endings serving it —the back of your hand, the cheek on your face, the underside or back of your neck—in order to feel the rapid, instantaneous heat rise in a time frame that allows you to react rapidly (providing you know where you are and where to go for safety).
“How much heat is hot to a fully protected firefighter?” Here is where you can get into trouble if you cannot separate fact from myth. I’ll never forget a conversation I overheard between a chief of department and a manufacturer at a fire service trade show. The product offered gave the wearer some type of indication of when the fire “envelope” in which he/she was operating began to escalate. The chemically treated numbers indicated an escalating temperature* of 200 to 300 to 400 and, finally, to 500 degrees.
The chief very loudly stated, “J don’t want those sissy gimmicks in my department. I don’t want my men* coming out of the building until it is at^. least 600 or 700 degrees!” Here is unquestioned myth coming out of the mouth of a leadership nitwit.
Fact: Fully protected firefighters can withstand only 300 degree (Fahrenheit) of dry heat for a very short time. In fact, if they are unable to change that atmosphere rapidly,* then they’d better change their location—or the ambulance will do it for them.
“I am so protected that I can survive flashover!” The mindset that permits this statement to be made is truly founded in myth. You cannot survive flashover. You must be able to “read” the indicators forecasting the event and relocate yourself before it fully develops. Fire-* fighter triple-layer protective clothing gives you 17 seconds to find that location before your station uniforrr* begins to burn and you’re left with your underwear.
In this situation, Frank Brannigam’ says, “Panic will save you —provided you’re the first one to panic and you’re headed in the right direction!”