HERES LOOKIN’ AT YA!

By Tom Brennan

Well, we got slammed again! More comments on unsafe acts that appear in the fireground of our covers during the past few months. Those of you who know me know that since 1983 I have picked covers of firefighters doing things at fire scenes. The secondary goal is for the readers or the station members to pick up the cover and use it for a drill session with some professional imagination as if the event existed in their own district; in short, support the company officer to get some training sessions going on duty.

Well, if you find ladders not properly positioned and hoselines in a mess or protective clothing askew at best—the point is made.

There are two additional random points: If you don’t approach the covers with that attitude, you are just gaping at a microsecond at someone else’s fire AND if you think that any photographer can capture all actions absolutely perfectly in the first hour of firefighting you are a dreamer—not a firefighter—or looking at a staged operation.

With that said, let’s talk about how I use photos.

What is on fire? Most of us take the micro view and not the macro view first. We actually get tunnel or funnel vision just with the photographs without the actual excitement. Practice giving descriptive initial progress reports by what you see in the cover or another photo. Let your work team have a shot also.

Where is the fire? This is the most important “all-time” question you need to be answering to yourself throughout the firefight. Where do you think it started based on the fire and smoke condition and activity level in the picture? This could guide all your other comments as it should the tactical decisions and strategy on the incident scene.

Ventilation? What are your guidelines on what you see? Do you open this roof or do you prepare to cut it? Where are the horizontal ventilation points and what are they? How would you treat them and when? Who would do it?

Where is the fire likely to go? Outguess your exterior exposures for sure, but also describe you interior exposures to yourself. What is adjacent and what is above? What are the flame spread probabilities based on conditions you surmise and your own experience based on size-up points? How much of the building area is involved? How many floors? What are the safety factors?

What is the risk that is apparent or surmised? This discussion should take into account both the life risk apparent to interior occupants AND life risk to the firefighters. Is the building considered occupied? Where are the people? Their behavior depends on time of alarm, awareness of warning, and alternate exits built into or onto the structure. Are they surprised and probably trapped in place (bedrooms at night) or warned and in stairs and passageways and otherwise moving within the structure? In short, could anyone be alive in this structure?

How many handlines do you need? This is the simple “trick” any arriving officer (or acting officer) can rapidly use to decide how much help to ask for on arrival. Just counting the lines based on fire location and construction and strategy chosen will greatly enhance the progress report. How much better does this sound, “We have a fire in the lower floors and rear of a three-story, occupied, frame multiple dwelling, with some interior extension. Transmit (additional help criteria for the five lines you counted and the tactical support you assume). Engine ( ) is interior command.” as opposed to, “Be advised we have a working fire. Heavy smoke and fire throughout. We’re goin’ in!”

Again, count: interior line for backup and floor above, a third at another location for exposure control (interior and exterior), and the standby line. If you have an immediate RIT procedure, you need a line available to them and, thus, second alarm. Where do you place the first handline depending on where YOU decide where the fire is and what you will do with it? Where do you place the second line, and how many lengths of hose?

Where would you place the third handline? Why?

What truck company (extinguishment support tactics) do you feel are necessary here, and what is the priority order? It would be nice to have them all at once, but our staffing constrictions based on lack of personnel make this a vital thought process. Pick the first three tactics you think are necessary on arrival. Remember, vertical ventilation and horizontal ventilation are two separate functions requiring staffing.

What supports are mandatory for an interior attack to be maintained?

What special risks do you see for a routine tactic? Discuss handline stretch and access. Are preconnected hoselines sufficient? Where is the water supply? How much time do you have at this fire for booster tank supply? I know you are not allowed to do it, but how much time would you have for intermittent use of your choice of size of line and nozzle based on your capacity?

Discuss vertical ventilation. How necessary is it immediately? Is cutting necessary? What are the access routes to be taken and in what priority? Will the aerial device be positioned and free for use for this purpose?

I hope that you see that our covers may be one of the most valuable tools in this magazine. Have fun with them. Criticize, for sure, but rectify for yourself also (more important).

TOM BRENNAN has more than 35 years of fire service experience. His career spans more than 20 years with the Fire Department of New York as well as four years as chief of the Waterbury (CT) Fire Department. He was the editor of Fire Engineering for eight years and currently is a technical editor. He is co-editor of The Fire Chief’s Handbook, Fifth Edition (Fire Engineering Books, 1995). He was the recipient of the 1998 Fire Engineering Lifetime Achievement Award. Brennan is featured in the video Brennan and Bruno Unplugged (Fire Engineering/FDIC, 1999). He is a regular contributor to Firenuggets.com.

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