House Fires: The Initial Attack

House Fires: The Initial Attack

Volunteers Comer

We can never take private dwelling fires for granted—they’re where most civilian deaths occur.

In the “ordinary” house fire, we’re usually summoned to an advancing but controllable situation, and our mode is attack. Attack the fire and save lives—civilian lives, our most important concern.

This attack is going to be based on our size-up. In the January issue, we found that houses, irrespective of style, have some common denominators. Bedrooms (except in Cape Cods) are mostly grouped together, and stairways are normally close to the front door. The stairways are open, giving an unimpeded flow to the upper floor.

When we looked at the ranch style, we found that the center hall separates the bedrooms from the living and utility rooms, and it’s in line with the front door. With this in mind, stop reading—look away from this article— and visualize placing the first line.

If you can’t, because you’re questioning the location of the fire, my answer is that I don’t care. Put the fire anywhere you want, on any floor and in any room—just remember the primary mission of the line.

If you say it’s to put out the fire, you’re wrong. The primary mission of the line is to separate the fire from known or suspected life. Only after that is its purpose extinguishment.

I’m sure by now we all have that line going through the front door. The front door gives us access to the upper floor or floors via the interior stairs and gives us the location of most cellar entrances (because they’re usually directly behind the stairway). If the fire is on the first floor, the stream will stop an advancing fire from entering the stair shaft leading upstairs. In a high ranch, you can go up or down, and in a ranch, you can go left or right.

Can you decide that putting the line through the front door will be a standard operating procedure for your department? If the houses I’ve described are the types that are in your district, the answer is yes, and you’ll be right more than 90 percent of the time. Not bad.

A trainee once asked me if he could put the line through the rear or side door if the fire was right to the front door. The answer is no. But I can understand his logic: If the fire is at the front door, push it away from another direction.

This sounds good, but we have to think of the time involved in stretching to the back door and then crawling in toward the fire. All this time, the fire is rapidly gaining headway in the direction you don’t want it to go. Give a quick shot of water up the stairs or down the hall to momentarily douse any extensions, then push in the direction of the main body of fire. Remember, you can’t do anything about what happened before you got there, but proper line placement can sure stop it from getting worse. [Editor’s note: For a different opinion on this question, see Random Thoughts on page 110.]

The line must move toward the fire. Sounds easy, right? Only in Hollywood. The firefighter at the nozzle needs help. The officer must encourage this person’s moves; the back-up members must relieve the pressure and feed the line when needed; but most important, the firefighter at the nozzle must receive adequate horizontal ventilation.

Think of the fire as you would a wild animal trapped in a corner. If it has nowhere to go and you keep getting closer, it will eventually jump out and bite you. If it has a window to jump out of, everyone wins. And so it goes with fire. Without horizontal ventilation, don’t expect the member at the nozzle to advance on an advancing fire; expect the line to stall, at best. If the sound of glass breaking upsets you, don’t expect an aggressive search—when the nozzle doesn’t move, nobody moves, and if the nozzle isn’t moving because the crew is getting burned, it will take a lot more than a guest lecturer or videotape to get the line started again.

Once the fire is split from the life hazard and then extinguished, you can routinely remove the occupants rather than having to heroically rescue them.

No posts to display