Is It Better To …?

There are SOPs, SOGs, rules, regulations, evolutions, training guidelines, equipment manuals, laws, codes, recommendations, traditions, and more, that surround the tactical firefighting team day to day. They represent policy, methodology, directives for operations, maintenance, upkeep, use, and testing of virtually every action and reaction a firefighter needs to make, know about, test for promotion with, and be responsible for (at least in a department that knows its “business”).

So, why do you still hear questions from firefighters (not those with two to five years on the job!) about the little things about the job-the things and questions that pop up in the everyday routine of duty time or during emergency operations?

While sitting here this month, I began to think of the occasions when members of our job begin a question with the universal, “Which is it better to do?” Let’s talk about a few that I remember or asked myself.

Handline stretch. When stretching a hand-line up an aerial for operations in an elevated location-roof, upper floor, elevated highway, and so on-there are two “betters” to consider. The first is to carry the hose you will need at the operation point intact or rolled or folded and onto the surface above the ground and connect to the hand-stretched butt. Another “better” is to stretch with the aerial but secure the hoseline off the device if possible. Sometimes, it is even better to stretch rolled or folded lengths and lower the hose female for supply at the street. The purpose here is twofold-first, to facilitate the stretch; and second, to free the aerial device for other operations.

Speaking of stretching hoselines, is it better to reverse stretch (back stretch) from the fire location to the hydrant or to stretch straight in from the water supply to the fire site? (Hmmm, why did I tackle this so early?) It depends on whether you are an urban/suburban department with a hydrant supply grid that ensures hydrants are within 300 feet of each other. In that situation, it is always better to set up the pumper for a reverse lay (stretch) and to take sufficient amount(s) of hose at the fire location and use the pumper to stretch to the hydrant supply. A good pump operator can handle the specifics of continuous water supply, and the street and fire location are free of space-clogging charged hose. Remember, “in-line” supply evolutions are for broken hydrant systems, systems that are 500 or more feet between hydrant locations, or in rural water supply areas.

Burst hose. Is it better to replace the burst hose in the street or at the nozzle? This is a one of the few “always” tactics. Always replace the new needed length of hose to replace the one burst at the street level-then decide whether the pump operator or the nozzle team takes the failed length out of the stretch. That all depends on which half of the hose stretch has the burst. In short, if the pump operators can see it, it’s their job.

Ladder storage. How do you store your portable ladders? Which one is better to put on top? The answer is simple, “The one that works best in your district most of the time!” You should be able to grab and move the portable ladder you need most of the time without additional labor. Engine companies should redesign their side storage assemblies to have the extension ladder off first, not the attic ladder, followed by the roof ladder. The stress and confusion factor that occurs when an engine is stopped from stretching a planned hoseline tactic to begin portable ladder access does not need multidecision making before they get their hands on the ladder that will work.

The truck should adopt the same practice, especially in ladder storage compartments located in from the rear of the aerial device. For example, the 28-foot extension ladder should not have any other ladder stored on top of it nested in the fly ladder.

Water can. It is always better to charge the pressurized water extinguisher you use on the fireground. If you cannot, store it so that it does not “look” charged! Put it in its bracket upside down. If the next response later in that day finds it still in that position, you have more of a problem than no water can for that “job.”

Tools. It is always better to clean tools more often than it is to coat them with oil to keep them looking good. Tools with oil on them attract dirt and other debris while at rest, and dirty tools do not work well. Tools treated specially to increase the span between maintenance procedures tend to become misused and develop faults while no one is looking at them. Clean the tools every day; leave the oil for the motors on the truck.

Forcible entry debates. Forcible entry operation debates are rivaling the nozzle question. Is it better to use the adz to force a door or the fork end of the halligan-type tool? It depends on what the door does and how many people you have and what their experience levels are. It is better to force inward-opening doors with the fork end of the halligan, as it has more force vectors applied to the lock assembly with the spreading, then twisting, then shearing of the operation. Outward-opening doors are best opened fully with the adz end of the tool. If you have an inexperienced firefighter as your partner using the ax OR if you cannot see OR if you are alone, use the adz end, as the tool requires no movement to penetrate the doorframe for a fulcrum. The adz, however, can apply only a single force vector directly on the lock assembly at the cylinder. Both, however, will work.

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 five 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

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