MORE ON FIRE SERVICE MYTHS
RANDOM THOUGHTS ON…
LAST MONTH I tried to share with you some fire service beliefs that have hung around our necks by tradition. They have either long sincebeen disproved or were never truths to begin with. They are myths that can cloud our thinking and adversely affect our decisions or how we market ourselves. This month I’d like to share the one’s we had to cut (for space), plus some others that have rattled around in my brain since last time.
Firefighters save cats in trees. I’ve always said that human risk for animals is poor analysis. A firefighter in the northeast is suing his captain because as he ascended the aerial into the tree for a cat, a nearby transformer arced into the firefighter. The bolt of electricity tore into his hand through his glove, rode down the right side of his body, and blew out his pants leg back to the aerial and to ground. The firefighter lost two fingers and much of the underside of his forearm. Cats in trees are just not hungry enough to come down. Maybe it would be good risk analysis to stand under the tree and just rattle a can opener Besides, when was the last time that you saw a skeleton of a cat hanging in a tree?
New, small-diameter, lightweight hose can be stretched by two or less firefighters. T his statement is true as it stands. However, it is not complete. A hose stretch can be done by two law -yers, two doctors, or even two construction engineers.
A firefighter and his expertise, bravery, courage, aggressiveness, training, and experience come into play when the fire door is opened. A small-diameter hose is meant to be used aggressively. It must be continually moved forward toward the seat of the fire. If the firestops its advance, you must get another to back it up, or back out. You cannot stand and hold the fire with smalldiameter hoselines. To keep it moving you need a team of firefighters—two or more to begin the attack and two or more to relieve when or if it’s necessary. This is mandatory not only for continued movement but also to assure protection of the firefighters and/or civilians above the extending fire.
No matter where the fire is in the building, people on the top floor are die most seriously exposed. To this rule, the inexperienced usually add the physical phenomena of rising heat and mushrooming of combustion products to support their theory. This myth has caused time loss in poorly positioned ladders and primary rescue efforts expended in a secondary position. The most severely exposed occupant is in the fire occupancy. Those next most severely exposed are directly over the fire area. Persons trapped on a top floor two or more floors over the fire are indeed in trouble, but not more than those closer to the fire. T his is another case in which courageous actions must follow the mental location of the fire.
Vertical ventilation should always precede horizontal venting. The tipoff to the myth here is the word always. Remember, in the fire service we should never use the words always, never, and can’t. Vertical ventilation is not the primary tool for enclosures with heavier-than-air combustible gases trapped within. Also, it should be used to support horizontal ventilation in high-rise residence fires. It is, furthermore, a manpower waster if done initially at all peaked-roof residences if the fire is not in the attic.
Good fire investigation is determining cause and origin. On thev surface this cliche seems to be accurate and accepted as a correct statement. But is it? Most experienced fire investigators realize that those two operative words are reversed. Most fire causes can never accurately be determined unless you are first able to determine the origin of the fire. To make this myth a truth we should always say, “Good fireinvestigation is determining origin and then cause.”
Backdraft is a routine phenomenon at structural fires. This myth is perpetrated by the lack of understanding of backdraft by the fire “veteran” of 2 to 5 years. I’m always amazed by the statement (usually in a bar over a few beers —spilled over war stories), “Whew, I was in another backdraft on the tour today!” Backdraft is not that common. I usually look closely at the speaker to see if he is bleeding or has a jacket over the hospital gown. Backdraft is an explosion. It picks you up from where you are and throws you 60 feet to a location that you never thought you’d be. Rollover and flashover and localized smoke explosion, yes. But not backdraft. The others are indeed becoming more common on our fire scene. Why? And what’s the difference? Well, we’ll save that for another time.