MORE SAFETY ON THE UNSAFE FIREGROUND

BY TOM BRENNAN

We have been discussing injuries on the fireground and their direct relationship to the performance or nonperformance of a vital tactic needed to support the interior firefight in a structure on fire. Let’s pause to discuss some painful injuries that personnel can sustain because of INDIRECT connections to various tactics.

Sprains and strains. These injuries occur to our engine company folks while stretching and using a handline, especially when moving a large-diameter hose AFTER it has been charged. If you use that as a routine water supply, get a system that accounts for its movement to clear the arrival points of additional apparatus before charging it. (See Random Thoughts, March 2004.)

Incorrect spacing on the line and the lack of concern for the hose stretch layout also contribute to these injuries. In the old days, the incorrect spacing on the line was caused by too many firefighters’ wanting to “hang” near the nozzle before the less glamorous tasks of positioning sufficient dry line for the smooth and rapid advance of the charged line before water was requested. Then, it was because of a lack of training and, most assuredly, discipline. Today, it is because we have not marketed our staffing issue correctly, and we do everything with “not enough firefighters.” Remember, you cannot pull hose around the second turn back from you! You also cannot pull hose up and around the newel post to the fire on the floor above, especially if it is located in the knotty clump of hose in the first-floor entrance. The second person on the nozzle cannot perform if he has not laid out the stretch beforehand.

Burns and entrapment. That will absolutely bring us to even more painful injuries indirectly caused by poor and ineffective handline stretching—burns and entrapment from fires permitted to extend or develop flashover characteristics simply because the handline is not mobile enough to move as rapidly as possible to the seat of the fire.

This indirect injury stuff tied to the handline stretch could go on all day. You find the additional trouble spots at the discussion at a company drill (which is the main purpose of this column anyway).

Vertical ventilation-related injuries. We have discussed injuries related directly to the lack of prompt and proper vertical ventilation to the fire compartment, but what about those that could be remotely related to the tasks firefighters perform when assigned vertical ventilation? During the tactic of peak roof ventilation in or on buildings of platform construction (not balloon), firefighters can receive injuries or create them for others.

The incorrect position of the first (access) portable ladder will project to the incorrect placement of the hook ladder platform to the peak of the private dwelling roof. “So what?” you ask. Well, the firefighter on the incorrectly located hook (roof) ladder will cut a hole in the incorrect place. More simply—holes cut in the end quarters of these roofs tend to create fully involved attic fires. The firefighters below will have to face all the problems you can imagine might develop for them.

Also, remember that this roof platform is the thinnest construction allowed by law (building codes and laws) in America. Usually, the sheathing is one size smaller than the vertical enclosure. It is no wonder that we have lots of pictures of firefighters in municipal, suburban, and rural fire departments falling through these membranes. It is the most unsafe platform on any fireground.

Because of the lack of personnel and safety during operations at platform-construction, peaked-roof private dwellings, get the people out and then decide if the roof needs cutting (direct contradiction to all other structure enclosures in which there is a fire).

Firefighters also fall through the roofs of flat-roof multiple dwellings with fires on the top floor. Those planning to cut these roofs should access the final working area along the strongest route available. If you look at collapse roof pictures, that path is along the bearing wall first and then along the enclosure walls. Old timers recall, “Never cross-country on roofs that have fire below them.” A good lesson even today.

One cause of injury more indirect than anything I have ever known was discussed in a recent training bulletin issued by the Fire Department of New York. It concerns municipalities that have habitual high-crime areas. We often forget that police departments have stakeouts on flat roofs—especially when the roofs are connected and of the same height. Fire roof teams often use the adjoining buildings—interior stairs or fire escape—to rapidly get to the roof of the building in which a fire is reported (not always seen or known by the police officers). These firefighters, on their arrival on the roof, have been surprised by the presence of revolver-drawn peace officers. Shouting from your access path before arriving at roof level is recommended. Who would have figured?

Another source of injuries is the area above the window issuing flame (a great place to cut), which tends to have the most weakened roof support members over it. I can remember too many incidents at which using this area proved to be the cause of painful recovery injuries or worse.

Always keep in your sight the ladder that got you to the roof in the first place. If you can’t see it because you didn’t ensure it was placed high enough, that is your fault. If you can’t see it because someone took it to use elsewhere, it would take a long time, lots of aggravation, loads of communication, and a little shouting to solve that one.

TOM BRENNAN is a 35-plus year veteran of the fire service. He retired from the Fire Department of New York after 20 years of service and is chief (ret.) 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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