By Tom Brennan

Every month we share some of my thoughts on this page. Most of the time we are positive and try to shoot the breeze about basics and, what’s even more fun, variations to basics that are rarely considered. Now, why would I reminisce about those ideals?

Well, I get the feeling (from reports on the Internet and in the papers, from various fire organizations, and from some phone calls) that we are leaning toward becoming overdressed medical personnel who like to call ourselves firefighters—not to mention how we look, would like to look, and are forced to look.

I recently read of a large department that responded to a large two- and three-story senior citizen complex. The fire appeared relatively routine on arrival (even the press releases from the department couldn’t cover that one). Soon after, most of the buildings were lost, leaving many people homeless and without anything of their lives left to smile about. Meanwhile, eight other departments tried their best to play catch-up.

Semi-hidden in the reports to the public was a remark by the chief of department to the effect that, on arrival, all hands were busy removing and caring for residents, thus delaying stretching hoselines and providing uninterrupted water supply. Whew!

Rather than cast aspersions, let’s critique this event as if it were our own experience. Stretch the line! Get water on the fire! Period! These tactics must be stressed and discussed before we arrive at the traumatic scene with civilians in panic and exiting a “bunch” of buildings showing a smoke condition. The greatest lifesaving action you can perform on the fireground is putting the fire out! There are so many examples in the past half-century that echo this experience. Remember, no one rescues that many people; rather, they are gathered, advised, conducted, and removed. Stretch the line, and keep a small problem small!

One of the helps in this situation is to figure out for yourselves just what is a REAL rescue and who are the exiting people who may soon need some verbal assistance. But they are not the problem—the fire is!

While we are on that subject, I also get some questions and phone calls about more and more departments responding to structure fires only to have a competition over “first water.” For a second engine to stretch its own line, competing for “first water” before ensuring that the first engine is in position and supplied with the best available water source is nearly a felony. If there were some honest discussion of the facts, this practice could be seen as the main cause of injuries that occurred and lives that were lost.

Elevator operations have become a mysterious practice that fewer and fewer response personnel really have a practical handle on, much less the discipline needed to use them effectively and safely.

We recently almost lost two companies of firefighters on the fire floor—the fifth floor. They each in turn arrived and took the elevators to the fire floor. The door to the “routine” fire in a high-rise residence building was left open, and the floor was charged. Now confusion, yelling, and panic set in. No one can find the water supply, and the fire grows.

Standpipe water supply is sometimes hard to find from the elevator even when you are on the floor below the fire and visibility is no problem. Next, why take the elevator three floors to the fourth floor? Stretch up the stairs!

What, then, are the old lessons that should be commandments?

1. For fires in standpipe buildings that are on the fifth floor or below, stretch from the pumper, and use the stairs.

2. Elevators must be stopped at the floor below or two floors below the fire location. This is the responsibility of everyone in the elevator car. All of you should watch the fingers of the firefighter at the controls. If he or she presses a floor you think is the fire floor or too close to the fire floor, reach through the crowd and press the one below on which you think you should exit. No arguments—just do it!

Now that we are on the topic of the standpipe type of fire hose supply, let’s hit some other tried and true practices that are ignored today and cause grief to our civilians and uniformed brothers. Where did the nonsense of taking only 100 feet of rolled and folded hose to the standpipe connection come from? From a practical standpoint, standpipe systems are usually installed based on the reach of a 30-foot hose stream from 100 feet of single-jacket cotton or linen hose. That means that the line must hit every part of the floor with its stream with the nozzle not more than 30 feet from the farthest part of the building. Otherwise, a second standpipe system must be installed. Thus, if you stretch only 100 feet from the standpipe connection on the floor below the fire, you are guaranteed to run out of hose some time in your career, never mind monthly.

We don’t have the personnel needed for 150 feet of hose, you say? Well, have a two-part plan:

1. Pair engine companies to gather in the lobby before starting water in the system.

2. Use the personnel limitation as a marketing tool the next time some three-piece suit with a stone in his ring asks you why you need an officer and four firefighters on the arriving engine apparatus. Then get the word to corporate America in your district. Then … then … then.

How many of these neglected rules of tactics can you find in your own department?

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 Un-plugged (Fire Engineering/FDIC, 1999). He is a regular contributor to

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