Outside Vent – Tower Ladder Style

By: Mark Gregory

So far it has been a quiet tour. The runs have been routine emergencies and some outside fires. You are assigned as the outside vent (OV) firefighter for this tour. Your first job as the OV on a tower ladder is to assist the chauffeur with “setting up” the apparatus upon arrival. Suddenly, the tone alert goes off. The firefighter on watch shouts out “Phone alarm, first due, 683-Greene Avenue cross of Tompkins, fire in a multiple dwelling, people trapped!”

The tower ladder chauffeur wheels the mid-mount towards the scene. Additional radio reports from dispatch paint a picture of a working fire. As we turn the corner, heavy smoke is pushing from the second floor of a four story brownstone-type building. The boss radios dispatch that we have a working fire and provides a brief size up of the fire building.

As the inside team quickly disappears into the fire building you concentrate on assisting with the positioning and stabilizing of the apparatus. The proper positioning of a tower ladder apparatus is unique and requires a detailed knowledge of building construction, exposure potential, collapse hazards and rescue. At this fire, the chauffeur lines up the turntable pedestal with the center-line of the fire building. Optimal positioning always includes maximum coverage of the fire building. To truly gain maximum coverage, the apparatus cab is angled away from the operational side of the street. This affords the bucket its maximum “scrub area,” and the boom to be lowered at certain angles and not contact the cab roof. The scrub area is the distal points that the tower ladder basket can reach on the building’s face for rescue and removal.

The OV will be working on the chauffeur’s blind-side of the apparatus: the officer’s side. This two-sided approach helps speed up the positioning, verification, and set up process for the apparatus. You need to determine if the outriggers and jacks can be safely lowered on the officer’s side of the apparatus. This is something that needs to be verified on narrow streets or when the apparatus is placed close to parked vehicles. The outriggers will often find a home between two parked cars. The use of a six foot hook laid out next to the apparatus in line with the tormenter makes a good measuring device to quickly determine if we have the clearance necessary to continue set-up in this location. Jack plates can also be placed at this time to account for weight distribution or street conditions.

The chauffeur can now place the apparatus into ‘boom mode,’ and the OV firefighter can enter the bucket. The fire is on the second floor rear with a heavy smoke condition showing from the upper floors. The second due OV (an aerial ladder company) has communicated with you that they will provide outside vent operations for the fire floor via ground ladders in the rear of the structure. This transmission confirms that ventilation is taking place for the fire floor team and allows you to concentrate on getting into position on the floors above.

Searching the floors above a fire in a brownstone-type building is critical. The building’s unenclosed stairwell is a flue for superheated smoke, heat and fire, and makes the top floor extremely vulnerable for victims. The second due truck will attempt access via the interior stairs but may be delayed due to conditions on the fire floor. The chauffeur starts to raise the bucket out of the cradle. You check your gear and prepare for your task at hand “vent – enter – and search”.

Approaching the top floor, you take control of the bucket. You position the bucket to the middle window of the three-windows-per-floor front. The top railing of your bucket is level with the window sill. Some may ask, “why not position the bucket to use the access doors?” The access doors do provide for a “gentlemanly approach,” but, what happens if we find a victim or worse, must rapidly exit from our position? Having the bucket level with the sill will require you to step up and climb into the window. This little bit of effort though will pay off when removing a victim. If we brought a victim back to the bucket for removal, we need to ask, “How do I remove this person from the building to the bucket?” If the access door is used, the firefighter must first get into the bucket and then configure a plan to lift the victim into the bucket. If the bucket is level with the sill, the removal is easy: we simply lay the victim head-first on the sill, and can either push or pull them into the bucket.

How about if conditions change rapidly and we must leave our position rapidly? If the bucket is positioned for access door use we need to open the door to enter. Some buckets are equipped with “shock doors”. Some departments “chock” the access door open. These tactics can leave room for error. Let’s say that you do have “shock doors” and they work properly. The room “lights up” causing you to rapidly escape the structure. You get into the bucket and assume you are safe, but are you really? The fire is going to follow you out the window. If the access door to the bucket is not properly closed, you are still in trouble! Items such as your lower extremities or tools could prevent the proper closing of this door. If the bucket was positioned level with the sill, the escaping firefighter could roll into the bucket with any ensuing fire traveling up and away from him. Since the bucket is also equipped with an open ended intercom, the firefighter can alert the Chauffeur on the pedestal that he is safe and needs to be removed from the building.

The bucket is in position and you start your task at hand. You first ventilate one of the windows off to the side. You take note of the smoke color and the velocity in which it is traveling. From your experience, you are able to determine that entry is possible. You start to remove the window that you will be using for access: the top pane is removed followed by the lower pain and the curtains. You notice a child guard is in place. Using a side-to-side swinging motion with your halligan tool, you are able to strip the screws out of the window frame and remove this obstacle.

With your facepiece donned, you enter the room. Your means of egress is noted by the bucket’s spotlight that you positioned on the window and by your six foot hook that you leave canted on the sill. Your search pattern is methodical: You start with a right-hand-lead working deeper into the apartment. Your senses become your best friend. Sight and smell are of no use in this scenario as you feel a minimal heat condition and hear sounds such as the skylight being vented by the roof team and the advancement of the interior forces. The officer calls you to check in on your progress and current position. You radio back the progress of your search. Conditions start to lighten-up and the sound of “all visible fire has been knocked down is heard over the radio”. As you start heading back towards the front of the building, you meet up with the floor above team. Searches prove negative on the top floor.

Your officer calls you to inform you that the company has been relieved by Command; A job well done by all. Upon returning to quarters, the tools are cleaned and the members gather for a critique of the company’s operation. The critique affords all the members an overview of the operation and their individual actions.

The OV position is one of the most important positions on the fireground. Firefighters fulfilling this role must be decisive in their actions and constantly aware of the actions and tactics of others on the fireground. Remember, our venting actions can cause disastrous reactions if done in the wrong location or at the wrong time. In this scenario we were venting to remove smoke and heat from the upper floors and to assist in our search for life. We must always keep in mind that we are generally operating opposite the attack team and must constantly monitor radio transmissions and our ever-changing environment in order to have a successful outcome.

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