Protect Your Exposures First!
Cardinal rule of fire attack applied to modern command procedures
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WHAT EXPOSURES are to be covered and in what order should they be covered?
The answer to these questions rests with the chief officer in command at a fire—and the more complex the fire the tougher the answer. Based on his decision, a fire can be confined to the point of origin or at least to the building or it can escalate to a roaring conflagration. His decision, in turn, is based on his knowledge of fire fighting and his experience.
Knowledge can be acquired in schools and from books, but experience comes only from doing. Unfortunately, a wealth of experience is hard to come by for any one man in the fire service. Even in some larger cities, multiple alarms are relatively few and far between. We must therefore turn to others—our contemporaries and those who have gone by—for their cumulative experience acquired on the fireground.
We in New York recently made a study of fires—some recent and some going back through the years. From this study we developed the principles to which the following remarks and diagrams are directed.
Principle: Protect exposures in the order of their importance. Life exposure comes first. The exposure representing the greatest potential for fire development comes next.
Referring to Diagram 1 we find heavy fire in some building material in a court separating a church and an apartment house. Both buildings are badly exposed. The church of course is a revered building and probably a city landmark, but it is empty. The apartment, however, is filled with sleeping tenants.
There is no question here that the first lines should be stretched to protect the apartment. Only when all persons have been evacuated should an attempt be made to save the church.
Diagram 2 covers the second part of our principle; here there is no life hazard. One barracks building of a military installation is completely involved and the second is ready to burst into flame from radiant heat. Any chief in charge of this fire might be inclined to tackle the barracks first; but look to the rear where there is a warehouse marked DANGER. It could hold gasoline, ammunition or some other dangerous material; and beyond this is a hangar possibly holding planes worth millions of dollars.
Your first lines here should be stretched to protect the hangar and warehouse. Only when this is accomplished should an attempt be made to extinguish the fire.
Principle: When radiant heat conditions are extremely severe, direct heavy streams along the facing of badly exposed buildings.
The fire in Diagram 3 is not a theoretical supposition; it actually occurred in Harlem and represents the scene as the first deputy chief to arrive saw it. The factory buildings were old and were in the first stages of demolition. There were many vertical and horizontal arteries in these buildings, and the fire which started in the cellar spread with extreme rapidity.
The deputy chief who was in command in the early part of the fire set up heavy streams on each end of the street to protect the tenements. At the same time truck companies and engine companies swarmed into the tenements from the rear. All occupants were removed and neither they nor the fire fighters were excessively bothered by smoke or heat.
While the heavy streams were in place sweeping the tenements, these buildings were safe. Unfortunately, the factory buildings collapsed, and the streams had to be moved to protect other men on the scene. When this happened, each tenement became a second alarm in its own right, with fire sweeping all floors.
Principle: Don’t chase fire.
Diagram 4 represents a type of construction that is found in outlying sections of the city—frame houses, two stories high, fully detached, and all in a row. In this hypothetical fire a high wind is spreading flame rapidly to the leeward.
Again we must resist the strong and natural tendency to put streams wherever we see fire: should the chief start to place lines into the original fire Building A, by the time water flows he may have fire in Building B. If he compounds this mistake by putting his second fines into Building B, chances are by the time they are in operation, Building D may be gone.
The logical procedure at this fire is to get the first fines between Buildings B and C; next fines between C and D. This permits your forces to hold the fire and then work back against the path of extension.
Principle: To protect exposures, set up your defenses in anticipation of conditions that might arise.
This was an actual fire, and when the first battalion chief arrived on the scene (Diagram 5), he immediately radioed that some of the responding companies take defensive positions across the creek from the fire. He realized that while units were getting into position to attack the Ace Lumber Company, the fire would increase in volume and intensity. Flame, radiant heat and flying brands could attack the ship or the Bay Lumber Yard. Happily he anticipated this possibility, and the fire was confined to the area of origin.
Principle: When radiant heat is so severe that it threatens fire fighters on the primary defense line, set up a mobile secondary line of defense.
In Diagram 6 the first-to-arrive engine companies positioned their apparatus on the lee side of the fire and set up heavy streams. But while they were doing this, the fire naturally increased in volume and intensity, and even when they had water, it further increased in that area beyond the reach of streams. To protect these men, the chief set up a second fine of defense, using portable turrets, on the roofs over and beyond them.
Principle: Provide greater protection for those portions of an exposed building above the level of the fire than for those portions at the same or lower levels.
Diagram 7 shows heavy fire on the second and third floors of the Apex Paint Factory that is seriously exposing an adjoining six-story building. There may be a tendency here to put a fine on the first floor, then one on the second, the third, and so on. If this tendency is followed, the upper floors will be gutted before fines reach them.
First, we set up heavy fines between the two buildings. Then, if the stairway is enclosed and can be controlled, we take our next lines up to the fourth, fifth and sixth floors, if the stairwells are open, or if there are vertical channels within the building, you dare not endanger your personnel in this way, and the fire must be fought by other means.
Principle: When fire creates severe exposure hazards, and either the fire or the fuel exposed to fire can be moved, make every effort to do so during “initial” operations.
Diagram 8 shows a typical fire in a railroad yard. Fire has partial control of a warehouse and fanned by a high wind is threatening to involve the entire building, plus adjacent railroad cars with a deadly cargo. As in all railroad yards of any size, stretching hose is a time-consuming job; but in the meanwhile, the fire roars on.
The chief in charge here will have to decide whether or not the fire will consume the warehouse before streams can be brought to bear. If he decides that the warehouse will be consumed, then the first lines should be used to protect the cars until they can be moved by railroad personnel, with switch engines.
We can also refer back to Diagram 5 to illustrate “moving the fuel or fire.” Suppose the ship was on fire and threatening the lumber yards. Fireboats or tugs could tow it away from the threatened areas. The same principle applies to a ship tied at a pier. Fire on the pier could attack the ship or vice versa. In either case, moving the ship solves half the problem.
Principle: When many windows on a shaft are exposed to fire, the first consideration is to get water into the shaft. Extinguishing fire in rooms bordering the shaft comes second.
In our hypothetical fire in Diagram 9, fire started in an apartment on the first floor, burned through the ceiling to an apartment on the third, and through windows on the shaft.
At first glance it may seem proper to put first lines in on the second and third floor, but 10 or more minutes may be required to get these fires out. What happens to the upper floors in the meantime? They become fully involved, of course.
The answer here is to get a line into the shaft as quickly as possible. This line will have no other function than to control fire in the shaft. It should be stretched to the nearest point in the shaft as soon as possible—generally through a first-floor apartment.
Fire fighting tactics are generally based on strategy which is similar to military thinking. It may be necessary to concede some losses to gain a greater victory. To do otherwise is to invite disaster.