The Deck Gun: The Forgotten Option, Part 2

By Joe Pronesti

For Part 1, click HERE

The Residential Hit

Scenario: You respond first-due with your two-member engine and two-member squad to a reported house fire. While en route, dispatch notifies you of multiple calls and, as you approach, you see a plume of smoke. As you turn onto the street, you see heavy fire conditions; it looks as if the front porch is well involved. The residential street is in an older section of town and is made up of large 2½-story wood frame dwellings built at the turn of the 1900s. Do you…

A) Lay a large line and hit the fire? or

B) Wrap the hydrant, have the squad stand by to plug and forward lay to the front and get a blitz attack on the fire with your 750-gallon tank while the supply is being connected?

It’s all about size-up, and (of course) you must conduct a 360°. However, as an officer, is becoming directly involved with the blitz and hopping up on the apparatus to get the deck gun in service more productive in the first few seconds?

Yes, a 360° is needed. However, instead of wasting precious time running a lap around the house, assist with the blitz attack, especially if you arrive with an understaffed company. In the same scenario, but this time involving a four-person crew (a two-member squad and a two-member engine), you (as the officer) may make more of a difference blitzing the fire WHILE having the remaining three members—the driver and two squad members—supply and stretch a line in preparation to go offensive after the blitz, if conditions permit.

We have heard many times from the most knowledgeable and engaged members of our profession that, no matter how we do it, we must get enough firefighters on scene. The blitz may buy some time prior to the arrival and gathering of enough resources.

 

Attic Fires

Finding heavy fire conditions involving an attic equates to a tough fight that will include several departments, the roof burning off, and a long night. Sure, construction plays a huge role in what your options will be, but let’s say you arrive to a large amount of fire involving the attic of a residential dwelling of legacy construction. Using the blitz attic with the deck gun through the attic windows may in fact knock down a fair amount of fire. Once resources arrive, allow for an easy attack; many who have not had to stretch to the attic of a large 2½-story dwelling or had to make their own entrance by pulling tons of lath and plaster have never really felt exhaustion. The blitz should be an option in your engine’s repertoire.

The recent Underwriters Laboratories/National Institute of Standards and Technology residential attic fire study emphasized combining wetting the sheathing with an eave attack to slow attic fire growth. Attic construction affects hose stream penetration. Consider flowing up instead of down with a master stream.

Also, in reference to attic fires, the increased use of plastics in exterior walls will change the situation. If the fire starts on the exterior, begin fighting it from the outside with the intent of slowing the fire’s progress to the attic.

 

Getting the Truck to the Front

Departments that feature a truck company know the value and advantage of getting the truck to the front at all costs; this sometimes gets into officers’ heads as a “must do,” and they quickly dismiss the use of their engine companies’ deck guns for this reason.

If you haven’t considered, planned, and trained on using the deck gun, but you have discussed spotting apparatus, hitting the fire from the front, and then moving the engine to make room for the truck, the deck gun tactic will seem foreign to you, and you will never consider its possibility. Patience and adequately trained apparatus operators can and have successfully applied the tactic of hitting it with the gun and then moving the apparatus. As a result, perhaps you could apply the “reverse lay”? This is just another tool to consider and, most importantly, practice and train on.

Do you protect closely spaced residential dwellings? If you do, I’ll bet you also have electric drop lines and poles getting in the way of your aerial, so the deck gun is your next best option in these close quarters.

 

Will Your Blitz Have an Affect?

A few years ago, my city faced a rash of arson fires. On arrival, we found many dwellings well involved. One evening while in command of my shift, I was the first-arriving officer to a large, vacant 2½-story residential dwelling that had experienced a fire a few months earlier. I was immediately confronted with a fully-involved dwelling with two exposures.

I had two engines and a truck respond with just members. I immediately called for mutual aid and had the first-arriving engine blitz the fire with their deck gun. Although I had every hope and intention of “taking a bite” out of the fire until ample resources arrived, the amount of fire overmatched the 750 gallons of water on board the first engine.

After emptying the tank, the fire continued to attack the exposures. As a commander, I failed to understand just how much fire I had on arrival and the amount of water it would take to squelch it. The lesson learned here was “pass on.” Although the blitz attack is a winner, you must also know just how much fire you have in front of you.

(1, 2) At this fire that I commanded, I failed to size up the amount of fire relative to the usefulness of a blitz attack stopping the forward progress of that fire with significant exposure problems. The decision to blitz should be based on the amount of fire and tank water available, which comes with preparation and training. (Photos by Terry M. Costigan.)

 

Training vs. Reality

If you are reading this and have recently graduated from the fire academy (or even instruct at one like I do), when was the last time you led off a burn evolution with the deck gun using the blitz attack? Dr. Richard Gasaway, who has done extensive research on situational awareness and runs a great Web site (www.samatters.com) that contains a quote in reference to the lack of blitz attack training on the drill ground. The quote says, “The decisions and actions we make under stress in training can become our automatic performance at incident scenes. No thought required. If we want to teach officers how to make the right decisions on the fireground, we have to teach decision making on the training ground. A decision is defined as a choice among alternatives. If, in training, every evolution is an aggressive interior attack with a 1-inch hose line, the action required no decision at all. It was predetermined and automatic.”  

(3) The repetitive training we give our officers and firefighters does not, as a rule, promote the use of the blitz attack. (Photo by Parma, Ohio Fire.) 

 

Officer Decision Making

Many fire publication articles focus on the development of fire officers, and as Gasaway indicated in the previous paragraph, firefighters and officers do what we have been taught. I am by no means diminishing the job of an engine officer, but most structure fires are single-line fires where the officer steps off the engine, the firefighter pulls the preconnect, and the driver pulls the gate open and throttles up to the correct pressure.  After taping the discharge gate, the room-and-contents fire goes out. No more, no less; the tactic should be second nature.

Now, throw in the “curveball” of a well-involved first floor of a single-family dwelling with exposures, people trapped, and so on. What about a well-involved, middle-of-the-road strip mall tavern at 0400 hours. The officer now has to make several decisions and in rapid fashion. He basically has to order the following:

  • Apparatus placement,
  • Blitz attack option,
  • Hoseline placement and size,
  • Supply considerations, and
  • Direction of other arriving companies.

If you don’t train and then give your officers the tools, the blitz it will be an afterthought.

 

Simple Training

Offer members training where the engine company is presented with one of the two following scenarios:

  1. On arrival at a fire, the blitz is the chosen tactic, and the company is “put on the clock” to see how effectively and timely it can place the gun in service while getting its supply, or
  2. The stop and forward lay. As the engine approaches the, fire the three or four members are trained and tested in the forward lay blitz attack as well as their ability to get a handline laid and in operation after the gun is shut down.

This takes a relatively small amount of time to accomplish, and if you are worried about being called to a run while conducting this drill, it is best to use extra hose from your station’s spare hose rack.

 

The Sweet Spot

A common error when placing the deck gun in service occurs when the pump operator pulls the gate open while the gun is moved into position. Several, perhaps even hundreds of gallons of water can be wasted as the pressure is not adjusted properly and the water falls harmlessly to the ground several feet from the target. If this happens, you have blown the single reason why you are in a blitz mode: to knock the fire down.

Each apparatus will most likely be different, but if you have a deck gun mounted on your apparatus with smooth bore stacked tips and the starting pressure is 80 psi, consider the friction loss in the piping. Some believe that for each elbow or turn in the piping, the monitor adds 10 psi (others say 25 psi). Many deck guns have a gauge attached to it which will indicate the psi at the gun; this will take practice and training to see what your particular model needs regarding friction loss.

“The sweet spot” is the correct pressure up to which the pump can be throttled to PRIOR to the operator pulling open or turning open the gate without too much difficulty. When my shift played around with finding the sweet spot, we felt that throttling up to 100 psi and then opening the gate provided enough pressure where water was not wasted and made an immediate impact on the target. Get out and find your sweet spot!

(4) Practice with each of your engines to find the “sweet spot” the right pressure you throttle up to PRIOR to the discharge. This allows for an easy opening of your gate under pressure and puts the water on the target. (Photo by author.)       

 

Training Videos and Articles

Below are videos and Fire Engineering articles for you to review, study, and discuss if you plan to use the blitz. Discuss the pros and cons with your crews and, most importantly, whether or not your department can benefit from the blitz if you encounter the same type of fire in your town.

 

The decision to use a blitz attack is a serious one that comes with many repercussions if the decision fails…i.e., you run out of water, you scramble for a supply, and the fire is not dying down but only getting larger. Good officers and commanders need to remember this tactic, especially when arriving with less than adequate personnel.

A great fire quote from whom I am not sure states that,

“Sometimes our favorite tactic is not the BEST tactic.”

The blitz may just be the right tool when called for. Familiarize yourself and your crews on its advantages and train so it doesn’t become a “forgotten tune.”

 

For more information, click on the following FE articles below:

Ricci, Gray, Norwood, et al.: DECK GUN DRILLS FOR THREE-MEMBER ENGINE COMPANIES

Sitz: DECK GUN DRILLS FOR THREE-MEMBER ENGINE COMPANIES

 

Joe Pronesti is the assistant chief of the Elyria (OH) Fire Department.

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