THE VOLUNTEERS CORNER
THE FIRST couple of minutes on the fireground are usually the toughest for volunteers. This is so because of the time differences for men responding from their homes or places of work. As a result, apparatus rolls undermanned. Added to the complexity of the problem is the fact that different men may ride the trucks, making teamwork more difficult to achieve at the start of the attack.
In paid departments, it is customary to assign duties—such as pipeman, hydrant man, axe man—at roll call. Thus, each man has a specific job to do at the start. However, there is no need to despair. Volunteers can make a fast, coordinated job of lining in, opening up and getting water on the fire. It just has to be done differently.
First, the evolutions of lining in, hooking up to a hydrant and making entry, should be standardized. Whether you lay from fire to hydrant or hydrant to fire, each operation should be done the same way. Preparing a pumper to draft or hooking up to a hydrant should have specific steps in every instance. Once these evolutions are standardized, volunteers can learn the individual tasks and the equipment and tools needed for each task.
Now, look at it this way: Instead of assigning a man to each job, each job waits for a man to take over. If the jobs are learned in the proper order, then the men riding the piece take over the first one or two steps.
As more men arrive on the fireground, they take a quick glance at what is being done and take over each successive step in the order of their availability. A welltrained volunteer company can make this look like a programmed drill.
Adequate training will make detailed orders unnecessary. This is important because officers also may be at a premium in the first minutes on the fireground. The first officer there will have enough to do making the sizeup and issuing the major orders for the fire attack. As other officers arrive, they take command of their companies and supervise the details.
After the first few minutes, the fireground begins to settle down and the problem of control becomes routine. Enough men are then available to maintain a coordinated attack under the chief officer’s direction.
One of the problems that faces all fire companies is getting equipment off pumpers stretching to hydrants or other sources of water. It is a little embarrassing to have to send a man down the road to pick up a forcible entry tool or a hose clamp.
Before the word to start laying is given to the pump operator, everything that may be needed at the fire should be stripped from the apparatus. This means that axes, pike poles, hose clamps, double male or female fittings and wyes should be taken off and placed on the ground before the pumper leaves the fire area. If breathing apparatus is carried, this also should be taken off even if the need is not immediately apparent.
Perhaps among the most overlooked equipment are the double male and female couplings. There are, however, a couple of ways of reducing this problem.
If the pumper has a reverse hose load (male coupling at the top of the bed), a double female can be attached to the male coupling at all times. If it is not needed, it is a simple matter to remove it. The point is that it is there if you need it. When a straight hose load (hydrant to fire) is used, double male couplings can be attached to playpipes at all times. Again, if they are not needed, they can be removed. These tricks can eliminate many of the chances of not having the proper fittings at hand for attaching playpipes.
Once the equipment is unloaded, the next problem is to get it to the point where it can be used in fighting the fire. This is another place where training pays off. If firemen learn to carry tools with them during drills, they will on the fireground.
A fireman can increase his usefulness if he carries something with him when he enters a building. It can be a pike pole, an axe or a claw tool. You never know which one will be needed next. And it’s a great feeling to have one at hand the moment it is needed.
This preparedness is doubly important for men going to a roof. You feel pretty silly—and you look pretty silly—standing on the edge of a roof waiting for someone to bring up a rope. That should be one of the first things to go up. Then, if you need another piece of equipment, at least you can lower the rope for it. What’s more, a rope gives you another means of escape if the fire makes the return to the ladder impossible.
Tools are always in demand on a roof. In most cases, you have to ventilate or make a hole for using a hose line. If every man going up a ladder carries something with him, the tools will arrive on the heels of the hose line.
This awareness of possible needs spells the difference between workmanlike, efficient fire attack and haphazard, confused muddling. Training and insisting on fireground performance pays rich dividends in well-fought fires.