THE VOLUNTEERS CORNER
TO FIREMEN, water is a paradox. It is at once our best friend, and greatest enemy. We depend on water for extinguishing most fires, but we have to remember that water also is a major cause of excessive fire insurance losses.
The trouble often is that we are sometimes too anxious to put water into a fire area. And I emphasize “fire area” because I have often seen hose streams directed into hot, smoky rooms where there was no flame. It would be hard to find a more flagrant way to increase the water damage without doing anything to extinguish the fire.
The initial approach to a burning building calls for cool thinking and deliberate action. This is the time when, in the absence of proper leadership, firemen are likely to direct a hose stream through a window or a door with disappointing results.
Where there is a large volume of smoke, it is necessary to locate the fire before opening up a hose line aimlessly. Sometimes simple, vertical ventilation will clear enough smoke to spot the fire, or it may be necessary to get men into the building with breathing apparatus to feel their way into the section of the building that is actually involved in fire.
Many firemen can recall cellars heavily charged with smoke that gave the appearance of a working fire. In some cases, water has been hastily poured into the cellar only to find out later that the fire involved nothing more than a drive belt on a compressor or a fan for an air conditioner or oil burner. Of course, we are talking about the small fire that causes trouble but doesn’t require much water.
Even when flames are seen, you’ll do less water damage if you can approach closely enough with a lJ4-inch or booster line to apply all the fog to the flame area. The tendency is to shoot water at flames when you are too far away. Then much of the water runs off to do damage. When the flame disappears, shut down and watch.
It’s an old adage that runoff water is wasted water. What’s more, runoff water causes water damage.
Often the build-up of heat from a small fire is uncomfortably high in a room, but crouching down makes a tremendous difference. It’s often possible, while crouching, to make a closer approach and a more effective application of water.
The fire that is rolling out a window or a door also has its temptations for hasty, unthinking action. It is difficult to train firemen to recognize that, in general, Class A fires do not travel far in less than a minute. And that’s often all the time it takes to make a proper approach.
If water is put into a window because flames are coming out, a hose stream, particularly a fog pattern, will force the heat and flames back into the building. Sometimes your hose stream will then do a pretty good job of spreading the fire into unburned areas before extingui liing much of the nearby flames.
It usually doesn’t take many seconds to make an approach through the building so that the application of water will push the fire out the window where no damage can be caui ed. As more men arrive on the scene, a small line outside can protect the building’s exterior. Here you will have only a flash fire situation, and a little water will do a lot of protecting.
The cardinal sin, of course, is simultaneous use of hose streams on opposite sides of a small fire area, such as you encounter in the average house or small mercantile building. The opposing hose streams often fight one another instead of the fire. It is surprising sometimes, in a situation like this, how little fire is put out by so much water.
I can recall just such a situation in a store fire that burned for more than half an hour. When the hose lines on one end of the building were shut down, the other lines were able to advance, and the fire was quickly brought under control.
This business of opposing hose lines can lead to real peril to the firemen themselves when high-pressure lines are used. With a nozzle pressure in the neighborhood of 600 psi, can you imagine what would happen if one nozzle should be put into a solid-stream position and the stream should hit a man in the face?
It is for this reason that some departments have a rule that high pressure will not be used except on direct orders of the officer in charge, who should know exactly where his lines are positioned.
In larger fires, water is sometimes wasted because the hosemen do not know where their streams are going. I can recall the experience of a man who shot a hose stream through a small cellar window in a light well during an extended fire. After the fire was over, it was evident that most of the water bounced off a close-by beam and never reached the seat of the fire. Nevertheless, it helped fill the cellar with water.
Sometimes streams are directed through windows only to hit partitions and make very little entry into the involved area. This also can happen with cellar pipes used through roofs. It takes only a couple of seconds to probe with a pike pole to determine whether the water has a chance of going where you’re trying to put it.
Well-trained officers and firemen will be alert to prevent such situations which waste water and cause useless damage. What’s more, many rural departments just do not have any water to waste. Every drop that is not extinguishing a fire is contributing to the danger of running out of water before the fire is extinguished.
Once the fire is under control and overhaul starts, water pressures can be reduced. This makes it easier to handle the lines and it is only necessary to crack the shutoffs open just a bit when only a few drops of water are needed to extinguish hot spots in walls and furnishings. This is the time when you can control every drop of water and further water damage can be reduced to zero.
Remember, the less water there is to remove from a building after a fire, the more proficient you have been in fighting that fire!