Toilet Tactics and Turmoil

Over the years of going to fires in large multiple dwellings, you pick up a lot of information, and now and then the old saying of “History repeats itself” holds true. Early in your career, a senior member will tell you about a quick tip or tactic and you shake your head, “Yeah, I got it.” Days, months, or even years could go by until you need to use it, but suddenly out of the blue you recall it and put it to use. Hopefully, you were listening and grasped it so you can quickly and properly put it into play.

Toilet Tactic

Recently, we went to a multiple-alarm fire as a relief unit. We headed up to the fire floor to do some overhaul and open up areas where some hot embers were still glowing. Since it was a large fire and it almost got away from the units, master streams were used for a brief period. As a result, there was a large accumulation of water on the floor, which added a tremendous weight load to a structure that was weakened by fire and created a collapse potential.

Heading into the bathroom, we shut the water supply off for the toilet and disconnected the upper end of the hose near the tank. Then we pried up on the base and removed it from its two connecting bolts that were buried under the water and debris. You could hear the suction begin to start as the water began to flow, but we still had to remove the wax seal ring attached to the floor to get more drainage.

Toilet tactics photo

As the bathroom began to drain, we noticed that the room’s marble sill plate at the entrance wasn’t allowing water to enter from the other rooms and that debris was flowing to the opening and occasionally clogging the drain. We removed the marble sill and then had the bright idea to look for a colander in the kitchen cabinets. We found a large one and placed it over the drain hole to keep the debris away from the hole and let the water drain. Someone had to monitor it; when debris built up around the drain, we swept it up and threw it in the tub so water would keep flowing. We did this in a few bathrooms to relieve the water buildup and reduce the collapse potential.

Remember, any time you have water accumulation on the floor, the roof, or another area with a drain hole, never place your hand by the hole to remove any debris. The suction will pull your hand into the hole and cause an injury!

Toilet Turmoil

Responding to another emergency in the bathroom had a few of us questioning on arrival if it would be a leaky toilet, a broken supply line under the sink, or an overflowing tub on the floor above filling the room’s light fixture with water. In the lobby, we met a frantic woman whose English was a little hard to decipher telling us about a man locked in the bathroom who fell off the toilet. Calming her down on the ride up in the elevator, we were already considering scenarios.

When we got to the upper floor, out of reach of the ladder truck, we realized going through the window wasn’t going to be an option. In addition, the bathroom windows in this structure would have required the thinnest member to squeeze through.

We knocked on the bathroom door to talk to the victim. He told us he was wedged up against the vanity and tub and his walker was wedged up against the door. The door was locked, but we used a slotted key to unlock it and open it a few inches. Peering through the narrow four-inch slot, we spotted our obese victim on the floor. The space was too narrow for a member’s arm, and sliding a tool in the space to push the walker away from the door wasn’t going to work either.

We told the victim, who was lying on the floor, that we were going to use our reciprocating saw to cut off the top section of the door and to close his eyes so no sawdust would get in. He apologized for being half naked and for our having to cut the door. We said not to worry and that we were glad to be of assistance.

As we began cutting the door, we made sure we weren’t up too high; we had to cut low enough to allow a member to straddle over it once it was cut open. Plus, we didn’t want to hit the hinges on the opposite side of the door. Luckily, there wasn’t a mirror on the back of the door or clothes hanging from it. Cutting the solid door was tougher than cutting a hollow-core door, and the saw operator let the saw do the work; he pivoted it back and forth with a slight rocking motion with the saw guard up against the door. We held the door’s opposite end to keep it from vibrating and binding the saw blade.

Once the door was cut, we swung the top section open; a member had to straddle the door and remove the wedged walker that was half under the victim’s shoulder and back. Once that member removed the walker, he and another member entered the room and began a patient assessment. The patient broke his hip in the fall; we had to remove him gently in tight working quarters.

Forcible entry tactics aren’t always conventional methods. Sometimes they require a little ingenuity and finesse.

MICHAEL N. CIAMPO is a 32-year veteran of the fire service and a lieutenant in the Fire Department of New York. Previously, he served with the District of Columbia Fire Department. He has a bachelor’s degree in fire science from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. He is the lead instructor for the FDIC Truck Essentials H.O.T. program. He wrote the Ladders and Ventilation chapters for Fire Engineering’s Handbook for Firefighter I and II (Fire Engineering, 2009) and the Bread and Butter Portable Ladders DVD and is featured in “Training Minutes” truck company videos on

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