At a recent class I attended the instructor speaking on the merits of studying today’s fire behavior and tactics exhibited a piece of paper with one sentence written on it, the words scribbled by a great fire service leader said, “Quick water is the best water”. As I read those words on the screen I thought back on a fire I was first in on in 2006 prior to the release of all the acronyms and Facebook sites devoted to modern fire behavior and thought I would share the lessons that afternoon to prove that what we know today is certainly true and inspired me to share the Elyria, Ohio Fire Department’s experience that Autumn afternoon eight years ago and more importantly encourage those reading this to critique your past incidents for lessons learned and continue studying, learning and training for your future ones to come.
The Building and Fire
The building was a large two story multi-family (eight apartments total) unprotected Type V structure the building was split into a square basically with two apartments on the B side and two apartments on the Delta. There was a common hall down the middle with rear porches on A and C sides and I shamefully admit, not a building I was familiar with in my first due area. This humbled me and taught me that no matter how well I knew my district and city much more can and should be attained through study.
The fire began in a first floor apartment on the Charlie side of the building, located on the Charlie side was a rear access narrow alley with no hydrants, the front (A Side) faced a typical residential street. My Engine Company was returning from inspections and on our station’s front ramp backing into quarters when we noticed a plume of smoke in the sky, as we started in the column’s direction dispatch toned out a structure fire in an occupied apartment building with several calls reported. My crew arrived within minutes of tone and found heavy fire conditions a decision had to be made quickly on apparatus placement and we chose the Charlie Side and laid a 2 ½” line.
We knew we had an occupied apartment and we could’ve stretched via the interior common hall through the A side to the rear but we chose to hit it from the Charlie shut down and go up the rear access to apartments. As stated above this was all a guess on my part as no one on my company knew the layout.
Success and lessons learned correspond to what's known today
My department that day responded with 17 members so other in service companies were rolling in, no one was injured and all residents escaped unharmed, we didn’t know that at the time and we needed to do a ton of searches but I fought with the decision to hit it exterior first and it was one that until I started reading today’s data on heat release rates and modern furnishings did I start to feel better about my original decision on this fire. My hope for resuscitating this old fire is to preach three main lessons learned; one, you may NOT always want to spot your first in engine on the A side of a building. Many fire service leaders have stated that we error on the job when we always do “what feels good”, we sometimes get in the habit of the truck gets the front and the engine pulls past the front of the building. As a fire officer please be alert and consider other options especially when deploying today’s disseminated information on water application and hoseline advancement. My lucky guess on apparatus placement and order for initial quick water on the outside of an occupied apartment building did not push any fire into the building; we were careful in our application and utilized a smooth bore nozzle to deliver 250 GPM. We certainly drained our booster quickly but the second company laid a feeder line to us and we then took the charged 1 ¾” hand line laid by my engineer as were attacking with the 2 ½” into the building.
Another lesson learned I would like to share emphasizes what UL and NIST state about the fire re-setting and the need to be proficient at getting the attack line in place if you are going offensive. The video on this fire will show just how quickly the fire did indeed “reset” itself this is what many firefighters fail to realize when studying and employing today’s research which brings up the point that with all this “new” stuff it still comes down to being competent in spotting apparatus, laying the correct hose line and advancing it to the seat of the fire. These items will never change and in between studying today’s research and viewing fire videos on the internet be sure to save time in your day to think about and train on these basics, for they will never change in my opinion and cannot get lost in all that we see as a firefighter in 2014 and beyond.
Oh yeah… just think how much better your decisions are when you KNOW YOUR BUILDINGS!! Don’t rely on guessing like I did! a third and closing lesson for you.