The title to you older members can be hummed to the tune of the great Todd Rundgren hit song “Hello it’s me” but in all seriousness this article will focus on an often forgotten tactic the blitz attack, transitional attack, whatever you wish to call it using the apparatus mounted deck pipe or gun.
Like most students of the fire service I study hundreds and hundreds of fire videos every year and then choose from those the best ones to help with a teaching point or to emphasize a specific tactic, the one thing that I find disturbing when looking at these videos is the lack of use of one of the most valuable tools we have especially if you have an understaffed department, the apparatus mounted deck gun. For years it has sat as an underutilized silent sentinel waiting for that block long shoe factory to go up, but if you understand its capabilities and train with it you have a viable weapon that can put a quick knock on the fire and maybe just maybe allow you and your crews the ability to get inside and stop any forward progress of fire.
Modern Environment & Tactical Agility
By now, most firefighters and fire departments are talking about and dealing with what has now been termed “the modern fire environment” plastics, modern furnishings, etc. have heat release rates that dwarf those of our grandparents’ furnishings. Departments are arriving at well-developed rooms and floors and depending on construction, CONSTRUCTION DRIVES TACTICS! Our operational time is very short, fast water is by far the best water and with training the blitz attack tactic is a proven winner regardless of the building we are pulling up on. Fellow Fire Engineering writer and FDIC presenter Jerry Knapp just had a wonderfully insightful article published in the October 2015 Fire Engineering Magazine called “Modern House Fires Warrant Tactical Agility” I encourage you if you have not already done so to read it and pass it along to others in your fire house, Knapp emphasizes that we as firefighters need to be tactically proficient and have tactical agility which to paraphrase Knapp’s article in its simplest form means making sure our fireground actions—size-up, search, rescue, ventilation, fire suppression, and salvage/overhaul—can safely, efficiently, and effectively defeat the new threats at house fires. The one tool that I believe may be the most underutilized and perhaps the most misunderstood as far as its ability to quickly change conditions for the better is the deck gun. Now I am not advocating the blitz on every fire, of course this does not take the place of efficient hand line stretching, getting the first line into operation is first and foremost of utter importance but when confronted with heavy fire the blitz may get you some breathing room prior to offensive attack and when also achieved simultaneously with stretching a line in preparation for offensive attack.
What my mentors say that’s worth sharing
We have all read the studies and reports that state we as the fire service are responding to fewer fires and the ones we are responding to are most likely the bread and butter room and contents fire in which the single attack line handles the job, many firefighters and incident commanders are forgetting what an effective tool the deck gun and 500-1000 GPM can do, why is this? As I stated previously after watching literally hundreds of hours of fire video I can say from my unscientific research that we as a fire service are simply robotic in our approach to the chemical reaction called fire. In preparation for this article I sent an email to many of my mentors, without revealing their identities in this article I will simply highlight their thoughts on what they too feel is an underutilized method of attack….The blitz with the gun if you will, I asked their feelings towards using the blitz attack (deck gun application prior to established water supply). Here is a brief snippet of some of their responses and it is printed here with the hope of stirring some talk in your firehouse, reflection on your own knowledge skills and abilities with the deck gun and then some training.
“I am an advocate of using the deck gun for large fire situations. One example: One story strip mall (multiple stores) and one occupancy is fully involved. The Engine can stop in front of that occupancy and have one member mount the rig to man the deck gun while the engineer starts water with tank supply. Third member pulls off two hand lines (drop in front of building) to be ready for operation. The engine can proceed up after dumping water to provide room for Ladder unit. Granted Engine that utilizes pre-connects must have enough hose lengths to move up.”
“I have found is that there is a true lack of knowledge and understanding of fire dynamics and tactical deployment. Much of the mentality exists that we pull small lines so that we don't waste the water.”
“Everyone is afraid to run out of water, but nobody cares if they run out of building!! It makes the engineer work real hard, engine companies have to get their own water but I am a believer.”
“I think it is a combination of things, a pre-connect mindset, training, rebellion against UL/NIST exterior push (hit it hard from the yard)”
“Anytime you find guys not employing a tactic or procedure. It’s usually a combination of lack of knowledge coupled with lack of skill (i.e. confidence and/or muscle memory). One of the many reasons companies shy away from the deck gun's use is it often requires re-positioning of the apparatus after the initial hit. Even when this is not the case, people need to move around a lot and quickly go from one task to another. Another possibility is having a bad experience or hearing/witnessing another's bad experience. As with all fire streams, angle of attack can be extremely important. If you are using a deck gun off a modern apparatus the tip can be 12 or more feet off the ground. You won't have much success hitting a first floor window of a ranch house 40 feet from the apparatus. Aiming isn't as simple as it might first appear. It all goes back to training and repetition. Another reason that is out there but that guys might be reticent about bringing up is that they are afraid they will have their fire stolen from them by the second due engine.”
“You might think about approaching the use of the deck gun the way you do VEIS. A team of people need to "know the drill", each being expert in all aspects of the operation, not just the one they are responsible for at the moment. Every piece has to be executed for there to be success. No one (I hope) would pull up on a fire with a report of persons trapped and say, "Hey, let’s try that search venter rent thing we read about last month". Same goes for a deck gun operation as part of initiating an offensive attack.”
“In my opinion the use of the deck gun is considered defensive and after all other options have failed. I would consider it way under-utilized especially on developed fires or when a line stretch is taking place. Typically the pump operators are so focused on getting water to the primary line that the last thing on the officer or PO mind is a quick knockdown. We also can't ignore that much/most/some (don't know which fits) of the fire service still believes they will push fire throughout the building and in my scenario they are willing to let the fire grow for 5 mins because of that belief. I don't believe that you can care about civilians and still let a fire grow for 5 mins but they say they aren't flowing because of the civilians. Ultimately it is a training issue, both practical and theoretical.”
“How long does it take you to get it in operation? Is it a one-man operation? We got rid of remote control guns and added a hydrant gate on our deck guns so we truly can flow QUICK WATER by just the Engineer. He charges the pump and the gun then hops up quickly to flow water.”
Specific Occupancy thoughts and deck gun use…….the strip mall fire
It is 1900 hours and you are called to a reported fire in a strip mall, you arrive to find heavy fire conditions blowing out of front windows of a once dental office now vacant, you have a three member crew. Your previous knowledge of the building indicates it was constructed in 2002 and has no fire walls between occupancies the involved store is in the middle, you have some smoke in both neighboring exposures to the left and right. Do you………….
A-Lay a line and hit the fire?
B-Spot your apparatus and blitz with the gun while your company stretches a line to use after knock?
Obviously both tactics will work of course as we know water on the fire as soon as possible makes everything better, but does blitzing the fire with gun upon arrival while getting a line laid and an established water supply get more GPM and water on the fire faster? It’s all about training and knowing your crew and capabilities. Next time you are out have your driver stop the apparatus in the parking lot of one of your strip malls and see if your gun’s angle will be effective many of our new apparatus’ guns may be as high as twelve feet off the ground and also come with an extend a gun feature allowing them to rise many feet above their stowed position, now I don’t expect you to flow! But this quick stop and “pre-fire” measurement can assist you in selecting the right course of water application prior to the next worker in your strip malls. The photos below simulate a possible deck gun attack positioning the apparatus on an angle to the fire occupancy. Next time you work a weekend take your apparatus out and take a look, take pictures drawings whatever it takes. Traffic and parking will obviously play a factor but if you don’t train and consider your options you will never know. And as far as the truck company, in a situation like this the front of the strip mall occupancy on fire may not be the most tactically advantageous position, maybe a few stores down might.
An option on the strip mall, the blitz, practice and training prior at your malls is the key
The Ordinary “Main Street” deck gun consideration
0200 hours on a cold January night, your local police report fire coming from second floor above a cell phone store in your downtown area, this three story ordinary Type III occupancy was built in 1890 and has obviously been refurnished numerous times, upon arrival with your three member engine you find fire blowing out a second floor apartment you know from previous EMS runs that there are apartments on the second and third floor that are usually occupied. Do you………….
A- Lay a line and head upstairs?
B- Spot your apparatus and blitz with gun for 15-30 seconds while you stretch to prepare to go interior?
If you cover ordinary constructed buildings in your district you surely know or should know the difficulties these buildings can pose when involved in fire, one common component is the large single stair run or the large landings/halls located on the upper floors. Stretching can take time and if you are operating alone for a while or respond understaffed and have to wait for mutual aid to get enough staffing the 15-20 second blitz from the gun on the fire may buy you some time and hobble the fire long enough to enable you to rescue, stretch or whatever is needed when arriving at these complicated fortresses. Compare the number of times you have stretched whether in real or training in these types of buildings vs. a residential dwelling. I love to use the analogy I first heard Worcester, Massachusetts Chief Mike McNamee use when discussing the tragic cold storage fire his department experienced, McNamee described how efficient his department was on their bread and butter fires and emphasized the importance of being ready to combat the larger commercial building fires in a different way, he stated, “you cannot put a square peg in a round h***”. You cannot expect to stretch up the stairs and get water on a well involved commercial apartment as quickly as a small residential. 15-20 seconds of blitz vs. 3 minutes HOPEFULLY on a stretch with two people?? We all want to think we have efficient companies but when was the last time you timed a hoseline stretch evolution? Also, these stretches may need more hose than just what’s in your cross lay, time both evolutions (blitz vs. attack line stretch) and see for yourself, it’s like the two minute offense in football, some teams are better at speed and efficiency than others.
Stretching first-due up in an Ordinary "Main St." building is not the same as a residential, the blitz may buy you some time to stretch upstairs. Its all fire conditions on arrival dependent of course. (photo by author)
The Residential Hit
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 column of smoke and as you turn onto the street 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 2 ½ story wood frame dwelling built at the turn of the 1900s. Do you…………
A-Lay a large line and hit the fire?
B-Wrap the hydrant, have the squad standby 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 a 360 must be conducted but sometimes does becoming directly involved as an officer 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 but instead of wasting precious time especially if you have any hope of conducting an offensive attack instead of running a lap around the house get involved with assisting with the blitz attack especially if arriving with an understaffed company. In the same four person arriving scenario (two member squad and two member engine) you as the officer may make more of a difference blitzing the fire WHILE having the remaining three members (driver, 2 squad members) supply and stretch a line in preparation to go offensive if conditions permit after the blitz. We as firefighters have heard many times from the most knowledgeable and engaged members of our profession that no matter how we do it must get enough firefighters on the scene the blitz may buy some time prior to the arrival and mustering of enough resources.
Arriving to find heavy fire conditions involving an attic equals a tough fight and with many departments signals the roof burning off and a long night. Sure, construction plays a huge role in what your options are going to be but let’s say you arrive to a large amount of fire involving the attic of a residential dwelling of legacy construction the use of the blitz attic via deck gun through the attic windows may in fact knock down a fair amount of fire and once resources arrive allow an easy attack, many who have not had to stretch to the attic of large 2 ½ story or had to make their own access via pulling tons of lath and plaster have not really felt exhaustion, the blitz should be an option in your engine’s repertoire. The recently released UL/NIST residential attic fire study emphasized wetting sheathing with an eave attack slows attic fire growth; attic construction affects hose stream penetration; consider flowing up instead of down with a master stream and lastly in reference to attic fires the Increased use of plastics in exterior walls will change the situation to which you arrive; If the fire starts on the outside, start fighting it from the outside with the intent of slowing the progress to the attic.
What about the Truck getting the front
Departments that have a truck company know the value and advantage of getting the truck to the front at all costs, this sometimes gets into the heads of officers as a must do and they quickly dismiss the use of their engine companies’ deck guns for this very reason, and if you haven’t thought about, planned and trained on using the gun buy discussing different apparatus spotting and perhaps yes perhaps hitting the fire from the front and then moving the engine to make room for the truck this tactic will seem so foreign that its possibility will never be considered. Patience and adequately trained apparatus operators can and have applied the tactic of hitting it with the gun and then moving the apparatus with success. Maybe the “reverse lay” could be applied? Just another tool to consider and most importantly practiced and trained upon. Do you protect closely spaced residential dwellings? If you do, I am willing to wager that you also have electric drop lines and poles in the way of getting your aerials up the deck gun is your next best option in these close quarters.
The amount of fire needs consideration will your blitz have an effect?
A few years back my city faced a rash of arson fires, we arrived to find many dwellings well involved upon arrival. One evening while in command of my shift I arrived first to a large vacant 2 ½ story residential dwelling which had a few months prior experienced a prior fire, I was immediately confronted with a fully and I mean fully involved dwelling with two exposures. I had two engines and a truck responding with only members, I immediately called for mutual aid and had the first engine arriving blitz the fire with their deck gun. While I had every hope and intention of taking a bite out of the fire until ample resources arrived the amount of fire over matched the 750 gallons on-board the first engine and after emptying the tank the fire continued to attack the exposures. I failed as a commander to understand just how much fire I had on arrival and the amount of water it would in fact take to a bite out of the fire. Lesson here to pass on, while the blitz attack is a winner, you also must know just how much fire you indeed have in front of you.
At this fire I commanded, I failed in sizing up the amount of fire relative to the usefulness of a blitz attack to stop the forward progress of a fire with significant exposure problems. The decision to blitz needs to be the right call based on the amount of fire and tank water available and comes with preparation and training. (Photo by Terry M. Costigan)
Training vs. Reality
If you are reading this and have recently graduated from a fire academy or even instruct at one like I do, when was the last time during a live burn evolution you led off the evolution with the deck gun utilizing the blitz attack? Dr. Richard Gasaway who has done extensive research on situational awareness and runs a great site www. samatters.com can be quoted in reference to the lack of blitz attack training on the drill ground as saying: “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 an 1 3/4" hose line, the action required no decision at all. It was predetermined and automatic.”
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 a fire publication article has focused on the development of fire officers and as Dr. Gasaway indicated in the previous paragraph we as 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 pre-connect, the driver pulls the gate open throttles up to the correct pressure now usually taped the discharge gate and the room and contents fire goes out. Not much thought or advance thought needs to be made it can become robotic in my opinion. Now throw the curve of a well involved first floor of a single family dwelling with exposures, people trapped etc. or a well involved middle of the row tavern in a strip mall at 0400 hours and the officer now has to make several decisions and in rapid fashion, he/she basically has to order the following: apparatus placement, blitz attack option, hoseline placement and size, supply considerations and direct other arriving companies. If you don’t give and train your officers the tool of the blitz it will be an afterthought
A great training can be a scenario in which the engine company is presented with one of two scenarios, arrival at a fire where the blitz is the tactic chosen 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, the second scenario is 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 and then also the ability to also get a handline laid and in operation after the gun is shut down. It takes relatively a small amount of time and if you are worried about getting a run while doing this drill here is an idea utilize extra hose from your stations spare hose rack.
The Sweet Spot
A common error when placing the deck gun in service is the pump operator pulling the gate open while the gun is moved into position and several gallons perhaps hundreds are wasted as the pressure is not adjusted properly and the water falls harmlessly to the ground several feet from the target, when 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 let’s say you have a deck gun mounted on your apparatus with smooth bore stacked tips, we know that the starting pressure is 80 psi, take into consideration the friction loss in the piping some say that for each elbow or turn in the piping to the monitor add 10 psi others say 25 psi total many deck guns have a gauge attached which will indicate the psi at the gun, this will take practice and training to see what your particular model needs as far as friction loss. So back to the sweet spot, the sweet spot can be known as the correct pressure that the pump can be throttled up 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 100psi 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.
Practice with each of your engines to find the "sweet spot", the right pressure throttled up to PRIOR to the discharge that allows for an easy opening of your gate under pressure and puts water on the target
Training Videos and F.E. Article
I have added below a few videos for review that can be studied and discussed for possible use of the blitz, discuss with your crews the pros and cons plus most importantly if YOUR department could benefit from the blitz if you encountered the same type of fire in YOUR town. The decision to utilize a blitz attack is a serious one with many repercussions if the decision fails…i.e. you run out of water, you are scrambling for a supply and the fire is not dying down but only getting larger. Good officers and commanders in my opinion however need to remember this tactic especially when arriving with less than adequate personnel, a great fire quote which many have heard and who I do not know who to give original credit to 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 don’t let it be a forgotten tune. Be safe.
This photo shows the house involved in the video above and a newspaper photo of the aftermath, a great example of the right choice in using the deck gun blitz attack