While the title of this piece is obviously absurd and impossible, this doesn’t stop us from striving to make it a little safer through training. This is obviously evident since life safety, both for them and for us, is our primary goal. Seems simple enough, right? Well, for some, the rub comes when we start discussing whose safety is more important… theirs or ours? Over the past couple of decades some have stated that the focus on firefighter safety is, at times, counterproductive to our prime directive of rescuing civilians. They argue that some preaching from the ‘Pulpit of Safety’ are causing the pendulum to swing too far in the direction of firefighter safety, and thusly, inherently, away from them. While others argue that firefighter and civilian safety aren’t in direct opposition, but are linked; stating that if we make it safer for us, we must be making it safer for them. These different views can be confusing for many firefighters, regardless of experience or rank.
While it’s doubtful that this debate will end anytime soon, I’ve learned something important from some of my mentors (on both sides of the debate) that can make the fireground safer for everyone. I’ve learned that fast fires need fast water. Fast water from the correct location, with the correct flow, and correct technique (pattern, angle, duration) WILL SAVE LIVES… ours and theirs. The key to fast water, and a SAFE fireground, is SAFE (Stretch, Advance, Flow and Extinguish) training. Nothing new, just a focus on the basics.
Another acronym, really?
I know, I know… I’m sorry, just hear me out. Through the work of UL and NIST (among others) we empirically know that ‘modern’ fires produces more energy, but more importantly, they’re much more powerful (faster). In other words, today’s fires are on steroids. This means that the civilians have less time to escape, therefore we need to be faster. Seconds matters. Speed matters… it’s science. Realizing this truth should make all us ask, “How can we steal as many of those seconds back from the fire (for the civilians) as possible?”
As with all questions/problems in this job, the answer is found in training. Literally, the solution to almost any problem we face on the fireground (or emergency scene) is training. Fast water sounds supremely simple in concept, but it can be deceivingly complex in practice. Sure, we’re all badasses in a parking lot or at the tower when it’s 75 degrees out; but do all your firegrounds go that perfectly? Don’t answer that, it was rhetorical. A smooth attack takes hard work, repetition, and countless hours of training. It takes gallons of sweat to first identify, and then effectively troubleshoot any problem that might present itself. Remember that practice doesn’t make perfect… practice makes permanent. Skill, speed, efficiency and knowledge are all directly proportional to safety…and being SAFE begets skill, speed, efficiency and knowledge.
Below are some primers on each of the aspects of a SAFE fireground to serve as a template for your trainings.
- Choosing the correct line (1¾“ vs 2 ½” vs master stream)
- Estimating the stretch
- Overcoming obstacles (fences, parked cars, etc.)
- Extending lines
- Single-family dwellings (room and contents, structural, basement, attic, attached garage, etc.)
- Multiple dwellings (center hall vs garden apartment)
- Going vertical (i.e. standpipe, well h***, out a window, etc.)
- Exterior AND Interior attack
- Charging line (AVP – air, volume, pressure)
- Staging hose
- Stick and move – Pin and hit
- Going up stairs and down stairs
- Left turns and right turns
- T, L, and U hallways (if all you have is a parking lot, you can use vehicles, screwed together pallets, or anything else you can think of to simulate your needs)
- Know your flows (gps)- flow test your equipment packages (pump, piping, hose and nozzle)
- Location, size (flow) and technique (pattern, angle, duration) matter
- Gas cooling vs protective cooling
- Indirect/direct/combination attack
- Push - flowing while moving
- When to close the bale?
- Kill the fire
- Aggressive overhaul (TIC)
- Thorough overhaul (TIC)
- The lost art of salvage
The above list is far from complete, but rather a starting point and some ideas for drills. Please comment below and add to the list to make it more complete.
Oh, and to state the obvious, to truly make a fireground safe takes much more than fast water - it takes fast entry, fast search, fast rescue, fast ladders, fast back-up, fast supply, fast...I think you get the idea.