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To stretch or not to stretch....

A call for a structure fire comes in, whether it be the odor of smoke sight unknown or a bedroom fire, what action does the first engine in take upon arrival?  With the latter scenario its easy to answer, stretch in and put the fire out, but what about the other possible scene? This is where the question comes in, do we or don't we stretch?  Always follow whatever your department’s SOP/SOG’s state, but what happens when a department leaves it to the first arriving company officer to make the judgement call? I refer to these jobs as marginal structure jobs or some might call them smoke scares. They range from burned out light ballasts to arching outlets to burnt food or self cleaning ovens. Basically anything that would cause our customer to dial 911 to report a fire without really seeing a fire.  For these marginal structure jobs do we pull a line?  Do we charge it?  My thought is yes, for two reasons.  

First, what a perfect time to practice your trade. My department has a very aggressive fire prevention program, which has significantly made a difference. Fires are down and homeowners are staying safe.  That being said we need to sharpen our skills through training and the calls we do get. Homeowners call for the fire department because they have seen fire or smoke in their residence.  What better time to stretch a hoseline to the front door? Whether or not we initially see flame or smoke, we need to take advantage of these real life situations. If we have a stumble or if I as an officer notice an action or slip-up that needs attention, now I have something to reference during the next drill. On calls our adrenaline is running and shortcomings that might not show during training could appear on a job. I am the company officer of a four man Quint, in which my crew tends to do more truck work, but we pull lines when needed. I instruct my crew to pull lines, because every call is an opportunity to train and learn. In short it’s great training. I wish I knew the author, but the following quote is fitting here, “Its not how fast you stretch its how well you stretch fast.”

Second, preparedness. As a company officer I like to live by the thought, “I’d rather be looking at it than looking for it.”  Time is essential in our business, being prepared saves us time. Unpreparedness might cost us the seconds that are the difference between life and death.  There are few things us as firefighters can do to make-up time: turn out quickly, gearing up properly and quickly, and stretching hose efficiently.  With this line of thinking we should be stretching lines on a lot more alarms. As an officer I do not have my company stretch on auto alarms but if we come across a building that sets up abnormal or the stretch is difficult, after the alarm is investigated and cleared, we take 5-10 minutes and use it as a learning experience. We’ll talk about how we would preform or actually stretch a line.  It comes down to size up and experience for the auto alarms. We should however be stretching on every report of fire or smoke in the structure, it gives us the best chance of success and in the end it is our job.

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Comment by Bobby Halton on May 18, 2016 at 9:07am

Lou, to quote the late "Old Professor" Frank Brannigan "The worst fires I ever went to all started out with nothing showing" Stretching the line is always good form. 

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