September 20, 2018
I can't tell you how often I have heard, "This is the way it has always been done." Does this mean they are unable to make any other decisions when faced with an emergency?
Every firefighter wants to be a good firefighter but sometimes we must ask ourselves, is good enough really good enough? Let’s talk vacant structures for a second, is a vacant structure vacant because you know nobody has lived in it for weeks or months and it looks run down? The answer is no structure is vacant until its searched and deemed all clear.
I often wonder if we have brainwashed our personnel that because a certain tactic has always worked there is no other way of doing things, we must remember building materials and furniture materials have all changed in the past several years and continue to change. Being stuck in an old way and not staying up with the times can be dangerous. Remember, you cannot use 1990 technologies to service 2018 problems. There is much argument on opinion of an aggressive fire attack, first I must say that regardless how safe you try to make a scene it is still dangerous, fighting fire is dangerous. There is only one way to make a fire scene totally safe and that is to tell communications not to page you out at all. That’s not an option so we must face the fact that fighting fire is dangerous. My worst nightmare is the day I may have to tell one of my firefighters' significant others that their loved one will not be coming home. All we can do is train hard and work hard, but the danger is still there.
I try my best to error on the side of safety and make sure that the number one priority on the fire scene — firefighters — are not placed in a situation where common sense is traded for tradition. Our corporate culture must be the concept that no property is worth a firefighter's life. Back to the vacant house, if there is not a room that is searchable then you can’t search. We should also not be in a situation of trading the lives of firefighters for the lives of victims who are not be savable.
The operation must first begin with size-up to enable the incident commander to decide which mode to operate in — offensive or defensive. The purpose is to accomplish a known rescue, get in and get out, which may force a change in the two-in-two-out thinking mentality. That is not to be confused, the term “risk a lot to save a lot, risk little to save little” is a true statement, although the adrenaline is going and you have confirmed there is a victim inside, if the structure is 95% involved and is near collapse, don’t end your life to try to save someone you know is deceased. Stay in reality and stay alive.
The defensive mode is chosen to isolate or stabilize an incident to ensure it does not get any worse. This may mean sacrificing the building on fire to save others that are not involved.
A defensive operation should be initiated when fire conditions prevent an interior attack such as when the structure is unsafe for firefighters to enter and no civilian lives can be saved and when the fire is beyond control.
During the defensive operation, place large exterior fire streams between the fire and the exposures to prevent fire extension. When possible deploy master streams and control the perimeter to prevent firefighter entry into collapse area.
To ensure firefighter safety near or around structures that may collapse, collapse zones should be established based on the vertical collapse danger zone that is minimally the full height of the wall and a horizontal collapse danger zone that is minimally the full length of the wall.
Factors to consider when establishing collapse potential include:
• Building class/construction
• Type of occupancy
• Fire duration
• Fire location/size
• Bulges in walls
• Cracks in walls, either exterior or interior
• Sounds of structural movement
• Water flowing through exterior masonry walls
• Water run-off is smaller in quantity than amount being pumped by apparatus
• Truss construction with direct fire involvement for longer than 5-10 minutes
You should consider the placement of apparatus to prevent injury or damage when the initial or subsequent structures collapse. Attempt to place apparatus in a position that allows for safety should the fire location impinge upon apparatus. The first defensive line should be placed to protect life, and emergency egress, then placed to protect the most endangered exposure. The second line should be placed using the same criteria.
In addition, consider hazardous processes when deploying initial lines; they may endanger multiple occupancies. Exposure lines work best by cooling the exterior of the exposure being protected, then additional lines may be effective when water is put on the original fire. Also, use the most appropriate appliance to deliver the amount of water required to control the fire in the most effective fashion, such as blitz nozzles for a rapid ground level attack.
Offensive and defensive modes are separate tactics. A defensive attack may be used to set up for a quicker interior attack (transitional attack), but they should not occur at the same time. The purpose of a transitional attack is merely to slow the progress of the fire and to cool down the interior temperatures. There is nothing wrong with hitting it from the exterior for 60-90 seconds and then transiting to an offensive attack however fighting fire from the exterior for long periods of time on a savable structure and then transiting inside is just bad firefighting. The incident commander must announce the strategy when transitioning and ensure all personnel are aware of the fact and that a PAR is completed prior to a complete tactical shift.
An offensive mode involves taking direct action to mitigate the problem. This means an aggressive interior attack will be used because initial crews believe there is a chance that occupants may be inside the structure and conditions may be such that there could still be a savable person inside. The aggressive attack, getting inside, doing a search, working the handlines at the seat of the fire and saving lives.
In addition, ensure that initial risk assessment has confirmed that the structure is not so involved that collapse is imminent, fire dynamics are understood, truss impingement times can be estimated with some accuracy, two-in-two-out policy is adhered to and that enough resources are present to deal with both fire attack and rescue tactics.
More lives are saved by putting the fire out as quickly as possible. The rapid location, confinement and extinguishment of the fire depend on proper hose selection and placement, remember big fire gets big water.
Here are some other considerations for an offensive attack.
• Coordinated and communicated ventilation.
• Company officers must direct the activities of the crew.
• The second line stretched should be a back-up line of the same size
or larger than the first line deployed.
• Fighting the fire from the unburned side is not always an option; select the option that allows for the largest amount of fire extinguishment.
• If the next in tanker or engine may not get on scene before your water tank is empty, get your own water supply if possible, be creative, let the neighbors get out of their pool before you take their water.
• Advise ability to obtain a water supply with initial size-up report, such as a close hydrant or pond.
• When possible, protect the main areas of egress, both for victims and firefighters.
You should always check for hidden fires. Remember, a fire will burn on six sides, it has four walls, a ceiling and a floor. Make sure fire is extinguished in all sides. Finally, always coordinate interior fire attacks with exterior operations. An aggressive attack means you are maximizing your efficiency and effectiveness and maximize the use of your resources. Lastly in the words of FDNY Lt. Ray McCormick “if you want to improve safety on the fire ground, put the damned fire out”.
Scott County Rural
Fire Protection District