Safety & Survival: Effective Use of Master Streams

A wall of a burning building can collapse in one of three ways: a 90-degree-angle collapse, an inward-outward collapse or a curtain-fall collapse. The 90-degree-angle masonry wall collapse is the most dangerous because it creates the largest outward...


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• Firefighters operating a telescopic aerial platform must be aware of the “rake” effect of the boom and bucket. When bedding the boom, first check for clearance below the bucket. Check the roof, parapet wall or fire escape below the bucket for clearance. Raise the boom first to clear any object, then retract the boom.

• The use of an aerial master stream at street level in a close-up approach to obtain deep penetration is effective only when there is no danger of a wall collapse and when there are no partitions to obstruct the stream. When there is a danger of collapse, the aerial platform stream should be used from above and outside the collapse zone. It may be less effective, but it protects firefighters.

• Establish a collapse danger zone. Firefighters must understand the collapse danger zone and position the fire truck and the extended bucket or aerial ladder tip out of the collapse zone. Firefighters in the bucket or ladder tip must consider the outward arc of a wall collapsing at a 90-degree angle. The arc may allow the wall to fall out farther and clip the top of the aerial device. The collapse danger zone can be the distance equal to the height of the wall, or even 1½ or two times the height of the wall, depending on the incident commander’s size-up.

• Use the reach of a stream as a safety tactic. A handheld hose stream can have a reach of 50 feet. A portable deluge nozzle or aerial master stream used from an aerial platform or tip of an aerial requires greater nozzle pressure and has a reach of up to 100 feet. Firefighters directing master streams should use this stream reach to position themselves away from the fire or burning building. A 100-foot master stream reach lets firefighters be 50 feet from the danger area and still penetrate the burning building a distance of 50 feet.

• Flank the fire. If a wall falls outward or there is a blast from the front of the building, firefighters positioned in the flanking areas (in front of adjoining buildings) will have a better chance of survival.

• Corner areas of a building must be considered by firefighters positioning master streams. There are four corner safe areas around a burning building. When you look at a building from a “bird’s-eye” view after all the four walls collapse, you see the four corner areas of the building foundation have fewer bricks. As one firefighter said, “It may not exactly be a safe area, but I have a greater chance of survival in the corners when walls start tumbling down.”

• All parts of an aerial platform or ladder truck must be positioned outside a collapse zone. This includes the truck and the bucket of the extended boom.

• Firefighters must know operating outside of a burning building can be just as deadly as operating inside a burning building.