Firefighters in any city or town that has "mixed-multiple" structures can tell you of their own experiences with fires occurring in them. I'm sure many have had something unusual happen in them. After any fire at which something bad has happened to firefighters, it is imperative that...
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- Arrival — The first fire company on the scene must give a good, clear situation report of its initial size-up. This can tell other units what their jobs will be when they arrive. In this case, the time of day and the type of situation dictated an occupied structure with a working fire. A light-to-medium smoke condition was visible from outside the structure, but no flame was visible. The report of a possible trapped occupant made for a complex incident.
- Stretching in — The first-due engine is responsible for the initial attack hoseline and must make sure it is long enough to access the fire area. This line must be made quickly, using enough hose to reach the fire and beyond, perhaps with only an initial-arriving crew. The second-due engine must make sure this first line is played out before stretching a second line. Here, the stretch was down a driveway, upstairs to a hallway, into the fire apartment and toward the front to reach the fire. Pump pressure and attack volume are critical to firefighter safety and efficiency. Hence, a good "bleed" of the hoseline is necessary.
- Forcible entry — Door control! Read the fire conditions and what they are telling you. Don't be so quick to smash a door off its hinges. If conditions are right, firefighters could be met with a ball of fire or even a backdraft. Use the "irons" for this work.
- Ventilation — Ventilation is not a fan blowing air into a fire building! This fire had to be channeled out of the front of the building properly. Venting this fire required ladders, hooks and firefighters, and they needed to coordinate opening-up with the fire attack/entry crew. Use your portable radios to coordinate on the fireground.
- Search and rescue — Here, as the initial attack line was being stretched in, someone from outside yelled in that "There might be a man in there!" Obviously, there forced a new sense of urgency. Firefighters at the top of the stairs nevertheless masked up and the hoseline was there in seconds. This can be a tough judgment call — to make entry without the protection of a charged hoseline or wait a few seconds for a charged line. Many firefighters have their own stories of making entry under such conditions, only to have the fire light up around them.
- Stairways and hallways — Interior hallways in older structures are narrow. Sometimes, occupants have stored their possessions there. During fire operations, they can become crowded with firefighters. Don't let this happen. If the first firefighters inside run into a problem and must retreat, their path must be clear.
No Flame Showing
The second unusual fire occurred at approximately 9:45 P.M. A box alarm was transmitted for a building on fire in the 6000 block of Fleet Avenue in Cleveland (see Photo 4). Upon arrival, people on the sidewalk were pointing upstairs to a working fire in progress. Extremely heavy black smoke was pushing from the second-floor front and west side of the building, but no flame was showing. As engine members were stretching a 1¾-inch line into the building, the senior firefighter told the first-due ladder company to remove the front and west-side windows right away.
The stretch of that initial attack hoseline was down a driveway on side B of the building, up an outside covered stairway and into the rear of the fire apartment, a layout of hose requiring five lengths. As firefighters were masking-up at the top of the stairs, heavy, black smoke was swirling down to the floor and being pulled forcefully back into the apartment by the fire's draw. The nozzle was charged and bled, and then firefighters moved in. Many times, a fire will give little tips that can help lead firefighters to its location. However, in this case, there were no crackling or popping sounds, nor was there any heavy heat condition — just zero visibility and fast-moving smoke. There was no flame or glow.