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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As firefighters moved deeper into the apartment, the senior firefighter told the nozzleman to "wash down the ceiling." This was a precautionary move to cool fire gases and prevent rollover or flashover from occurring, since time was passing without seeing flame or finding the fire. Yet, there was a working fire in this unit, creating even more gases and high heat. Thus, there was an increased chance of rapid ignition of gases. If the gases were not cooled, they might have ignited or explode into flame.
(Note: Many firefighters are taught during their basic training to wait until they see fire before opening the nozzle — they take this with them as gospel throughout their careers! However, in out-of-control fire situations, there comes a point when if the fire gases ignite, the nozzle may not be able to handle the amount of heat and flames that a rollover or flashover creates; thus, firefighters are burned. Cooling the fire gases prevents this from happening, making a safer environment for firefighters to operate in. Don't use fog streams, only straight streams — solid streams are better — directed at the upper areas of the room. And don't worry about water damage in extreme fire conditions and don't let the fire environment degenerate to the point where you must rely on your turnout gear to save your life. If that is the case, your extinguishment efforts have failed.)
The nozzleman stopped at one point while the senior firefighter found a bedroom and knocked a window out. At that moment, ventilation took effect. The two front rooms of the apartment lit up in flames and the heat throughout the apartment suddenly built up and banked down to the floor. The attack firefighters moved back to the kitchen area to get their bearings in the apartment unit as the fire now showed itself. The attack crew moved in and the fire was handled with 1¾-inch hoseline using the 15/16th-inch solid bore of a break-apart nozzle.
As the fire in both rooms was knocked down, firefighters with tools moved in to perform truck duties — opening the walls and ceilings, removing the wood moldings, etc. The fire did extend to the attic area, but that was handled by another engine company that stretched a second line, as proper firefighting procedures call for.
- Arrival — Upon arrival, heavy, black smoke was coming from the upstairs apartment. The first-due engine positioned itself to let the truck take the front of the fire building and stretch a 1¾-inch attack line. The hose stretch was across the front of the fire building, down a driveway, up an outside entrance stairway and into the rear of the fire apartment. The line then had to be worked toward the front of the apartment. Proper pump pressures must be considered. Fire departments using pre-connected hoselines must be sure of their amount of hose so they don't have a short stretch or have at least one static hosebed on each engine.
- Stretching in — While making entry into the apartment, black smoke was down to the floor and being drawn into the fire. Make sure your hoseline is charged and bled and that the stream pressure and volume are ready before making entry into such areas. Inside the middle of the apartment, the nozzleman directed his stream at the ceiling without seeing any flame. This is done to cool fire gases and reduce chance of rollover. Keep the hoseline as straight as possible when moving in, for manageability and in case you have to follow it back out for safety.
- Ventilation — Ventilation at the windows is as important as putting water on the fire. Without it, the fire continues to grow and interior conditions worsen to the point of flashover, putting firefighters in peril. A positive-pressure ventilation (PPV) fan will only drive fire, smoke and heat into other areas of the building. In this case, the fire was drawing smoke back into the building!
- Fire extension — Multiple hoselines were needed as the fire extended to the attic. Fire officers and firefighters must always expect extension. Don't be surprised. Fire departments should equip their engines with hosebeds and hoseloads that allow for multiple and easy stretches. Consider the amount of personnel responding with an apparatus.
Fire in the Cockloft
The third unusual fire occurred in the early-morning hours and was well-involved with heavy fire showing on arrival. The building, also on Fleet Avenue, was a large mixed occupancy with the first-floor mercantile area being remodeled and closed with steel overhead roll-down doors. The upstairs contained two apartments with a rear stairway access.