In an earlier column, I stressed that you as the person in the right-front seat had to have a firm grasp on just which type of rig you were riding. This time, I am making the decision for you. I am choosing an engine company. This is not a tough assignment for me, as I spent six of my 13 years...
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In an earlier column, I stressed that you as the person in the right-front seat had to have a firm grasp on just which type of rig you were riding. This time, I am making the decision for you. I am choosing an engine company. This is not a tough assignment for me, as I spent six of my 13 years as a fire captain in Newark, NJ, commanding engine companies.
As an engine company officer, you must be able to bring all of the members of the team together for effective operations. The crew will include the person who drives the pumper, the people who carry the hose and squirt the water, and you as the leader of the pack.
Find the Water
More than 30 years ago, my first pump operations mentor in the Newark Fire Department gave me the primary recommendation for being an effective driver. He told me that my primary job is to find the water. He then made sure that I knew I had to get it to the people in my own company. Once they are supplied, you are then free to help as many other people as possible. The lesson stuck. All of my people knew that I considered water the key to success in engine company operations.
Let me follow up by stating you must have a source with enough water for your needs. In the larger urban and suburban areas, be sure to select the best hydrants for the task. This is done during your pre-incident planning. In rural areas, knowing ahead of time where drafting sites are can save a lot of time when time really counts.
My next tip to you is a follow-up to the first one: To get the job done, you need the proper-size supply hose to get the most from your source of water. With the advent of large-diameter hose, there is no excuse for failure to move enough water. The only failure is when you forget that it is your job to lay down the big line to move the necessary amount of water.
Simple common sense forms the basis for my next suggestion: Never shoot water at smoke. I have seen this basic concept violated frequently. There is an actual physical explanation for this recommendation.
Shooting water at smoke causes the wet smoke to lose its heat-related upward lift and drop to the floor of the fire area. The poor visibility will make your job much more difficult. Search and rescue efforts will be slowed, and more important, the smoke may trap occupants attempting to exit the building under their own power. They may slow your operation, block your progress, and require one or more firefighters to remove them.
Smoke will also slow your progress as you move your attack lines in toward the fire. So while it may be a difficult, hot and dirty journey, push your lines in to the base of the fire before you open up with the water. It is best, whenever possible, to move in toward the seat of the fire and apply your water there.
Like any other rule, there is an exception to this. When your senses tell you that the potential exists for a flashover/rollover as you move in to attack the fire, you should shoot a quick burst of water above the fire; this can delay this possibility until proper ventilation is available. However, you must be very careful. If you are unable to quickly attack the fire, you may wish to pursue the attack from a safer location.
My next hint may be a bit controversial in today's safety-enhanced environment: I am suggesting that your greatest chance of success can come from making an aggressive interior attack on the seat of a fire, whenever possible. The problem with this rule is that people tend to apply it when it is too dangerous to enter the fire building. We tend to see too much of this kamikaze firefighting. You should know about this type of operation.
Think of the last time you saw a crew of firefighters going off to attack a barn fire or a warehouse blaze with a booster line. Let me offer you a real simple piece of advice: If you are rolling in on a blazing structure, and you have a gut feeling that attacking such a fire might be foolish or even suicidal, go with your gut.