"Toying Around" With a Standpipe Water Supply

Before we look at this month's close call, a quick word and opinion related to the horrific loss of nine of our brothers in Charleston, SC. Probably like you, I have had several conversations with different fire friends who I work with or writers and...


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Before we look at this month's close call, a quick word and opinion related to the horrific loss of nine of our brothers in Charleston, SC. Probably like you, I have had several conversations with different fire friends who I work with or writers and instructors like Dr. Harry Carter since the fatal fire. Like you, we have received loads of photos, e-mails and related information on the fire. Many of the comments were negative opinions about how the fire was handled — but the first priority was to give those firefighters a respectful and peaceful memorial service and individual funerals. That has happened.

The next step is for the fire investigation and firefighter fatality experts to determine what happened, and then the next step is for us to learn and share that information with every firefighter. But it's not the last step. The last step is for every one of us in every fire department to take that information and, as applicable, apply those changes in training so we operate as safely as is realistically possible. The only real, long-term way to honor those who are killed is to not have those of us get killed in the same ways — and that can only be successful at a local level by local fire chiefs, fire officers and firefighters, a/k/a all of "us."

While all of us are shocked when one firefighter is seriously injured or killed, when multiple firefighters are lost, we go beyond that. Again, understandable. And with all the activity going on in the last decade to reduce firefighter injury and death, the news of a firefighter death and multiple deaths slams us right in the heart. Very understandable. But after that, we need to let the facts unfold. It is tempting to write and comment, but the facts simply are not out. Like you, I have seen the photos and videos and like any other firefighter I have loads of questions. And that's what we have — questions. As far as I am concerned, we have an obligation on many counts to let the facts come out before we comment. That's how questions are answered honestly and how we learn. If you think you saw something that went wrong, the best action is to make sure you and your fire department don't do that, and train and train again on whatever your department perceives to be the correct way. That's how firefighter line-of-duty deaths are reduced.

Readers of this column know that most close calls and direct hits come down to a few basic items such as the failure of leadership, the absence of policy, policies ignored, not enforced or forgotten, equipment that was not maintained, and tactical operations that were not trained upon or ignored. Sometimes, it is the simple stuff that we were taught in basic recruit, probie or Firefighter I class that was not followed, such as:

  • Sit down, shut up, belt in
  • Use all of your personal protective equipment (PPE) without allowing any skin to be exposed
  • Breathe clean air or use your self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA).
  • Stay low
  • Stay with your crew
  • Know your way out
  • Know construction
  • Know what to listen for
  • Read the smoke
  • Get water on the fire and possibly solve most of the problems
  • Get a hoseline between the fire and the victim
  • Make sure you have water and a charged hoseline before committing to the interior area where the fire is burning

The issue of "getting water" can cover a large area, starting from the challenges of rural water supply all the way to making sure you have an adequate flow at the nozzle prior to entering the fire floor or related area. "Getting water" can mean ensuring water-supply plans are intact and that in rural areas everyone knows where the fill sites are located. In hydranted areas, it means knowing the hydrants are maintained (how do you really know?) and what they will supply. It also means knowing the current and long-term status of your water system. For example, a friend told me that an entire hydranted downtown area in her community had no water supply for over eight hours. The fire department found out when a firefighter went to take a shower — and couldn't. The fire department leadership had absolutely no clue that the water was shut off in the downtown area for construction. Systems must be in place to ensure that notifications happen — and that backup plans are established — before there is a fire. Odds are, they wouldn't have had a fire today…but "what if" they did have a fire?

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