5. What outward cues are visible in the smoke? ("Lazy" smoke indicates low heat and a slowly advancing fire, while "pushing" smoke indicates high heat and a rapid fire spread.)
6. How much of the building is involved? Is it a "go" or "no go" situation? Is our course of action offensive or defensive? (If we can't overwhelm the fire, we don't "go"!)
Hoseline Advancement: Hoseline advancement is one of the most laborious and frustrating tasks that we initiate on the fireground. We've all heard the following statement and many of us have said it ourselves: "We need more hose!" This infamous phrase--echoed across every fireground--is not only troubling, but also detrimental to our efforts. To be effective, we must have a coordinated plan of attack that addresses these three questions:
- Where are we going?
- How are we going to get there?
- Who's doing what to help us accomplish this task?
Where are we going? Our hasty approach to apply "first water" has established a fire-service tradition that 99 out of 100 fires are attacked from Side 1 (or Side A) of the occupancy. Although I have not conducted any scientific research to back my assumption, I would comfortably guess that this is not always in keeping with our long-standing rule of an "unburned-to-burned" fire attack. So why is it that we continue to stress to our members to initiate a fire attack from the unburned side, despite the fact that in reality we simply follow the path of least resistance (i.e., the front door)? It's my belief that once again we resort back to the action-oriented, "fast-attack" mentality that has been instilled in our personnel over the years. Understandably, the path of least resistance plays a valuable role in boosting our efficiency, but if we capitalize on the information gathered in our 360-degree evaluation/size-up, we can undoubtedly initiate a fire attack that supports victim safety and property preservation (the two critical components of our mission).
Using the size-up information, the company officer should lay out a plan for the fire attack. Typically, the choice will be the "unburned-to-burned" attack. While not every fire can be approached from the unburned side (because of obstructions, excessive forcible entry restrictions, exposure potential, etc.) this should be a general rule or guiding factor that we follow as we initiate our fire attack.
How are we going to get there? This apparently simple question is considerably complex, based on four other questions: 1) What is the safest, most effective way to advance the hoseline? 2) Do we need to gain access via a ladder? 3) What obstructions must we overcome? and 4) Do we need to do a dry stretch or wet stretch?
Dry Stretch While some may argue that we should not enter a burning occupancy without a charged hoseline, the contrary is actually true. An effective size-up, coupled with a proper risk assessment, can allow such an entrance to be made in a safe and effective manner--provided a few simple rules are followed:
- Dry hose lines should not be deployed to the fire floor without a barrier between the fire and the advancing crews--such as a wall or door.
- The company officer and crew must maintain constant awareness of the fire conditions and be able to forecast the fire's advancement within the structure. (The worst-case scenario must always be considered.)
- Always maintain a clear means of egress away from the fire. Carefully plan for a secondary means of egress, in case the primary access/egress pathway becomes obstructed or overrun by fire.
- If smoke and/or heat conditions require you to crawl on the floor, you're in too deep. At that point, you should back out, charge the line and then advance accordingly.
- Do not make entry to the fire area without first ensuring the attack line has been properly charged (check for water, pattern and pressure before advancing). Also, you should make sure that a sufficient amount of hose is available to advance. You should attempt to have one length of hose (50-feet worth) available for the attack. Typically, this is the rule that is ignored by overly aggressive firefighters who are bent and determined to put water on a fire. Failure to abide by this rule inevitably delays the suppression effort while simultaneously putting our members in a position of unnecessary risk.
- Allows for a more rapid hose deployment.
- Minimizes the chance that the advancing crew will suffer pre-fire attack fatigue.
- Hose positioning can be better accomplished with less effort by allowing the advancing crew to deploy more hose to the fire-attack area.
- An increased potential for rapid-fire advancement without the protection of immediate water.
- Unpredictable ventilation (such as that triggered by window failure) can cause a crew to be overrun by a ventilation-driven fire front.
- Mechanical failure (of a hose, nozzle, apparatus, or other equipment) can cause a crew to be overrun by an advancing fire, if that crew lacks the immediate protection of a hose stream.
- Unforeseen kinks in the hose are possible, thus reducing the water available for suppressing a fire, once the line is charged