Today's building construction techniques and materials are based on two defining issues, economics and aesthetics. As the nations economy continues to struggle, and our society's demand for cosmetically pleasing buildings moves forth, firefighters will continue to face new and challenging hazards on the fireground (some of which maybe insurmountable). So how do we address this perceptual animal that continues to haunt us? The answer while simply stated is complex in nature. First we must aggressively educate our firefighters and fire officers in the changing building construction features which make-up our work environment. Secondly, we must ensure that our company officers conduct an evaluation/size-up of the involved structure(s) prior to making entry into the hazardous environment. And finally, we must instill a firm understanding amongst our membership as to the value and importance of fireground risk analysis based on these well-known rules:
REGULATORY STANDARDS / GUIDELINES
In 1992, the fire service fought defiantly against the passing of NFPA 1500 (Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety & Health Program), which at the time was the most controversial document in the history of the NFPA (fielding in excess of 12,000 public comments). This document has since been surpassed by the infamous NFPA 1200, which is now known as NFPA 1710/1720. Our history of defiance towards regulatory safety standards has created a disturbing trend that jeopardizes our safety on the modern fireground. Case and point, compliance with the now aged OSHA 1910.134 - 2-in/2-out ruling still troubles fire departments across the country. Why, because we are men and women of action, we are trained to act, we are expected to act - so we think. Our tradition of "making due with a few" continues to put our members at risk. Today's fireground in accordance with nationally published regulatory standards/guidelines provides us with staffing parameters that have been established for our safety - it's up to us to comply with these standards 100% of the time. Selective compliance (when we want to) cannot be tolerated if we plan on creating a fireground dedicated to our safety and survivability.
The following steps are recommended actions to be performed or conducted prior to the initiation of an interior fire attack:
STEP 1. APPARATUS PLACEMENT
Prior to initiating any fireground assault one must consider where to place the arriving apparatus for a safe and effective attack. Company Officers should take a pessimistic approach when placing apparatus on the fireground. While a request for pessimism in the fire service may appear on the surface to be counter productive to our efforts, a pessimistic approach to apparatus positioning is quite the contrary. Apparatus operators should be trained in the skills of fireground forecasting and cue-based decision-making in hopes that they will predict what "could" happen based on the cues presented at the time of their arrival.
Consider this, the first arriving apparatus (attack unit) is suddenly over run or impinged upon by an advancing fire that is now extending to multiple exposures. Meanwhile, initial attack crews working off lines being supplied by the attack unit are suddenly faced with a limp attack line due to a loss of water (pump operator forced to abandon his/her position) or other catastrophic event (wall collapse on the apparatus) following the loss of the primary apparatus. The critical importance of "worst case" planning allows the apparatus operator to position in an effective, yet defensive position on the fireground.
Fireground cues for proper apparatus positioning:
- Three-sided approach if possible, attempt to leave the front face open for truck company access. Consider positioning just past or just short of the involved structure to allow for frontal access of later arriving truck crews.
- Fire location, type of occupancy, contents (Common combustibles versus hazards materials and/or volatile substances)
- Involved structure - height (Collapse zone positioning - corner placements) and radiant heat factors if totally involved, avoid becoming an exposure.
- Overhead hazards (Electric, trees, etc.), also consider obstructions such as parapet walls or overhead signage that may affect the use of master streams or other defensive based tactics.
- Run off potential (Up hill if possible)
- Smoke/wind conditions (Up wind if possible)
- Type of fire attack - Position for defensive coverage, but not to a point that is counterproductive to an offensive fire attack.
- Defensive fire attack on arrival, forecast fire spread and potential exposures