The major causes of the deaths of firefighters in the United States have not changed over the past 100 years. In fact, years ago, Chief Alan Brunacini of the Phoenix Fire Department classified firefighter line-of-duty fatalities in six categories: Heart attack Driving and riding to or...
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Air consumption rates will vary drastically from person to person depending on a variety of variables. Each firefighter should have a strong understanding of his or her air consumption (i.e. time, consumption rate, low-air alarm, etc.). During interior operations, firefighters must always maintain an awareness of their time on air, location, exit distances and safety margins. Company officers and sector officers must maintain an awareness of their companies, location, exits and air supplies. Close supervision is always needed and companies should be removed as their air supplies are diminished.
The incident commander must think in terms of work cycles: time to get in, time to get out, safety reserve and the remainder is work time. With an average 18-minute total work cycle, the incident commander must predict the need to rotate companies and assign them to critical positions before operating companies begin to run out of air.
On arrival on the fireground, each firefighter must complete an initial size-up that includes a “roundtrip ticket.” This roundtrip ticket not only gets us into a building for the initial offensive attack, but also identifies an exit plan.
In residential occupancies, we typically begin our initial attack through the front door. The primary exit plan is through that same door with the assistance of the hoseline. In the event of an emergency, multiple secondary exits are available and should also be identified before making entry (i.e., windows in every room, rear doors, garages and walls).
In commercial occupancies, we again generally make our initial attacks through the front door. The increased hazard within commercial occupancies is that if a firefighter becomes lost, the additional exits are usually extremely limited. In large commercial buildings, the hoseline we entered on is also the primary exit plan. It is critical to maintain an awareness (don’t leave the line) of your attack hoseline in these large structures with limited egress.
Every member of the fire service should have a strong working knowledge of building construction. The way buildings are constructed, a proper initial and ongoing size-up of the structure, and the effects of fire on the structure should be included in this initial look.
The Phoenix Fire Department Safety Section has assisted in the development of a number of training curriculums and studies in connection with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), centering on building construction and the needs of the fire service. These programs are delivered to all members of the department from the newest recruit through all command officers.
When discussing fire behavior, there are number of terms and definitions that are important for all firefighters to understand. For our recent training we chose to describe the rapid buildup of heat and smoke simply as thermal insult. Whatever you call it, it becomes real hot, real fast! Thermal insult on firefighters generally occurs in small compartmentalized occupancies. In these small compartments there’s plenty of material to burn and a limited amount of space for the heat to dissipate.
Recently, a Phoenix firefighter experienced a near miss during an incident in a small residential duplex. The firefighter suffered second- and third-degree burns to his shoulders and back shortly after an initial attack line was deployed. The probable cause was a flashover in the attic space and the loss of the ceiling.
While most air management problems occur in large open structures and later into the incidents, thermal insult events usually occur early on in an incident and in smaller rooms within structures. These small rooms, closed up tightly and with increased fire loads, are a flashover waiting to happen.
Some firefighters have said, “We’re overprotected in today’s space- age turnouts” or “The turnout gear won’t let me feel the heat.” Today’s fires and structures are different from those of 20 or 25 years ago, before the development of hoods and higher thermal protective equipment. Buildings today are insulated to keep the weather out, the inside comfortable, and the costs of heating and cooling the structure low. Single-pane windows have been replaced with double- or triple-thermopane windows. Years ago, the single-pane would heat up and break out, ventilating the structure. Today’s multiple-pane windows still heat up, but only crack, keeping heat and smoke inside. This sets the structure up with heavy thick smoke and high heat just looking for oxygen to flashover. Also, the BTU of today’s furniture has doubled if not tripled from previous years. This increase in BTU with the combination of changes in construction materials has made these improvements in protective equipment necessary for everyday operations.