Know Your Enemy #35


A TV announcement of a fire in a paper recycling plant reminded me of the fact that I escaped possible death by the smart action of one of my students, a District of Columbia firefighter.

With my eye to the camera eyepiece I was backing up to take the picture, (which appears on page 306 of BCFS3 ) when suddenly I heard an imperative "STOP!" I had almost backed into a deep pit which paper is dumped for processing. The pit was full of water paper debris floating on the surface so the top of the pit looked the same as the floor.

The picture was most important because at that time, about 1968, it was still widely believed AND TAUGHT BY AUTHORITATIVE SOURCES in the fire service that throwing water on hot steel would cause it to fail. The hose stream could cool only the outermost of two close together beams , which held its shape The other beam, not cooled, deformed and dropped it's load, the roof. This picture seen on p 306 of BCFS3 helped to knock out that myth.

The student who saved me was Sgt Witt of DCFD Rescue 1 who had operated the deckpipe to cool the steel as he had been taught. I was very appreciative of the warning because in 1944 I was promoted to full Lieutenant (Army Rank =Captain) in the Navy Firefighting School, and Mobile Seagoing Firefighting Unit at Norfolk VA The instructors threw me into the 12 ft deep drafting pool. My boots filled with water and I surfaced and am alive only because I was fortuitously right next to the ladder and could climb out.


Fire departments should have a variety of recognized signal that mean immediate evacuation of a structure. The exception to "immediate" occurs when units operating a line are protecting firefighters out beyond or on a floor above. The line must stay in place till the firefighters beyond the line have returned or announced they are evacuating by a different route. Multiple, short air horn blasts, and a distinctive radio signal broadcast on all radio channels should be used.

A distinctive up and down warble on the radio which is rebroadcast by every apparatus radio may be the best tone signals are better understood than speech. All sectors in the hazard area should conduct a role cal and acknowledge the radio announcement of the evacuation order.

Evacuation drills should be carried out during routine training activities to overcome any reluctance of fire fighters to abandon their expensive equipment, except for those tools that might be needed to get out. The abandoned hose line might lead a disoriented firefighter to safety that was left behind. Firefighters must be taught that "Father knows best" The IC may well be more aware of imminent hazard not apparent to them.

In one unfortunate incident the IC had preplanned a specific building that was now on fire when he was a Fire Science Major at Montgomery County Community College(MD)

He knew that hand lines did not have the reach to hit all fire in the attic. After giving the evacuation order, we was met with the following rebuttal; "Chief we are hitting fire