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Advances in hose and nozzle design, coupled with improvements in self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and protective clothing, have allowed the aggressive interior handline attack to succeed in situations where it would have failed in our fathers' generation, and I suppose even earlier in my generation.
Photo by John Norman
Inwood, NY, firefighters use a 10-foot applicator to apply dry chemical to the top of a burning tank truck.
As a result, many of the specialized appliances, developed to combat fires that handlines could not reach have been collecting dust in the back compartment of many apparatus or, worse yet, relegated to a basement storeroom or turned into a lamp or paperweight on the chief's desk. Consequently, most firefighters have never seen a distributor, a cellar pipe, or an applicator used, and have no idea of some of the possible uses they offer. In the hands of an imaginative officer these specialized nozzles can succeed where nothing else does, saving lives and reducing injuries and property damage.
In my May 1998 column I described one such possible use of a Navy fog applicator to apply a 150-gpm-plus stream onto a wind-whipped fire that is beyond the reach of ladders or outside streams, and where the fire is of such an intensity that it prevents the handline from advancing out of the fire stair. The Navy applicator pipe has another excellent use: to extinguish fire at the top of gasoline tank trucks.
Tank-truck fires should be fought with foam streams which are used to cool the shell of the tank, preventing a possible BLEVE (boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion) and blanketing the ground spill. Once the ground spill is extinguished, however, there remains the dangerous task of extinguishing the remaining fire at the tank manway covers or, in the case of an aluminum tank, at the top of the tank where the aluminum shell has melted away. In any case, this task is made more dangerous by the fact that the top of the fuel and the hatch opening is usually eight to 10 feet off the ground.
In addition, burning gasoline reacts very vigorously when its surface is disturbed, as when applying an extinguishing agent, producing a large fireball. Several firefighters have been injured while trying to extinguish this stubborn fire, which seems quite minor after the massive ground fires have been knocked down. This phenomenon was captured quite graphically on the March 1998 cover of Firehouse®, where a St. Lucie County, FL, firefighter was forced to jump from the top of the tank to avoid being engulfed by the fireball that resulted when a foam stream was directed into the manway. Another classic incident, captured on videotape, saw Norfolk, VA, firefighters similarly caught off guard by fire erupting from beneath them as they stood atop a burning aluminum tanker.
The 2 1/2-inch Navy fog applicator flows approximately 95 gpm in its original configuration. The 95-gpm model can be utilized in conjunction with most 95-gpm foam eductors to discharge aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) from a safe location, to gently blanket and extinguish the tank truck manway fires or even an open top tank. The impinging jets of the applicator head produce a low-velocity "rain" that does not disturb the burning gasoline as much as the high-velocity streams from conventional or foam nozzles do, so there is less of a fireball produced, plus the eight-, 10- or 12-foot lengths of the various applicators allow the operators to remain safely on the ground, out of the path of any fireball. The impinging jets do not provide sufficient aeration to permit this technique to be used with fluoroprotein foam, so AFFF is a must.
Photo by Paul J. Milette/Palm Beach Post
The photo used as the March 1998 cover shows St. Lucie County, FL, firefighters working to apply foam to a burning 2,500-gallon tank truck parked in an oil company yard in Fort Pierce.