Managing The "Room And Contents Syndrome"

David P. Fornell describes a common and sometimes fatal mistake involving departments that utilize insufficient flow for big-loss fires.


The fire had been burning for about an hour before headquarters received an automatic alarm for smoke in a store two buildings away from the fire building. The two first-arriving engine companies quickly located the source of the fire in the basement of a furniture store. So far, so good...


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It's ironic that with today's emphasis on physical fitness and continuing fire service education, many departments have members who are stronger and better educated than their grandfathers yet do not have the ability to deliver large handline flows rapidly on the fireground as their ancestors did with 21/2-inch lines. It may be that many of today's chiefs, in their firefighting days, worked 21/2-inch lines with difficulty, attempting to muscle around the stiff cotton hose, heavy brass couplings and 20-pound chrome playpipes with old-style combination nozzles then in common use. Could they be unwittingly transmitting their own negative experiences to suppression personnel even though technology has given the fire service new hardware that can be safely handled and flow more water with less stress than that of the past?

It is vital for the chief to plan, encourage and then insist that company officers and firefighters maintain proficiency on operating high-flow handlines. Statistics show that fire departments, especially in newly developed areas, are experiencing fewer large fires than occurred 25 or 30 years ago. Most tactics books describe firefighting in buildings constructed in styles that have not been built in 50 years. The bulk of new construction is put together in such a manner that it can collapse in minutes after being involved. These structures are packed with contents made from synthetic materials which burn much hotter and much more quickly than the contents of yesteryear.

The lack of firsthand, real-life, up-to-date experience can put a fire company at risk unless members have trained for the task. The responsibility of flowing more water to help reduce life exposure and fire losses begins with the chief and an experienced, educated command staff. The buck stops at the top.


Captain David P. Fornell recently retired as commander of Beckerle & Company, Hose Company, Engine 9 of the Danbury, CT, Fire Department. He is the author of Fire Stream Management Handbook as well as the producer of a number of fire service training videos. Fornell teaches around the country and is a field instructor for the Illinois Fire Service Training Institute.