The History of firefighting goes way back, back to a time when firefighters used horses to pull their apparatus and steam engines to power their pumps. Tower ladders, portable power saws, handie-talkies, SCBA were not yet invented. Firefighters had little options to choose from, either stretch a 2 " hose line and extinguish the fire, or set up for an exterior attack. Ladder Company firefighters also had little options to choose from when it came to choosing tools. Their tools might have consisted of an axe, hook (pike pole), or a haligan if they were lucky and wooden ladders.
Much has changed since than, we now have different size hose lines to choose from. Every ladder apparatus is equipped with all sorts of power tools. Communications on the fire ground has improved greatly, no longer do we hear the words " Start Water" relayed down the stairs to the street and finally to the Engine Operator. All of these new tools, apparatus, and firefighting procedures have made our profession safer.
According to the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA), 112 on-duty firefighter fatalities occurred in 1999. This marks the highest annual U.S. firefighter death toll since 1989 (118) and excluds the tragic events of September 11, 2001. The second leading cause of fatal injuries on the fire ground was ENTRAPMENT, which resulted in 24 deaths. What could have caused these fatalities?
- Could it be the age, deteriorating condition, or lack of maintenance of the building?
- Could it be the new forms of construction techniques, such as lightweight parallel wood trusses, lightweight wooden I-Beams, metal C-Joists etc?
- Could it be our over aggression, our failure to foresee changing conditions, or the inability to effectively account for all our personnel when ordered to back out?
What can we do to help prevent these fatalities? What questions should we be asking ourselves, before, during, and after the fire or emergency?
- How far should firefighters search in a smoke filled apartment or store?
- When should firefighters be ordered to "BACK OUT" and set up an exterior attack?
- When should firefighters get off a fire-weakened roof?
- How much should we risk accomplishing the objective " Risk a little to save a little," "Risk a lot to save a lot?"
I have always stressed the importance of a good size-up, and that it was the responsibility of every firefighter, officer, and Incident Commander operating at an emergency or fire to carry out a proper Size-Up. My number one priority is "What could kill my firefighters," my second concern is "WATER!"
During my 32 years of doing battle with the "Red Devil," I have acquired a certain degree of respect for the enemy we fight. Many of the techniques and procedures that I have learn have been past down to me from one firefighter to another. My mission in writing these articles is to past, onto you my brothers and sisters, what I have been taught and what I practice everyday.
Although ventilation is as important as a good reliable water source, I believe without water the fire doesn't go out. Engine Company Operations are not just "Put the Wet Stuff on the Red Stuff:" it entails far more insight and training. Engine Operations can be broken down into four (4) broad areas and I will address these areas in upcoming articles.
- Apparatus positioning
- Supply line options
- Hose line stretches and operations
- Specialized Engine Operations
Responding to a working fire the Engine Officer and chauffeur must be asking themselves certain questions.
- Does the area you are responding to have hydrants or a limited water supply options?
- Are you first due or first to arrive?
- If you enter the block will you block out the ladder apparatus?
- Should you lay into the hydrant before the fire building or respond into the front of the building, stretch a hose line and then proceeded to the water source?
These are some of the questions that should be addressed before and upon arrival at the scene of an emergency or fire operation.