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1. Where is it going in the building?
2. Is it going to the next building?
3. Might it travel from a vehicle to a building?
4. Could it be moving from a contained position to an uncontained position?
It has often been stated that anticipation is the key to firefighting success, and I subscribe to that statement. During my career, I have seen numerous instances where the fireground commander lost the battle by being three steps behind the fire. I want you to outthink the fire, so learn to ask yourself where the fire is headed.
If you do not protect exposures, fires will spread. Location and extent of the fire on your arrival can tell you a great deal. Where is it and how big is it? You must answer these questions as soon as possible after you arrive on the scene of an emergency.
The classic comparison could be stated as follows: Which fire is worse?
• A large fire in a junkyard
• A small fire at the base of the rear exit from a two-story, two-family dwelling
My estimation is that the small fire is a greater danger because of its potential for the injury or death of occupants. The large fire would require a great deal of labor, but it should not be a life-safety problem as long as you operate in a safe manner.
However, when you encounter a large fire in the center building in a row of similar attached structures, you are challenged to control a serious problem. In cases like this, you must begin by concentrating on exposures so that you will have a chance to limit the fire’s spread. Once outward spread has been halted, you can then concentrate on confining and extinguishing the fire.
It is important for you to remember that fire responds to the basic principles of any oxidation-reduction reaction. If heat, fuel and oxygen are available in the path of the fire, it will spread. Remember the basic chemistry of fire and understand that heat can spread by conduction, convection and radiant heat. Some simple facts relating to this are:
• Fire generally burns upward
• Heat rises (as it always has)
• Heat will rise until it meets an obstruction and then roll across it until it reaches a wall and moves downward
• Heat can pass through metal ducts and pipes to spread fire
• Old balloon-frame walls will let a fire spread upward quickly
• Modern construction will fail a lot sooner than any of us is willing to admit
• Fire can squeeze through very small passages
Go with your gut
Let me suggest a new rule for you to enter into your firefighting mental database: If your gut tells you that it looks like a stupid move to enter a burning structure, go with your gut. I have been teaching this one for a lot of years. No one says you have to be injured or die just to save a building.
As the person riding the right-front seat of a first-due unit, you have a great role in determining the success or failure of the overall operation. It is your call when you arrive. You should be well aware of the follow-on force responding in after you. If you think a defensive operation is in order, make that call.
Should the need exist to stretch in a hoseline to make a rescue, then make that call and get on with the job at hand. It is your knowledge of building construction and your experience at fighting fires that will equip you with an understanding of just where a fire may be headed.
Riding the right-front seat is not simply a matter of jumping on the rig and buckling your seatbelt. Prepare to make the necessary decisions during the crucial first few moments of any emergency. Be ready. n