It's All About the Water

With temperatures outside in the teens and seeing on the weather channel that another winter storm is on the way, I find that the dark days of late winter are a great time to catch up on reviewing fire reports; gleaning information that can be passed...


With temperatures outside in the teens and seeing on the weather channel that another winter storm is on the way, I find that the dark days of late winter are a great time to catch up on reviewing fire reports; gleaning information that can be passed along to make the job safer and more efficient.

While going back through some line of duty death reports, I again found a common thread that continually echoes through most fireground LODD reports-lack of water being applied to the fire.

I usually hesitate to publicly comment on someone else's fire ground actions, basically because I was not on the scene to observe and form opinions first hand. In these cases however, the details in the reports tell the story, and there are lessons to be learned.You or I may have made the same decisions under the same circumstances, so keep in mind that we are not criticizing here, just simply trying to prevent another firefighter's funeral.

Normally, there are a number of factors that contribute to a firefighter's death, but rarely are these factors repeated in report after report as are water problems at fires.

Take for example, the NIOSH and Phase II reports on the 2007 Super Sofa Store fire in Charleston, SC that killed nine firefighters. Understand, this building consisted of a large furniture showroom and connecting warehouse that was spread out over a 51,500 square foot area.

The report can be found here: http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/fire/reports/face200718.html and or downloaded below.  In my opinion, the Phase II report should be required reading for any fire officer.

While the NIOSH report listed a total of 32 recommendations, number 19 stands out alarmingly: Fire departments should insure that any offensive attack is conducted using adequate fire streams based on characteristics of the structure and fuel load present.

The Phase II report states that the first arriving engine personnel initially pulled a booster line (30-GPM) and then a 1-1/2" line (60-GPM) on a fire that began in outside rubbish and had then extended inside the building.

A second 1-1/2" (60-GPM) preconnect was advanced into the fire area from the front door and both reports stated that at this point in time, the fire involved an area of about 2,200 square feet that was loaded with highly combustible furniture. Using the National Fire Academy fire flow formula (square footage ÷ 3) the flow rate should have been 733-GPM. The actual flow rate at the time was less than 150-GPM and the outcome proved fatal. The fire continued to spread, eventually flashing over the show room trapping nine members of the department.

Last October, the National Institute of Standards and Technology released their report on the Sofa Super Store fire, http://www.nist.gov/el/fire_research/charleston_102810.cfm in which they reconstructed the fire using computer modeling. Ironically, their findings indicated that if a sprinkler system was installed, the fire would have been automatically suppressed by two heads flowing about 60-GPM. The flow rate wasn't the issue, but the timing was, proving once again that sprinklers save lives.

One of the most telling and detailed NIOSH firefighter fatality reports was released last September, outlining the actions that contributed to the death of a Homewood, IL firefighter in March of 2010. While there were 14 recommendations, one stands out as a primary contributing factor.

In Recommendation #2, the report says, "Fire departments should ensure that interior fire suppression crews attack the fire effectively to include appropriate fire flow for the given fire load and structure, use of fire streams, appropriate hose and nozzle selection, and adequate personnel to operate the hose line.

The firefighter who died was assisting in the advancement of the initial attack hose line in a 950 square foot house when the fire flashed over, trapping him and severely injuring a firefighter trying to escape.

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