I received a message a while back to call a friend of mine, an officer on an aggressive Midwest fire department. He needed some advice on a water flow issue.
It seems that a few days before, they had a fire that fully involved an attached garage and with flames through the roof, the incident commander ordered a two and a half inch line pulled for initial attack. Based on the amount of fire and the potential for rapid spread, my friend thought the decision was a wise one.
Afterwards, some of the other officers and firefighters questioned the call, reasoning that since an inch and three-quarter line is easier to handle than the big line, it would have been easier to maneuver, and by their thinking that would overcome the lower flow rate. So now, there is a bit of a controversy in the department about the wisdom of using large hose lines on initial attack.
I’m a big believer in the fact that creative problem solving should be the first subject taught in any company officer qualifying course. Whether the question is what color to paint the new rescue/pumper, whether to include a PTO or Diesel generator on board or, in this situation, how can you get the troops to pull a line that will flow water at rate great enough to kill a given volume of fire.
FIRST STEP-DEFINING THE PROBLEM
The first step to solving any problem has to be to closely define the problem. This department has two and a half inch preconnected lines already, so the hose availability was not a primary issue.
Going back to basics, both the Iowa Fire Flow formula (length x width x height divided by 100) or the National Fire Academy formula (length x width divided by 3) will provide a first arriving officer with a usable guideline for how much water is needed. The amount of water needed to reduce the heat being generated by a certain type and amount of fuel is a matter of physics and cannot be changed. Sometimes we get lucky and can slip through by being a bit more aggressive moving the hose line, but pitting macho against physics is always a lopsided proposition.
Just because the smaller line can be moved more quickly by a fewer people, and since it most likely has worked in the past on other fires, this misplaced confidence can lead to false sense of security. Too much macho and too little water, as history has proven, has gotten firefighters into really dangerous and sometimes fatal situations.
The problem here might be for the training officer to overcome what I call “Fornell’s Theory of Recentcy.” The theory states that if the firefighters haven’t used it recently, they forget that it’s there (or why it’s there).
For example, a new lieutenant with a couple of residential room and contents fire commands under his or her belt, might begin to believe that every fire can be dealt with that easily and can be handled with a single small hand line. It might be years before a fire is encountered in which its successful control demands the flow rate supplied by a larger hand line or even master streams. If they haven’t used the two and a half inch hand line recently, they may have forgotten that it’s there, or more importantly, why it’s there. A bit of refresher training on estimating flow rates and actual line handling might be all that is needed to remedy the problem.
On the other hand, even if the officers are convinced that a large volume of water is necessary for knockdown, but believe that they can keep pulling a number of small, more maneuverable hand lines until the needed flow rate is achieved, they might need to be cautioned that depending on initial fire ground staffing, it might be quite a long while until enough troops are on the scene to operate the three or more smaller lines that can equal the punch of a larger line. In the meantime, the fire continues to grow and the volume can easily multiply past what even a bundle of small hand lines can control.