The Fires You Will See Frequently

I believe that the time has come to share some of the firefighting tools and talents which I have gathered over the past 48 years. The knowledge of these is necessary if we are to properly use our system of firefighting strategy and tactics. Like any system, the key is to use the procedures each and every time you face a fire. By using our method consistently and continually, you will become proficient in its application.

During any given year, there are certain types of firefighting operations that you will see on a fairly frequent basis. While the frequency of each will vary according to the community, these are the incidents you will see on a fairly regular basis. These frequently encountered incidents are the building blocks for more complex operations.

For you see, even a complex operation is, in reality, a whole bunch of simple operations jammed together at the same time. By becoming proficient in the basics, you will be better able to combat the complex issues.

One And Two Room Fires

Every year we encounter a wide variety of spectacular fires in the trade journals. Scores of firefighters labor to operate a wide variety of equipment to handle "The Big One." It makes for great press and it massages our heroic image of ourselves as being all that stands between our world and its destruction.

Unfortunately, many fire departments gear their training programs around this scenario. Master streams are developed, and ladder pipes, as well as other elevating platform streams are utilized practicing for "The Big One." We acquire those skills which will serve us well, if we encounter the big one. In some cases, we even budget for the big one; that is if we are lucky enough to have the bucks.

A review of the professional literature tells a quite different story. The large-scale fireground operation is a rare bird indeed. Even in a major metropolitan city, the truly big fire is not a commonplace event. However, what we do encounter is a great many smaller incidents.

Most of our actual fires require but a single hose line for extinguishment. We can remember studying a textbook figure many years ago that stated that approximately 90 percent of actual fires were controlled with one line. Our three decades of experience tell me virtually the same story.

What then is the purpose of this discussion with you today, if most of our fires only need a single hose line? Quite simply, these one-line fires are extremely critical, because if you do not place that single line in the correct place, you will end up with a big fire. And if you do not cover that single line with an appropriate back up line, you are courting disaster.

Perhaps the biggest problem we have faced is complacency. We tend to suffer from the, "we can handle anything" disease. This is a serious matter, particularly in those fire departments with a low firefighting workload. Complacency can also be compounded by the "one-size hose line fits all," approach to firefighting. This is the syndrome where the department only knows how to use one hose line, regardless of a fire's magnitude.

We can recall a number of discussions with those firefighters who conducted our in-service training during the early 1970's. Many of these men entered the fire service right after World War Two. In those days there were literally just two sizes of hose to use. You either hit the fire with a booster line, using your small tank capacity. Or you laid out with a 2-1/-inch hoseline, taking the time to make suction at a hydrant, stretch your lines and go to work.

These were the people who then were blessed with the introduction of the 1-1/2-inch attack hoseline. They were so glad for the increased efficiency, lower weight, and easier maneuverability of this new hose, that the used it whenever they could. And in some cases they have misused it. Many times a fire got out of control, because an initial attack line was too small for the purpose intended.

The one major factor that we learned from these fine veterans was the need for two distinct attributes: flexibility and common sense. In our case, we operate according to an extremely simple rule. "Big fire, big water; little fire, little water."

Our take on this is that an astute fireground commander must not just look at what it going on around him. He must see what is there. While this is true at all fires, it is particularly true during a room and contents scenario. It is our contention that the key to success in a room and contents fire lies in the size up conducted by the first-due company officer.

Let us use our simple new procedure to assess the problem. The key points are:

  1. What type of fire do I have?
  2. Where is it?
  3. Where is it going?
  4. What forces are available to combat this threat?
  5. What can I do?

In the fire shown above, it is fairly obvious that we are facing a structural fire. So that is the answer to question one. The answer to the second question is also fairly simple. It is coming from a window on the first floor.

Our next question takes a bit more thought to arrive at a suitable answer. When we ask where it might spread, we are faced with the following thoughts:

  1. It can move laterally. (To either side)
  2. It can move vertically. (Upward)
  3. It can move vertically and laterally. (That is to say, up and across)

Let me urge you to ask these questions consciously, so that you do not miss an alternative answer. We ask you to question yourself as a matter of daily practice. This will allow you to become comfortable with the style of command we are offering.

Your general operating guidelines will assist you in knowing the answer to the question of who is responding with you. We recommend that the minimum response to any structural firefighting operation be made according to the recommendations of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

They speak to the need for two engine companies, and a truck company, or a unit capable of performing truck work. They suggest that these units be staffed by a force of 12 fire personnel under the command of a chief officer. It has been my experience that a force of this size will be able to deploy two attack hose lines, backed up by a large-diameter supply hose line. This should be sufficient to attack the room and contents fire shown above.

The personnel on the truck company should be able to search a smaller area building. They can also handle the utility control function, and assist the engine companies in forcing entry to the structure. This is a fairly simple operation.

Let me strongly recommend that a reserve force be requested that is equal to the initial assignment suggested above. You can never call help too soon. However, we have seen help requested too late. You can always send the extra help back if you do not need it.

Remember that there are a number of reasons to call help:

  1. Relief of personnel
  2. Firefighter Safety and Assistance Team units (FAST/RIT Team)
  3. Unexpected contingencies

In a room and contents fire scenario, the basic list of tasks to perform consists of:

  1. Establish command
  2. Size-up fire
  3. Stretch attack hoselines
  4. Stretch supply hoselines
  5. Force
  6. Vent
  7. Enter building
  8. Locate, confine, and extinguish the fire
  9. Check for fire spread
  10. Overhaul the fire scene
  11. Terminate command

By working according to a checklist, you will be more efficient. The chances of missing something are lessened. And do not forget that a major structural fire is merely a large-scale version of the room and contents fire. Yes it is more dangerous, because of a variety of factors. But if you can tell yourself that it is just the next logical extension from the room and contents fire, your mind will be better able to work its way through our operational plan.