Company Level Training - Utility Control Part 1

Jan. 8, 2007
Larry Manasco looks at what is often the most difficult task for firefighters conducting utility control: the process of locating the connections and shutoffs.

Here's the scenario:

You are riding on the back of the fourth due engine company. The first due truck company was first on to a two-story, wood frame, residential structure, with heavy smoke showing from the second floor. The time is 4:12 a.m.

The first on truck company (the only truck company assigned to this fire) has begun a search. The first on engine company is pulling a 1 3/4" line in the front door. The second on engine company is performing a reverse lay to the nearest hydrant.

The battalion chief has arrived on scene and taken command. The smoke has now lit off, and it is threatening the electric lines that are attached to the house.

Your engine company has been assigned to cut the utilities. You have a rookie on the back of the engine with you, and he has never cut a utility in his life. He is looking to you to set an example. How confident are you in your skills and abilities to perform your assigned task?

Cutting utilities is truly a hit or miss skill. If you are on a truck company, you probably have plenty of experience with cutting utilities. If you are on an engine, you may have never been assigned the task of cutting the electricity. You may be reading this right now thinking to yourself, "That's right, and I will never be assigned to do it either." You have now placed yourself in a very unenviable position, hoping that you are never asked to perform that task. I hope you're good at gambling.

My current engine company, as well as my last one, has been equipped with hot sticks. Rarely has my crew actually cut any type of utilities, but it has happened. You may be surprised to find out how few of your current crewmembers have cut any type of utility.

The Three Most Common Utilities

There are three types of utilities that firefighters commonly confront at residential structure fires. When I say residential, I am referring to one- and two-story houses, as well as duplexes and quad-plexes. Apartments, condominiums, and row houses can have as much juice running through them as any sort of commercial business. These are best left to the electric company. There are a few things that you can do, and we will discuss those in a later article about cutting electric utilities.

The three types of utilities are electric, gas, and water. In terms of water and gas, the most difficult aspect of service termination is simply locating the connections.

The water cut-off is typically located near the street. This cut-off can also be situated in the center of the driveway apron or, in the case of my parent's house, which is located on a corner lot, on the B-side (see photo). They can also be found near the house, hidden amongst Mrs. McGillicutty's beautiful shrubs.

A halligan and a flashlight will generally accomplish the task of cutting off the water. Using the adz end on the halligan is usually the easiest way to remove the water shut-off cover. I can almost guarantee all kinds of creepy crawlers lurking inside this cover. You will also find leaves, grass, water, and dirt. The dirt may have covered the valve shut-off, so a little digging might be required.

The valve is generally located between the street and the water meter. Use the forked end of the halligan to turn the cut-off in a position that is perpendicular to the piping. In this instance, the halligan is a superior tool, due to the small size of the water cut-off box, which often limits the use of small hand tools inside of the box and makes this task difficult at best. Also, the forked end will keep your hands out of the box and away from who knows what is currently taking up residence inside the box.

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Next is the gas meter, which is another item that can be located anywhere. On the northeast coast, the shut-offs are often located in the basement according to firefighter Pete Giannuzzi of the Englewood, NJ. Fire Department.

I have seen them next to the street (brilliant idea due to traffic), next to the house, in an alley way, and so on. I'm waiting to find one in an attic or on top of a roof. A spanner wrench, a pair of channel locks, or a halligan are all appropriate tools for shutting off this valve. Once again, this is a quarter turn valve. Just as the water valve must be turned to a position that is perpendicular to the piping, so does the gas valve.

Be sure to wear your bunker gear. I once watched a good friend of mine, and an excellent truck man, lie on his back, with heavy fire venting out of a window, directly above the gas meter that he was trying to shut off, in nothing more than his station uniform. Now, he would be the first to tell you that was not one of his best fire department moments. Sometimes, you have to do what you have to do, and he got the job done. If we come away from the truck with our gear on, this is not an issue. Also, our gear provides a little more protection, as opposed to our station uniform. Sunshine, the family's lovable pit-bull dog, probably won't understand the need to shut off these utilities.

In regards to residential gas and water utility termination, the most effective way to train your crew is to get into the neighborhood, and find the different places those utilities can be located. You can open up a water meter box and examine the location of the cut-off valve. You can also determine which of your tools will fit inside the various boxes. Also, you may be able to come up with new ideas to shut these valves off in a more effective way.

A single neighborhood will provide you with all the training material you'll need. Water meters, as well as gas meters, can be located in different locations throughout the neighborhood. The next time you make a call into someone's house with a basement, ask if you can go down and take a look around to familiarize yourself. They often will not mind. This will give you a chance to look over the breaker box, furnace, water and gas shut-offs, which are all often located in the basement.

Gas and water utilities are pretty basic in regards to shutting them off. Finding the utility will be the most difficult part of the assignment. Getting out into the neighborhood is the best method for knowing where the utilities will be located within your specific territory.

Part two of this article will address electric utilities. In terms of electrical utilities, there are enough concerns to warrant a specific article. As always, if you have any suggestions, variations, or ideas to improve this training session, e-mail me at [email protected]. Credit will always be given to the contributing individual, as well as their department.

Larry Manasco has been with the Fort Worth, TX, Fire Department for 12 years and has served as a lieutenant for the past three years. He holds the classification of Fire Officer I and Hazardous Materials Technician. He currently works in one of the busiest engine companies in Fort Worth. He has worked for Firehouse World in San Diego where he was an assistant instructor for FDNY Battalion Chief Salka's "Get Out Alive" H.O.T. class. You can contact Larry by e-mail at [email protected].To view all of Larry's articles on, please click here.


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