Hey Kid, You've Got the Pipe

Feb. 20, 2006
For this first article of ‘You’ve Got the Pipe’, we’ll take the average three bedroom, two story, single family dwelling. A one room fire is in possession of one bedroom on the second floor. You arrive with your engine company, staffing of four, and advance the hose line to the front door. What do you do now?

Do you remember the first time you had the nozzle in a working building fire? Perhaps if you were in the paid side, at roll call one morning the officer assigned you the pipe.

The pipe is short for play pipe, an old fire service term for the nozzle. If you were in the volunteer sector, you probably ended up with the pipe one night when you arrived as a result of a home response to a reported fire. Arriving at the fire station as the apparatus was about to depart, you took your place and somehow ended up with the nozzle.

Either way, what do we do when we get to a working fire with the pipe? How do we gain the knowledge, skills and abilities to extinguish fire rapidly and effectively? How do we pass on to the next generation the techniques we learned during the 'war years', when heavy fire was the norm and two or three working fires a night was not unusual. And finally, in today's synthetic environment when fires burn hotter and flashovers occur more quickly, how do we know when to squirt smoke?

For this first article of 'You've Got the Pipe', we'll take the average three bedroom, two story, single family dwelling. A one room fire is in possession of one bedroom on the second floor. You arrive with your engine company, staffing of four, and advance the hose line to the front door. What do you do now?

The textbook firefighters will tell you to don your face piece, make sure all of your equipment is on, bundle up as if you are going into an artic blizzard, and prepare to confront the enemy. Those of us who have had the pipe know it's a little more complex than that, with a little more gray area. Here are some tricks that I've used over the years to confront the enemy and to get the job done in some dangerous circumstances.

Remember, the fire's on the second floor, smoke and heat rise and the unprotected open stair well of a single family dwelling, is normally one of our worst enemies when it comes to the spread of smoke. This stairwell will now provide a platform from which to plan our attack.

The nozzle should be rapidly advanced to the top of the stairs, with your head underneath the layer of smoke above you, sans face piece. Without your face piece, you get a chance to look with your head right at floor level, to look down the hall way and examine it for victims, to look for obvious signs of fire location, and complete an overall proper size-up.

The second thing is you'll be waiting for water for between thirty seconds to a couple of minutes, depending on how good your pump operator is, and during this time, after you've done your personal size up, you will have time to don your face piece, nomax, hood, chinstrap and put your gloves on.

As I said, the textbook fire instructors would tell you this is not the proper way to do it, because you might be exposed to smoke, however, not having a scratched, dirty and fogged up face piece on afforded me about five opportunities to make a quick rescue when we got to the top of the steps, as I was able see a victim laying on the floor in the hallway in front of us that I may have missed had I had my face piece on.

The second item to discuss is when to put water on this thing. Now, if we have a victim in front of us, the last thing we want to do is throw water on this fire because it's going to bring the heat, smoke, and the dangerous gases down to floor level and reduce all visibility. If you scoot up there, grab the person and get him out of there before putting water on the fire, the chances of the citizen's survival are much better.

Also once we get ready and have put on our safety gear, we advance the line, paying particular attention to the heat around us, listening for the popping and crackling of the fire, and watching out for tongues of flames above our heads or any obvious high heat conditions which tells us that the fire is getting ready to extend rapidly. If we ignore these signals, we may be operating in an environment that is conducive to a flashover.

One and two room fires were my all times favorites for having the pipe, because they afford you the opportunity to get in, make an aggressive interior attack, in some cases save lives, definitely save property, and are the ultimate adrenaline rush. After knocking down a room or two, I can tell you I always came out walking seven feet tall.

You get to the doorway, what's next? Make sure you don't get in the doorway before opening the pipe. The pipe should be directed at the ceiling set on straight stream or with a solid tip nozzle, the idea is to bounce the large drops of water off the ceiling and onto the burning solid fuels and cool them below their ignition temperatures.

Some guys will tell you that they use a 'Z' or a 'T' or some kind of a fashioned movement. I always preferred just to sweep the ceiling back and forth, and if I could see a large item burning, such as a bed or a chair, I would hit it directly with the stream. Usually, after sweeping the ceiling for about 5 seconds you can shut the nozzle down for a moment or two and use your senses. Just listen, feel the steam come down on you, and just generally see what is still burning and then you can press forward and make your advance.

Before making your advance through the doorway, however, one quick trick I always used that served me well was take the stream and sweep it back and forth across the floor in front of you. During a fire, a layer of hot embers and coals will gather on the floor, sometimes as much as 3-4 inches deep, which have to be crawled through and will cause burns to your knees, hands and feet even through firefighting gear.

By sweeping the floor, this path of debris is cleared by using the water stream. It also affords the opportunity to listen to the water hit the floor and gives some indication of whether there is floor in front of you, an important point.

After advancing into the room and finding the fire has been knocked down, the ceiling needs to come down to examine for extension into the structure. Also, items such as mattresses, overstuffed chairs, and piles of clothing need to be thrown out into the yard so as to improve visibility and make the environment conducive for a thorough investigation of the fire origin.

That's it for this article, just the first in a series, I hope you enjoyed my take on one of my favorite fires to fight, the single room fire in a single family dwelling. In the next couple of articles I will share with you tricks and techniques that we used (at 5 Engine during the "war years") to make tough hallways and to knock multiple rooms of fire down when other units were bailing out.

Jake Rixner is a 27 year veteran of the fire service. He has served in many fire departments including: Richmond, Virginia, Washington, D.C., Kentland, Maryland, West Lanham Hills, Maryland, and Monroeville, Pennsylvania. His credentials include a degree in Fire Science, being a State Adjunct Instructor for Virginia, and teaching Truck Company Operations, Quint Concepts, Leadership, and providing consulting services to fire departments across the United States. Jake is the proud father of two grown children and has been married to his

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