is a "Firefighter"?
people might be surprised to discover what a "firefighter's" job
entails. A few years ago (in the late
80's) a fire chief, in a lecture said, "The fire department
is misnamed." He explained that the police
had the job of "interpersonal conflict mitigation".
It was their job to intervene in those situations
where one person was intent on stepping on the
rights of another. Based upon this, he felt that
the fire department should probably be called, "The
Department of Environmental Intervention." While
no one would never dream of changing the name, it does
suggest what we really do. When disease, disaster,
fire, injury, or accident threatens to impact negatively
on another human, in any way, the fire department
is called. So to review, Police- mitigating people
to people problems, Fire Department -EVERYTHING
someone is having the most tragic or horrible day
of their life, they usually call the fire department.
Rick Lasky points out in his book, Pride & Ownership, that more and more expectations and jobs are added
to the list of fire department responsibilities,
all the time. He also correctly mentions that this
is usually done without adequate funding.
fire department usually welcomes these new responsibilities
but once we explain that we will need more equipment
and more personnel to achieve these goals, those
people who control the purse strings usually do not
part with the money readily. This is not new. It
has been going on for hundreds of years.
Tactics and Tools
departments exist to protect: Lives, Property and
the Environment. Alan Brunacini, former chief of
Phoenix FD, describes the fire service's job as that
of "interrupting loss".
people, including reporters, have no idea how fire
departments go about their jobs. The average citizen
sees news reports of water tower operations or examples
of firefighting in movies. They don’t know
what goes on inside of a structure. Just like with
most things, the movies and television, usually have
it all wrong. (Or at least mostly wrong.)
Howard tried his best to depict firefighting in his
movie “Backdraft”. But even
he admitted that he had to take liberties with the
truth. He sent his actors, crew and himself through
training with the Chicago Fire Department. He discovered
that firefighting is dark and dangerous. It is not
the glorious walk through the flames that Hollywood
would like you to believe. In an interview, Ron Howard
stated that when you are in a fire that you can’t
see anything. Unfortunately that makes for a boring
movie. Imagine a movie made up of gray darkness and
muffled yelling. He admitted that he took liberties
in order to make a movie. The latest movie, "Ladder
49", was much the same way. There was room
after room of nice smokeless fire. When we
practice or train, we often wear black hoods over
our breathing apparatus face pieces. This best simulates
what we can usually see in a fire.
going through all the information that a rookie firefighter
must learn in months of training and all the advanced
training and experience an officer has, I will attempt
to give you a sketchy overview of firefighting tactics
Fires are often fought from the inside of structures. We often fight
the seat of the fire from five feet away (or less.)
the photo above you see the Ft. Worth Fire Department
making entry of a structure. Below the Weatherford
FD makes entry. You might think it would have been
easier and safer to have fought the fire from the
outside, through the window. Doing so would ultimately
have pushed the fire back into the building and caused
more damage. We fight "from the unburned to
the burned" whenever possible. They will enter
the door, get behind the fire, and fight it that
way, if they can.
Weatherford (Texas) FD fighting
their way into a structure.
will often see streams of water shooting up, or out,
from inside the structure.
is only when the fire is so large and so extensive
or that entering a structure is impossible or extremely
dangerous do we resort to a defensive tactic and
fight fire from the outside.
Our goal is to save lives and as much property as we can. If we can do so by
confining the fire to one room then that is what we do. If it means confining
it to one structure then that may be the strategy. If your neighbor's house
or apartment is on fire and we keep your home from burning, you will feel
that we did our jobs. Although your neighbor might not. There are many
reasons why an officer may choose a defensive (exterior) strategy over
an aggressive (interior) one. It takes constant training, and learning
from experience, to be able to make these decisions and this web site is
not an adequate place to discuss this subject.
of the most common comments we might get, is about
firefighters who appear to not be in a hurry. "Why
aren't they running?" We are taught to not run.
Young firefighters do it anyway. As you get older
you see, or experience yourself, the dangers in doing
this. If you trip you may spill equipment or worse.
This does not help the people you are wanting to
assist. On the fire scene, just the gear we are wearing
weighs many pounds. Running, with turnout on, greatly
diminishes the energy reserves you may need later.
We learn how to pace ourselves to be able to do more
work for longer periods. This is why you often see
experienced firefighters working for hours and the
young ones wiped out, sitting on the curbs.
Types of tools and techniques
lines- Fire departments commonly use 1
3/4 inch lines with adjustable nozzles for the
basic hand line. The nozzle can be set to a wide “fog” pattern
down to a straight stream. The fog pattern can
be use to protect firefighters or property while
the straight stream has reach. These lines usually
deliver between 100 and 200 gallons a minute. Some
departments are sticking with the concept of straight/solid
streams for hand lines. If you examine the types
of structures they commonly fight fires in, you
might see their point.
large fires or for protecting exposures, some departments
may use 2 1/2 inch hose lines. These lines require
several people to be moved about. For this reason
they are often located in a stationary position with
one or two people operating them.
is transported in 3 inch or 5 inch lines to apparatus
or appliances where it is then converted to a fire
fighting line or stream. The 5 inch line or Large
Diameter Hose (LDH) is mainly used to provide water
from the hydrant to the fire engine where the water
is then divided among fire lines. Note: You may find
other variations in hose sizes.
DRIVE OVER FIRE HOSE! There are several reasons
(1) It could damage or rupture the hose and deprive the firefighters,
who are in a burning structure, of what they need to defend themselves
or do their jobs. Laying new lines would be very time consuming.
(2) There are huge fines for driving over fire hose. There
are usually police at fire scenes. If one of them sees you
driving over hose you can be assured that you will get a ticket
that may cost you hundreds of dollars.
Photo Ben Saladino
Guns, Mulitversals and Monitors- These
are often known as "master stream devices.
They are also known as “appliances.” We
can connect several large supply hoses (usually
3 inches in diameter) and set these very large
nozzles to deliver huge amounts of water (1000’s
of gallons a minute) to cover or protect things
like rail road tank cars.
You may see firefighters cutting holes in roofs or
breaking out windows. One might think that this will
only make the fire larger. Believe it or not this
is done in a very prescribed manner. It is also often
necessary. The temperature in a room, with a fire,
can be hundreds or even thousands of degrees Fahrenheit.
By making a hole in the upper part of a structure
we are allowing the superheated air and smoke to
escape. This does two things. It lowers the temperature
to allow firefighters to enter and fight the fire
and by reducing the amount of heat it makes the contents
not quite as combustible. The superheated gases are
possibly very flammable and ready to combust if we
happen to open a lower door or window and introduce
oxygen. This is referred to as a “backdraft.” Fire
fighting can also produce a great deal of hot steam.
While this is not as important as the previously
mentioned reasons to ventilate, it does help if the
steam has somewhere to go. Ventilation is an important
part of fire fighting.
Devices, Water towers, Snorkels etc.-
The sight of several, hundred foot tall, ladders
in the air, all spraying hundreds of gallons a
minute onto a warehouse is an impressive sight.
But as I mentioned earlier, this is our last resort.
This means that we have decided to control the
conflagration by limiting it to that building or
at least that wing. Many things can cause us to
make this decision. Examples can be the size of
the fire upon our arrival or the contents of the
structure are so dangerous that entry is out of
the question. It could also be a structure that
we know ahead of time that is unstable. On some
occasions we may set up one of these devices to
wet down an adjacent property or hazard. This is
known as protecting an exposure with a master stream.
We might also direct water into or across the smoke
of flame coming from a building. This can be to
douse fire brands or to assist ventilation. We
should NEVER spray a stream down into an opening
if there are people inside. This can severely injure
firefighters by driving the heat back down upon
Detectors - These are devices that measure
the Carbon Monoxide (and other gases) in a structure
that has been on fire. If the “CO” is
low enough Command will issue a statement that
firefighters are then allowed to work without breathing
apparatus if they wish. This occurs late in the
salvage or overhaul operation. These are also used
to help citizens to detect CO in their homes.
planning- As mentioned above, sometimes
we know ahead of time that if a certain building
catches fire that entry would be too dangerous.
Fire stations spend a great deal of their time
learning about the structures in their areas. We
draw up plans and speculate on what we would do
if this or that building were to catch on fire.