Friday, January 27, 2012

Response Challenges...Or What To Do When Your Ladder Truck Catches Fire

A recent story was a great reminder of the never quit attitude of most firefighters, especially truckies. The box alarm had the ladder truck assigned first due on the reported building fire. The response was normal until the cab began filling with smoke. Not a light mist, but nasty, banking down from the ceiling stuff. The driver and officer quickly determined it was emanating from the mobile radio, but the off switch didn’t help. There was no plug to pull as it was hardwired. The response continued. A burning radio wasn’t going to stop them on a first due structure.

The officer rolled down his window, attempting some ventilation with only marginal success. Over the now extra loud screams of the siren, the driver yelled over.

“I’m starting to have a hard time seeing.”

“Well roll your fucking window down,” the officer yelled back. More ventilation couldn’t hurt. The small dash mounted fan was turned on with no effect; this wasn’t to be a PPV fire. The officer began blowing on the radio like a birthday candle, trying to extinguish the fire burning within.

The truck continued, the crew refusing to cancel. Eventually, it went out; whether from the efforts of the truck officer or the circuit protection operating, we don’t know, a knock is a knock. Finally, the smoke began to lift.

A few minutes later, the truck arrived on scene to find a fire on a deck; likely less smoke than they had battled just getting there.

Let a fire in the rig keep you from getting there? Not a true truck company.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Interior or Exterior, The Debate Continues.....

There is a continuing debate on the offensive fire attack, particularly with the spread of lightweight construction. The volume and animosity between sides at times resembles our current political spectrum. One extreme argues that other than in highly limited circumstances, attacks should be initiated and conducted from the exterior until the bulk of the fire is extinguished in order to better ensure firefighter safety. The other extreme advocates interior attacks unless structural collapse has begun or is imminent in order to ensure that a primary search is completed for unknown victims.The safety extreme seems to see the other side as dinosaurs. The interior attack proponents view the safety side as radical (to be kind). This is not an age issue; there are younger and “seasoned,” firefighters as I prefer to refer to them, on both sides.

I’ve looked carefully at the arguments on both sides and after careful consideration, I agree with…..neither.

I’m all for safety in an inherently dangerous job, but a common sense middle ground needs to be struck. The question needs to be asked are conditions tenable in areas of the structure that a live victim could survive. If not, then initiation of the attack from the exterior may be warranted; especially as if conditions are not survivable for people, there is also likely little property to save. Conversely, if the answer is yes, an interior attack and search should be started.

There is a significant flaw in the extreme safety position. In their scenario, they allow for entry for rescue of a known victim. The problem is this: where will the entry teams obtain the experience and more importantly, judgment to understand the interior conditions they will be facing in such a high stress and challenge situation if it is as rare as the perfect diamond. In reality, such a process increases the potential for injury or death because such crews would be inherently inexperienced and lacking in situational awareness and—that word again—judgment; something which they can only attain through repetition.

The flaw on the other side is obvious. If conditions are such that the presence of a survivable victim is not possible, and granted, this too is a judgment call, why take the risk? The argument that such a decision can’t be made accurately is ludicrous.

Are there buildings today we go into which we shouldn’t? Absolutely. Is the reverse true? I’ve frustratingly seen more than a few of these as well.

What I would suggest at this juncture is that the rhetoric on this question be dialed back and that we remember we’re all on the same team with the identical desired outcome. That we are talking about these things is good. However, a little common sense and restraint could go a long way in these debates.