Given that many if not most fire departments will be dealing with extremely tight budgets in 2012, how does a chief maintain a standard of training, which is so critical to firefighter safety? One solution may be a back-to-basics approach.
First, you need to assess what types of fires constitute your “bread-and-butter” calls. In most cases, these might be fire responses to single- and/or multi-family structures. So ask yourself, “What do I need from my companies to safely handle this type of call?” Your answer needs to include water, fire lines, search and rescue, ventilation, ladders and rapid assistance. There may be some additional tasks depending on your unique circumstances.
Next, you need to assess the types of housing that exist in your jurisdiction. Are there subdivisions with more modern housing construction, including adequate separation? Are their tenements with virtually no separation between the structures? Are their multi-story apartment buildings, or one-of-a-kind housing such as Victorian homes that are situated several hundred feet off the road and are predominately of balloon construction?
What do your standard operating procedures require of your first and second engine, as well as your first-due ladder and rescue companies, in each of these instances? Whatever the SOP indicates should be the basis of this bread-and-butter training.
Now let’s consider the essential components of fire response.
Water. Who establishes your first and second water supply? Where there are fire hydrants with good flow, the first-due engine always should take its own water supply. The exception may be when the home is so far off the road that it requires a relay operation. Even then the first-due engine must know where to start laying out its portion of the supply line, so that the next-due engine can complete the supply and pump to the first engine, in order to boost pressure. This also applies when establishing the water supply involves dry hydrants, drafting or water-tender operations.
Some may question why the first-due engine should take its own water supply. Simply put, if the first-due engine does so, it knows that it will have an established water source as it begins fire operations. The second-due engine may be delayed by traffic; it be involved in a motor-vehicle accident; or it may have its own mechanical problems that would delay the establishment of a water supply. So, it’s better not to chance fate when committing firefighters, especially to an interior attack.
Taking a moment to catch the fire hydrant also may give the first-due ladder a chance to better position itself in the front of the structure, or at a place where it ideally can reach the roof. The engine can then lay in the water supply to one side of the street or driveway, giving additional resources better apparatus placement. A word of advice to the second-due engine in this regard: Whenever possible take an alternate route to the fire so that you approach the scene from the opposite direction, as the closest hydrant — which is vital should a second water supply be needed — may be just beyond the fire.
Fire lines. The first-due engine also is tasked with establishing at least one fire line to flow water onto the fire. The officer must decide whether the fire requires an interior or exterior attack, and then must pick the best of several options concerning which fire line to use. Always picking a pre-connected 1¾-inch line may not be the best choice in the long run. For homes well off the driveway or street, a 2½-inch line with a gated wye extended to the front door, as well as a high-rise pack of 1¾-inch hose, will give the crew adequate reach to an involved room in the rear or above the first floor. When a larger fire line makes more sense, the officer should deploy a 2½-inch line, or even a master stream, in order to knock down more fire. But when was the last time you trained on any of these evolutions?
The second engine’s responsibility includes seeing that the first fire line is established and flowing, then putting an additional back-up line into operation. If the 2½-inch line with gated wye already is in place, the second engine easily could stretch an additional 1 ¾-inch fire line with its own high-rise pack, or move one of the first engine’s pre-connects to the other gate of the wye.
Search and rescue. The first-due ladder should have adequate staffing to accomplish the next two functions. Usually the ladder officer and firefighter seated on the same side of the truck constitute the initial search-and-rescue team. The SOP should dictate what tools the officer and this firefighter will take: perhaps a thermal-imaging camera and a set of irons for the officer, while the firefighter takes a pressurized water extinguisher and a small hook to use as an extension in the search.
Ventilation. The aerial truck operator, or chauffer, and the firefighter on their side of the truck become the outside, or ventilation, crew. Their task is to gain access to the roof, should it need to be vented, or provide other means of ventilation, such as fans, when it is needed. If ventilation is not immediately needed or the fire has self-vented, this crew may start the placement of ground ladders.
Rapid assistance. This function may be the job of a rescue crew, the second-due ladder, or both. The RAT officer does a secondary size-up, and if the fire has a stronghold on the building, immediately looks for additional ways to establish egress for firefighters. This is an active role and may require additional ladders to windows, or opening up the structure by making windows into doors.
Each of these bread-and-butter jobs can be practiced by individual companies, but at some point these elements also should be brought together via multi-company training.
Other considerations. Some topics lend themselves much better to winter or when the weather precludes the regularly scheduled training. Two of the best are a review of building construction and pre-plans for special hazards within your first-alarm response area. Such reviews should include the buildings in your area that are “no-go” structures — those buildings with serious deterioration or conditions that do not warrant an interior attack or a commitment of firefighters to interior operations.
Other training considerations should allow the department, companies, and even individuals to take advantage of outreach programs from your state fire academy or the National Fire Academy. Quality training that includes outside instructors when needed is available at little or no charge to those who request it. Lists of topics and classes usually exist on state fire marshal’s website, or at the National Fire Academy’s site.
Another choice, especially for officer development, may be one of the webinars available through organizations such as FIRE CHIEF at little or no cost.
Some final thoughts. Three recent fires in our area demonstrated the worth of training and the practice of bread-and-butter techniques. During the first, the senior firefighter acting as a company officer arrived at a structure that was about 300 feet off the street. The first-due engine caught the nearest hydrant while the ladder made its way down a narrow drive to the front of the structure. The engine then executed a 2½-inch fire line with a gated wye to the front door, followed by the high-rise pack. This provided additional companies with the means of placing a second line quickly into operation.
In the second incident, which occurred in a neighboring jurisdiction, the first-arriving engine upon arrival encountered a structure where the fire was through the roof. The engine established its water supply, left room for our ladder to position to the roof and called for the second-due engine to come around the block and also establish a water supply from the other direction. Both units left room for subsequent arriving companies to operate within close proximity to the scene.
A third fire occurred well off a residential street. The first-due engine saw that they had a working fire in a home about 500 feet off the end of the street, with heavy fire from a two-car attached garage. The engine took the hydrant in the cul-de-sac and laid the supply line as close to one side of driveway for the ladder to follow. Choosing a 2½-inch fire line, the first-due officer was able to contain the fire to the garage until additional units arrived. Seventy-five percent of the structure was saved by this initial call.
At all major incidents, a brief after-action meeting should be held that gives the crews an opportunity to describe their initial size-up and actions. Chiefs should take this opportunity to commend proper actions and point out some other options that might have helped. Bread-and-butter training scenarios may help sharpen the skills of individual firefighters, companies and fireground operations — without putting a strain on your training budget.
Chief Robert R. Rielage, CFO, EFO, MIFireE, is the chief of Wyoming (Ohio) Fire — EMS, a 78-member combination fire department bordering Cincinnati. He previously served as the Fire Marshal of the State of Ohio. A graduate of the Kennedy School's Program for Senior Executives in State and Local Government at Harvard University, Rielage holds a master's degree in public administration from Norwich University and is a past president of the Institution of Fire Engineers–USA Branch. He is a contributing editor for FIRE CHIEF.