Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Tactical Safety: Following Orders

“The fire service’s weekly safety column”

By: Ray McCormack

Tactical Safety examines the process of firefighting to see if there is a better and safer way to operate.

Following Orders

When you work on the fireground, you are told what to do by receiving orders or preset guidelines. Standard assignment tasks that need to be completed at every fire include: secure the water supply, make a search and ventilate the building. The fireground is a much more cohesive operation when it is dictated under a set of guidelines both verbal and written.

If you are having a “safety moment,” are your concerns about completing your tactical assignments valid? You must not only assess the order, but also the process and the allowable range in which it can be carried out. An example might include: being assigned to extinguishing a basement fire; the assignment order may allow you to select the path your handline will take and/or the extinguishment tactic.

Under that example you have options. Some believe that by following orders, your options are eliminated, however they are not; you always have options on the fireground. The majority of times you will be on the same page as the person who gave the order. There really shouldn’t be too many surprises. Is the order way off the mark? Would another rational firefighter or officer of the same experience level make the same choice?

There are only two levels to task assignments options that require our attention: First, can the order as given be carried out? Furthermore, are there obstacles that initially thwart success, or has a road block suddenly appeared? Second, does your assignment as given include the proper exit strategy needed on the fireground? In other words, will completing this assignment place you in more danger?

Safety in regards to decision making is primarily about knowledge. When you have sufficient knowledge, your ability to make safer decisions is enhanced. Remember, no one on the fireground has a crystal ball to foresee the future. However, experiences with similar situations and a core understanding of tactics, timing and reasonable expectations help us process orders in relation to their safe completion. Is your safety increased by opting  out of following orders? Generally speaking, no it is not. The vast majority of fire assignments and orders make perfect sense and are requirements to stabilize the incident quickly and efficiently.

The idea of equality in a fire company is an interesting one; as much as we profess and aim for equal treatment, we do not give equal weight to expressed opinions of young firefighters as we do with those of senior firefighters or officers. Can a less experienced firefighter have a valid concern or see what no one else did? Of course, and the observation should be noted and passed up the chain so an evaluation can be made. That evaluation may just stay at the company level firefighter to officer-officer to command, depending upon urgency and impact level.

Everyone can speak and be encouraged to note anything unusual but we cannot allow people to dictate their own agendas without the necessary vetting. If two individuals watch an event on the fireground and one deems it safe, while the other does not, who is right?

We have to train our people to be observant and to understand how a fire scene develops and the many variations they may encounter. Fire engagement requires that we operate to accomplish goals that are within our resources and are completed with a reasonable expectation of safe and effective operations. If the doorway is full of fire, you cannot enter through that opening. You can either acquire a handline and put the fire out, or look for another entrance. No one is going to tell you to march through the opening.

We have to build in observation skills and knowledgeable options to varying occurrences on the fireground. We must be careful not to diminish our tactical safety with an abdication of responsibility.

Next Tactical Safety – Raising the Bar Above the Ground Floor

Sunday, April 25, 2010

FDIC 2010

Wow...another great FDIC. Didn't go? I guess we don't know where to begin, but we'll give the long short story a shot: Ray and I made it in to Indy on Friday to gear up for Ray's workshop program(s) and my "Engine Company: Essentials" hands-on class. The engine class was sold out and we were able to train over two-hundred people over two days. It's always great to talk and walk the engine stuff and we were glad to see smiles as people dragged themselves back to the buses.

As for the rest of the week, Urban Firefighter Magazine had a booth across from Fire Engineering Books; and we saw a ton of traffic. Many of you had already heard about us and we made sure that those who didn't were pulled into the booth. How did we do it? Easy, we had plenty of help from Urban Firefighter Girl:

In all seriousness however, we enjoyed meeting new people and putting faces to the names of those we have been talking with for a while over the computer. The exhibits were packed and those who stopped by our booth also had the ability to purchase official Urban Firefighter shirts. It was the best deal going at FDIC and we will be selling official merchandise on the site very soon.

We had a huge announcement on Thursday; and if you missed it, here it is:

Afterwords, we sat down with Chief Bobby Halton, Editor-in-Chief of Fire Engineering Magazine, to discuss the partnership and what our act was about:

The announcement was well received by those in attendance and solidified Fire Engineering's and Urban Firefighter Magazine's desire to bring the very best in fire service academia, culture and media to you all. Ray and I aren't going anywhere and look forward to working with: Pennwell, Fire Engineering and FDIC, to provide the very content that you all look forward to in Urban Firefighter Magazine. Also, don't even think about missing next year's FDIC. It will surely be one that can't be missed academically and culturally. Furthermore, we are in the process of developing an Urban Firefighter Magazine track at FDIC that will be unlike anything you have participated in before.

FDIC wrapped up on Saturday and as always, was an incredible week. Thanks again to everyone who has supported Urban Firefighter Magazine; my wife Heather for also helping in the booth; P.J. for his help in getting the booth ready; The pipers who sported our shirts; and our authors and photographers. We couldn't have done it without you all. See you all next year at FDIC!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Rail Cut

There are many things to size-up when approaching store gates. What would some of these things be? One pressing question every truck asks itself upon arrival is whether or not to cut the locks. In these photos, the rail is cut above and below the lock and pin. By placing the cuts close to the lock, we will have less metal to bend backward. Use the fork of the halligan to bend the rail away which will release the pin. Finally, what type of lock would amost always make this the first option to get through the gate?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

How Close Is Too Close?

“The fire service’s weekly safety column”

By: Ray McCormack

Tactical Safety examines the process of firefighting to see if there is a better and safer way to operate.

How close do you get to the fire? Do you stand above? Crawl by? Scoot under, or walk next to it? These events don’t sound safe on the surface, but under the right circumstances they are common and fundamental to being inside a structural fire. Extinguishment options besides getting the hoseline in place, which includes: deciding hoseline diameter, nozzle type and GPM flow, is the starting location of the initial attack.

At what point do we start our attack? When you have a room fire some distance down the hallway from your entrance position, and the fire is contained within the room, the nozzle should not be opened just yet; we need to advance closer first.

The reasons we do not open up right away in the first example is because we do not have a proper attack angle yet. If the room entrance is to one side of the hallway, then shooting the stream straight down the hallway will not put out much, if any, fire. You need an angle that allows the stream to enter and penetrate the fire room. Without that, you are wasting water and effort. A proper stream angle will make your attack more efficient which translates to a quicker knockdown.

If the fire has left the room and is coming down the hallway at you, we will be opening the hose line at first advance. When the fire is advancing on your position, you must hit it back and then move forward, getting closer to the point of origin. We should not be under the fire like a broiler, which is a sign of inefficient flow and or poor nozzle technique.

Do we pass fire? Yes we do pass fire but only for two reasons: suppression and rescue. These two caveats allow us to pass two different types of fires. For suppression, we pass fire only after it has been knocked down. Knockdown is controlling the fire within an area almost to the point of full-extinguishment; we pass knocked-down fire areas in pursuit of full- extinguishment of the fire area. If rescue is required, we may have to pass active fire which has not been attacked yet.

When you have a handline, you also have a responsibility to use it. You must attempt to knock down all the fire you see and save the rescue work for someone not assisting with extinguishment. There have been painful examples of abandoned hoselines due to attempted rescues when we probably would have fared better using the opposite approach.

The old time adage: that a properly positioned and operating hoseline saves more lives than any other rescue method is TRUE!

When we have fire at the door, we need to aim the stream upward and place it directly within the doorway space. If you normally use a circular attack motion this is not the time for that method. Remember, efficiency and economy of movement goes a long way to you finishing your extinguishment assignment.

Making it rain early pays big dividends. Shooting streams horizontally into rooms does not allow for optimum coverage, and will often result in a stream that shoots through the fire room extinguishing very little. Prior to crossing the threshold, we should have quite a bit already knocked down. Once we enter, move aside from the doorway and continue your attack; if you can locate the next room of fire, hit that too, so that the cooling effect can start reducing the heat release load and result in a faster knock down.

Open the line when you have a good shot at the fire; open the line when you’re in heavy smoke and high heat and uncomfortable in your gear. Remember that you probably do not have a knock down unless you have smoldering rubble beneath you. How close is too close should never be an issue if you use the reach of the stream to your tactically safe advantage.

Next Tactical Safety – Following Orders

Friday, April 9, 2010


Ray McCormack, Publisher and Editor

This past Saturday, Apple® released its newest product: the IPad®. This latest, very impressive invention is sleek, amazing, and another push towards our technological future. It was developed to compete with other “readers” on the market, and recently opened to the awaiting crowds everywhere. After waiting to examine this new portable technology and playing with it for a few minutes, you can’t help but be impressed with the “tricks” it performs.

Like anything else in our society, a new product or service’s faults inevitably needs to be highlighted by someone, or many. While toying with a very large flat screen monitor, I read a blog that was critical of the IPad®: “It won’t do this,” “and be careful of that;” apparently some among us can’t ‘contribute’ comments or anecdotes unless they come from negative decorum. No machine does everything, and no machine does everything well; just like the fire service.

Here was this amazing machine that does things that not only make you shake your head in disbelief, but ponder how we ever got along without all this “stuff”. Criticizing this machine because it may be missing a feature you thought should be there, or because it misses a beat on certain applications, is really reaching when you take in the whole picture, or I should say image.

The fire service has many ‘distracters’ that like to examine our collective ‘features’ with a very critical eye. We can definitely take it, but that’s not the point. You can do everything seemingly right, and some will still find fault(s) with your effort.

Why is there not only a rush to criticize, but a coupling of “new sage” advice added in for good measure? Part of the reason is due in part to the available technology that allows you to read this wherever you are. Instantaneous information, along with instantaneous criticism, makes for good cyber fire reporting, or does it? Many solutions don’t hold water, but provide the needed ‘apps’ for those that demand something new.

There should always be good technique incorporated into fire extinguishment and tactical operations. Okay, you put the fire out, but did you take care of the little things that could come back and haunt or disable your effort, or result in a catastrophic outcome?

This new ‘reader’ took care of the little things ,and came out beyond cool. We need to step back and make a detailed examination of our product and service, and not be so quick to highlight our alleged shortfalls along with prescribing unproven remedies for fire service ills. What the fire service needs perhaps is an IPill.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Halyard Tie

By Pat Nichols

Photos by Scott Meyer

TL 10, Boston Fire Department

You’ve got the ladder raised and in position; but you need to tie the halyard off to secure it from sliding when you are either climbing or descending.  Many Firefighters would simply wrap the halyard around two or three rungs, and finish it with a half-hitch.  That’s fine until you need to reposition the ladder at a different level.  Even worse, you’ve been working in the rain and/or snow; and you now attempt to reposition the ladder, and extend it to a new position in an attempt to rescue a firefighter who has become trapped, or a civilian who has now appeared at a floor above the ladder. Do you reposition the ladder, or get another from an aerial apparatus parked some distance away?

A simple solution is to reposition the original ladder by tying the halyard in a fashion which allows you to manipulate the knot in any condition; Safely and quickly extending and repositioning the ladder to affect a successful rescue.

Photo 1

Once the ladder has been extended- is in position and the climbing angle checked-you may now tie the halyard. The butt-person will be the person between the ladder and the building, as the climbing angle gets its final check. The butt person takes a bite of halyard, and puts it between two rungs at eye level (see photo 1).

Photo 2

With the halyard brought through the rung and tightened-up-you will take the halyard that is now in front of you by taking your hand ‘palm-down’- and crossing the halyard (2 over 1 [see photo 2]) you can now take that same bite of line-and go over the rung again-creating a half hitch that you can wretch-down to tighten-up (see photos 3 and 4).

Photo 3

Photo 4

If there is excessive halyard, double the halyard up when you bring it through to create the half-hitch. To untie, all that is needed is a pull, and the halyard is free (photo 5).

Photo 5

With practice, this will speed up securing the ladder halyard, both tying it and untying when speed is needed.

There are a number of techniques to tie off the halyard-this one, with practice-either rain or shine-snow or sleet-ties, and more importantly unties with ease, without sacrificing safety.