Saturday, July 10, 2010

Tactical Safety: That's Wrong, Maybe

The fire service’s weekly safety column

Examining firefighting to see if there is a better and safer way to operate.

That’s Wrong, Maybe

By Ray McCormack

It was recently reported that students who took mathematics exams were receiving partial credit for incorrect answers. Most of us have never experienced such exams, especially dealing with what most people would consider a cut and dry topic. Two and two does equal four, but if you said five you can still earn points. How is that possible? Well, it depends not only on how things are graded, it depends upon on how one arrived at the answers. We would never allow this in the fire service or on the fireground!  Are you sure? Even firefighter entrance exams have employed this gradient.

I have always followed the tactic that the hoseline should be charged with water outside the fire area. Most would consider this a reasonably prudent operational directive and should not negatively impact on your extinguishment goal. The only rallying cry I hear against it becomes when the fire is above the first floor and you ask that the line be charged at ground level – translation- the line is heavy now.

So what happens if you stretch the hoseline correctly without service-interrupting kinks and call for water? And place your nozzle team inside the fire area while awaiting water? Is the operation wrong? Well no, it is only partially wrong if we follow the first rule. The problem with something that is only partially wrong is it may be just wrong enough to tip the scale in favor of getting you or others into real trouble.

So if we follow this stretch back a bit further and kink the hoseline severely enough to restrict water flow, but charge the line outside the fire area, we still have a stretching error. How wrong is this stretch? Once again, we have an error, but we also have a built in safety factor in that we have complied with rule one. If we do not fix the problem (kink), and enter (problem two) the fire area we could be facing real trouble.

Staying outside the fire area until we have a good water supply is the solution. Wait a minute, you never mentioned that a good water supply was needed! If we are to enter the fire area with a charged handline, we should know what caliber ammunition our hose stream possesses. Granted you will find out soon enough when your extinguishment is stalled.

We could stretch this new testing analogy further and get to the nitty gritty for some in the fire service; and ask what number of firefighters adds up to a sound engine crew. A recent study said four was a number that added up: A nozzle team is two firefighters; A nozzle team of one does not constitute a team. Your team of one does get partial credit but will probably only achieve partial operational effectiveness, however. To really make this crew operationally effective at a mixture of fire events, add two or three more firefighters until the magic answer is reached.

We also need a firefighter to assist with the line’s advance at a minimum unless of course our nozzle firefighter has worn that hat also. It is reality that firefighting operations don’t always add up, but we must at least try to get to the effective solution whenever we can to make our extinguishments, especially the challenging ones, add up to being tactically safe.

Next Tactical Safety – Entry Level Firefighters


  1. I remember hearing a while back that good companies "take the time to make the time". As with many other things in life, we tend to foul them up if we get too caught up rushing toward the end result rather than focusing on the task at hand. Thanks for the reminder to slow down ans do it right.