The Long Hallway
By Ray McCormack
The terms: “The long hallway” or its cousin, “crawling down hallways,” is often used to describe the difficulty we encounter as firefighters; and becomes the test of our melt. Someone who has never or rarely crawled down a hallway is often scoffed at in terms of firefighting talent and or bravery. Like most terms and sayings, they have their empirical origins. These terms are fire service short-hand for evaluations. Long, hot, smoky hallways are difficult to advance through, and often make or break the fire operation.
When you crawl down a hallway, you are placing yourself in a proverbial chimney - In some cases, you are also traveling down the barrel of a loaded gun. If you are searching, you are moving forward towards the fire in order to locate it. Having a charged hoseline along for the journey protects property and firefighters. Protecting firefighters protects civilians; however, when we need to return or leave the area, hallways that are tight or cluttered present a two-fold problem - One is that it is very difficult to pass someone going the opposite direction and or reversing direction. Second, fire conditions become exaggerated in confined spaces and fire in a hallway may chase us to the exit.
When we are entering a hallway we must attempt to look under the smoke in order to locate any doorways or room entrances. This is due to the fact that these opening become guide markers for ‘getting your bearings,’ as well as determining the danger level of a forward advance.
Fires that extend into a common hallway may aid our view of the fire as well as providing the direct path to extinguishment. The problem with that same fire is search; the further the distance the fire room is down the hallway from your starting point, the longer you are in the gun barrel. If the hallway does not contain a doorway before the fire room, then there is no fallback position available to you if fire conditions get worse. You will have to make it all the way back to the entryway. This is important if your search or rescue requires going past the fire room.
If you cannot make it past the fire room to search, then you will have to return down the hallway. The engine company will now have to either wait for you to return or attempt to get past you in the hallway. In a case like this less is more. If a single firefighter goes forward to assess the conditions - and has to return - then the engine’s advance shouldn’t be stalled too long, if at all.
When a room is available prior to encountering the fire’s location, it not only provides us with an area of refuge -it can often provide a door for us to use to block off the fire room so that search or rescue can continue beyond the fire. Proper hallway evaluation requires a partial lift in the smoke and an examination at low levels, along both side walls of the hallway. By spotting how many or far - and what side the rooms are located on down the hallway - tells us how we will operate within the hallway to stay tactically safe.
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