Friday, December 24, 2010

Tactical Safety: Hallway Hints

Tactical Safety: Hallway Hints

By Ray McCormack

There are two types of hallways: one is public, the other private. Public hallways are common to apartment houses and other types of multiple occupancy dwellings. The style of public hallway and the amount and location of occupancy doors can yield hints as to layout of the unit. Just like the interior hallway of a house, hallways yield information on room positioning; you must study these hallways as they relate to the occupancy to see what information they can reveal.

In apartment houses, not all floors have the same layouts. With some apartment houses, you may find stores occupying a portion of first or ground floor. This variation of first floor layouts is common to buildings that are in commercially-zoned areas. Above the first floor, in apartment houses, is where layouts tend to follow a set pattern: room configurations may vary, however kitchens and baths are usually stacked above each other simplifying reference points.

Buildings that have their stairway located only a short distance inside the building – directly in line with the main entrance and hallway – often have floor layouts that remain constant on all floors, including the first floor. Buildings that have a center hallway on the first floor, with the stairway at the rear, will usually have a different hallway layout above the lobby floor. This will often change the shape and number of occupancies above the first floor. With this type of layout, the units above the first floor typically remain consistent.

If entering a residential building lobby and the elevator is located between two wings of the building, it is more than likely that the hallway above covers the width of the building – and provides access to all the occupancies on the floors above. In some homes, there may only be a dedicated hallway on the second floor adjacent to the stairway leading to all rooms on that floor and any stairs going above. In some apartment buildings, adjacent doors lead to occupancies that are mirror-images of each other.

Interior hallways are usually the ‘guide post’ to the additional portions of the occupancy, especially bedrooms. The common hallway in a residential occupancy can be your best friend or your worst enemy if you do not pay attention to a few details: Is the first doorway off the hallway to an open room or is there a door to that space? Is the hallway passable for firefighters in two directions? Is the first area (of refuge) out of the hallway very far away? Is there a clear path or are large obstructions such as stacked objects or furniture lining the hallway?

When we enter the occupancy, we truly have no idea what is ahead of us. All we can do is to get low, hope for a bit of smoke lift and proceed toward the origin of the fire. Part of the way firefighters locate recognition objects is by prior hallway layout knowledge. Whether in an apartment buildings or a private home, hallways can provide hints that help us along our dark journey and assist us in being tactically safe.

Tactical Safety will resume in late January 2011. Thank you for your readership and support.

Sincerely, Ray McCormack

Keep Fire in Your Life

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Friday, December 3, 2010

Tactical Safety: Switching to 2 1/2"

By Ray McCormack

The decision on when to switch to a 2 ½ hoseline is often debated - and often not done when it should be. There are acronyms and parameters that have been developed and are taught to assist us in making the decision to switch. The debate does not usually surround the line’s usefulness or recognition of need, instead, it often centers on the firefighters’ effectiveness while using it. Firefighters and commanders need to make sure that we are effective in deploying and using this tool. The switch occurs because we evaluate factors that push us in a direction that is in opposition from our standard work- horse handline. Factors that influence the switch can be based upon: physical layouts, fire spread and magnitude, flow dynamics and emotions.

When we refuse to switch, the reason for the refusal must be examined, because that is something to be concerned about. Engine companies that fail to make the switch often do so because they are not comfortable with using this line. The fallback decision is a problem built on a platform of substandard training. We stand to lose a lot more than property when we are uncomfortable with both the thought of and the reality of using a larger hoseline.

If we fail to switch due to fear of failure then we are purposely using the wrong tool because of our short comings, - which is not what we should be doing. Every firefighter should have a reasonable idea of when to switch to a larger hoseline; every firefighter should be aware of the techniques of handling and advancing a large handline. We need to get past failure and excusal exemptions, and instead emphasize core training for our firefighters on how best to kill the enemy.

Physical layouts such as large open areas - where the reach and penetration power of a 2 ½ would greatly assist with extinguishment - should be a no brainer. The increased capability of a larger handline needs to overrule firefighter trepidation. Our safety on the fireground is based in a large part on proper service delivery. If we do not deliver the correct size flow, fire knockdown will take longer: increasing the odds of event escalation, delayed extinguishment, structural compromise and firefighter injury.

Emotional factors are present on the fireground. They can be obvious or muted, but they are always in play. Decisions based upon emotion are not always incorrect. Can you go wrong with more water? You can, if the switch to the large handline and the physical world you enter with it collide - resulting in a tedious or stalled advance. There is a big difference in barriers that are manmade and those that reside in choice. One is present for all to overcome while the other is optional.

So why switch to a larger line for occupancies where the smaller-size hoseline is the standard? Two contenders at the top of my list are: fire with entrapment and when a rapid knockdown of a heavy fire condition is immediately required to save lives. If these types of situations are present, you must decide if switching is appropriate. Just make sure that you are able to choose freely based on efficiency and in favor of tactical safety.

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