Saturday, June 25, 2011

Tactical Safety: On Guard

By Ray McCormack

It seems that every classic movie scene with a sword fight starts with the phrase, “On Guard!” This simple statement declares, “here we go; game on; battle time.” The opponents back away for a second to collect themselves and stare their challenger directly in the eye - and then the fight begins in earnest. They are there to fight, they are equipped to fight, and their safety is in their skill. Every fire is a challenge to our skill and commitment. Are you incorporating an on guard before your attack?

Your safety is increased when you back away just before you start to do battle. This battle posture allows you to focus and put yourself in drive. This is your ‘on guard’ moment. When firefighters arrive unequipped to enter the battle, they defeat themselves and our cause. When firefighters enter the battle under-equipped to overpower the enemy, they are not playing smart. These two statements refer to some basic omissions on the part of our people, lack of tools, lack of SCBA, the lack of a charged hoseline, hard to believe you say? Watch some videos.

Your safety is about thinking smart, being prepared, and fighting to win. When you do not have the capability to bust down a door or hit an advancing fire, or continue a search due to smoke in your eyes, you’re not being a tough guy, you’re being a jerk! You have let us down with your inability to function at the most base level on the fireground. You know that certain tools are used at every fire, like charged hoselines, tools for entry, ladders and SCBA, why are they missing from your attack mode? Does your special presence on the fireground trump these tools somehow? If not, then how could you make such mistakes?

Firefighters who arrive looking and acting like they could be from another profession are not very effective under normal conditions, especially when the chips are down. The chips can come down at any moment, and not being ready is a sad excuse to have hanging around your neck after the battle. Any excuse supplied would be simply weak, if we would even care to listen.

To be effective, you must fight the fire with all the tools available to you. Firefighting begins with you, your training, your knowledge, and your dedication. You wanted to do this, make sure it’s more than just talk, and put it all together to be tactically safe. On guard!

Next Tactical Safety – You Have Some Nerve

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Tactical Safety : Defensive Fire

Defense Fire

By Ray McCormack

Defensive fire operations may start upon arrival or sometime afterward. Defensive fire operations, by their very nature, use a fall-back mode strategy of containment, withdrawal, and extended operational time just to name a few. Fires that do not respond to or thwart interior operations graduate into defensive fires - and utilize exterior hose streams.

Shooting water through windows and doorways during an exterior fire operation are the primary delivery points available to us. Operating through doors and windows limits our attack scrub area, but it is usually all that remains. Determining when to go defensive through exterior stream placement is a decision not taken lightly; however the choice of less efficient extinguishment always trumps potentially catastrophic results if not undertaken.

A defensive fire posture is not always handled from outside the fire building: Engine companies can switch from aggressive to defensive within the frame work of interior attack. When additional areas or larger fire rooms are come upon, it is not unusual to be in a battle that does not show instant promise. This slug fest often happens at the onset of a good job when the engine is temporally hunkered down due to amount of fire, limited access, and along with below and above grade fire attack.

Not all engine attacks are without pain; some of the pain is relegated to growing; if you believe that things always go like the training tower, that is not the case. Fire areas have a tendency to create surprises in layout, increased hoseline drag, and fire intensity. You must cross the threshold with determination supported by a plan, skill, and teamwork. Aggressive interior attack is the most efficient method of direct extinguishment and egress protection that is provided by limited staffing - the nozzle team.

The need for us to be defensive in our attack also correlates with a thorough fire attack. In other words - really work the room. Moving the nozzle to provide total coverage of the fire room with your initial pass is something the nozzle team needs to work on. We defend ourselves as we march through the fire area by not missing rooms or by an inadequate fire knockdown.

There are special teams in the fire service such as RIT, but there is no special ‘defense team.’ We all must be aware that elements from fire-attack-slowdown, through operational withdrawal, are all part of our game. Upon arrival, we must provide containment and extinguishment; if we switch to defensive, make sure you bring it on just as you should when you go inside. The plan for the game should not be fought within a restrictive framework that dismisses alternative strategies without regard; however, there also needs to be a firm understanding of base extinguishment techniques so that we can provide tactical safety no matter what mode we’re in.

Many have touted that the back-up line should be larger than the one it is backing up. For exterior hose streams, that guideline makes sense. When our attack is rebuffed initially due to a large body of fire or other ingredient that overwhelms us, we need to get a larger line. This next size up larger line may have won our initial battle, but because it was not first choice, we have inherited a defensive posture. The larger line will assist us with extended reach and penetration power and increased efficiency by delivering a substantial increase in extinguishment capability albeit from a limited access vantage point.

Next Tactical Safety – On Guard

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Tactical Safety: Stream Shaper

By Ray McCormack

Some nozzles come with stream shapers built within the nozzle while other stream shapers are add-on attachments. Smooth bore nozzles - noted for their solid stream pattern - hold their shape much better when a stream shaper is added to the nozzle package. There is another type of stream shaper in the fire service: that is the people behind the movement of nozzles to exterior positions for initial fire attack.

We are starting to see stream placement through windows in occupied buildings by fully-protected firefighters at what appear to be single-room fires as ‘act one’ upon arrival. This is a very curious “moth- to -the -flame” approach to firefighting which leaves out the most important consideration of line placement: Egress protection!

When we spot window flame and move directly to exterior knockdown, without any interior size-up, we’re operating in deference to interior life safety conditions. The reasoning behind this exterior “shoot to kill” is that it will make it safer for firefighters who eventually will be allowed to go inside the structure. Knowing the true purpose of the interior hoseline is fundamental to firefighter as well as civilian safety.

Nozzle placement, in regard to fire attack, is not just about fire extinguishment. If it were that simple, municipalities could save a lot of money on equipment and personnel by just letting the civilians shoot water through a window. This new modern ‘take’ on the ‘bucket brigade’ could be further regulated and standardized so that every home would come equipped with a set amount of hose and attached nozzle. Any time a fire was spotted, the safety stream could be utilized through any available opening; and the need for timely resources, incident command, situational awareness, crew resource management, azure cards, tags and a balanced attack strategy that the local fire department provides would be greatly diminished.

Not all fires that show themselves are contained just to the show window; what we often see is fire extension from another location. How many lines will be used when you employ thru the window extinguishment? Will it be a single line that initially shoots water through a window, and is then repositioned to the doorway? Will it be a single line, and after the shoot – to – kill, the line enters through the target window? Should there be a second line? Will it be the one inside? Should the second line be at the window?

Do you know where your hoseline belongs? Does your placement convert to improved safety? Make sure your stream is in the right place to provide tactical safety for all.

Next Tactical Safety – Fire Defense