Capt. Trey Smith
So you want to be a truckie, or even a nozzleman? Assuming these roles takes tremendous knowledge of the responsibilities and expectations to be performed which should not be taken lightly. These positions will make or break a good offensive fire attack.
These positions are the workhouses of the fireground and one does not perform or work efficiently without the other. For the moment, let's try to put aside our egos and focus upon the task at hand of getting the wet stuff on the red stuff. Following two large scale incidents in my first due area in recent months, I have had time to reflect upon some of our successes and our shortcomings of two identical fires involving mutli-family occupancies or large scale residences.
I started out my career assigned to several active engine companies and had some great officers and firefighters I have worked with throughout my tenure. I became a truckie after making Captain and enjoy the challenges of truck & rescue work. But in my 30+ years within the fire service, I have grown frustrated at the reality of having lots of nozzlemen and hose jockeys but few ceiling pullers and the lack of coordination between the two functions.
While true, chief and line officers are expected to direct the symphony of crews working to contain a rapidly progressing fire, many firefighters are under the fallacy tactics training is solely for white & gold shields and doesn't apply to the tailboard firefighter. But the reality is, these positions (nozzleman and celing pullers) will work without direct supervision of the line officer. This results in the IC relying upon the decisions of a firefighter to decide upon the appropriate hoseline and to accurately select the placement of a critical position to defend areas of non-fire involvement. During particularly large scale fires where the fire is "running the attic", several key tactics must occur in a timely fashion or our brothers & sisters will inevitably be overrun and will be losing the battle to stop the forward progression of a rapidly developing fire.
To understand fire travel is to fully grasp the concept of fluid travel and smoke reading. Fire is a fluid that will always follow the path of least resistance. Therefore, as the saying goes…" where there is smoke there is fire", and if gone unchecked or reversed the fire will eventually show itself sometimes more than we expect. So, our hooks and hoses must possess the ability to predict the stage of the fire, the level of heat production, and where it is headed based upon reading the color of smoke, the intensity, and the rate it is leaving the structure will impact the success of our attack.
Let's face it… we have all been there during the heat of the engagement… lots of screaming. noise, confusion, darkness, heat, stress… you name it. We open up the ceiling to get the nozzle into to position within the cock-loft or attic only to see the distinguishable signs of heavy fire rolling across the structural members (truss) above our heads. What should this indicate to the nozzleman and truck crews? And what immediate actions should be taken when these cues are indicated?
1. Observe the direction of the fire. Where is coming from and where is it going? Look at the amount of fire, heavy, moderate, or light?
2. Radio back to IC/Command the fire has passed your attack team. The IC continually needs this feedback in order to re-assess his strategy/tactics, his situation and resource status. He/she may prioritize the incident needs based upon your feedback or request/re-direct additional resources.
3. You are standing in a potential collapse area! Get out from underneath such areas! Because the fire is continually attacking the structural members, we lose valuable seconds of integrity trying to breach walls and ceiling only for them to come crashing down on our personnel. Lightweight wood and steel bar joist floors and roofs don't wait for you. They are coming down whether you are ready or not.
4. Re-Position your attack.
Why try to hold an ineffective position when the the fire is burning behind you? Truckies…Make inspection holes along the ceiling until you see no fire in the attic before deciding where to take up your new posture. when you pull the ceiling and see heavy smoke banking down on you, note the color of the smoke. Heavy black smoke indicates "Black Fire" This means you have high heat and are close to the fire which will be in your area in a matter of seconds! Moderate smoke provides some time to open up large areas and allows time to get hoselines in place. Make sure the nozzleman has the tools he/she needs to mount the offensive. Nozzlemen and Hose Jockies…Bring the attic ladder for goodness sake, don't rely on the truck company to bring it, they enough to do already! After all that IS where the fire is located. Have the hooks open up large areas in multiple rooms and hallway where the nozzleman can hit the fire as it advances from the floor. This is critical if using a large caliber stream such as a 2 1/2". Ever tried manipulating a 2 1/2" in an smaller room or attic space? The larger sized lines will not make the turns in a residence and should anticipate working from the floor and in a hallway or open space.
5. Find the seat of the fire and extinguish it! Often times, we forget that while trying to cut the fire off it isn't going to go out until someone cut's the head off the dragon! Get a line on the seat /origin of the fire and things will improve dramatically.
6. Maintain your egress!!! While engaging the forward progression of the fire, we forget the fire we passed may actually be cutting off our ability to evacuate. Get a back-up line in place, knock-down any fire impinging upon your escape route, or order the evacuation of all crews of an impending collapse or flashover of the area. If you are operating in the hot zone always have two or more ways to escape.
7. Listen to the radio! If you hear things being said such as "flowing the aerial", "Master Stream", "Defensive", "Roof Sagging", "partial collapse"… Don't hesitate to get you and your personnel to the hell out of a potentially catastrophic event.
8. Practice "Pro-actionarism" Pro-Actionarism is the act of being pro-active, taking initiative, taking action. Recognize when situations are going bad and make the necessary steps to mitigate them or make the decision to abandon the effort.