Before the Fire
Ok, ok, so what about a fire you ask... what happens? What do you do? Here is what happens from the moment an alarm sounds. Oops. Before the alarm sounds someone must dial 911.
Once an emergency phone call is received, the communicators will dispatch the call by setting off tones in the station, on our radios, and on our pagers. Prior to getting on the truck we put on our turnout gear.
While responding to the call we don our SCBA in the truck, which are conveniently mounted behind each seat. We also may receive further information about the call from the 911 communications center if they have it available.
At the Fire
If the call that was dispatched was similar to the one pictured here. The first thing we would do is give a size-up over the radio so that communications and all other incoming units would know what type of situation was at hand. A size-up for a situation like this might sound as follows: "We have a single-story wood frame structure with smoke and flames visible from the left side of the building."
The first priority in a residential structure fire such as this is rescue, so that would be our first thought coming off the apparatus. Some of the equipment we would put to immediate use would be an 1-and-3/4-inch handline, forcible entry tools, thermal imaging camera, handlights, ladders, and rope. If the building was larger we might also employ our ladder truck, truck one, to effect any rescues from upper stories or from windows.
Let's assume that with our example here there is no one inside in need of rescue. Four different operations would need to be put into place immediately by four different crews in order to begin containing this fire. First, one crew would need to advance the handline into the structure in order to get water on the fire. Two, a second crew would need to establish a water supply, third, a crew would need to go to the roof in order to ventilate the fire, and finally, a fourth group would be assigned as the RIT (Rapid Intervention Team) crew.
Interior Attack Crew
The interior attack crew would advance an 1-and-3/4-inch Firequip 800 hose. There would be about 100 psi at an automatic nozzle that would deliver about 125 gallons of water per minute onto the fire assuming a 200-foot length of hose. Given a fire of the size shown here they would most likely encounter conditions that are totally black due to the smoke and temperatures in excess of the 1,000-degree mark.
Water Supply Crew
The second crew would locate the nearest fire hydrant and attach large diameter hose to it and to the pumper located at the fire. In our department we use 5-inch rubber hose manufactured by Angus for hydrant connections. Just a quick note here to clear up a common misconception. Unless it were a very unusual situation, fire hose that a crew is using to attack a fire is never attached directly to a hydrant. Normal procedure is to attach the hose from the hydrant to the fire truck, which then may control the water pressure to the hose that the attack crew is using to extinguish the fire. The truck we most often use as the attack pumper is controlling the pressure to the handlines is Engine 1.
Fire Ventilation Crew
The third crew would be responsible for roof ventilation. This is done for a number of reasons. First, it allows the hot gases and smoke inside to escape, which cools the interior for the attack crew. It also improves visibility for them. Furthermore, it can also slow the spread of the fire by drawing the hot gases and flames up and out rather than further into the structure itself. Roof ventilation is completed by cutting a hole in the roof above the fire with a chain saw and then using a pick head axe and/or pike pole to punch down and through the ceiling of the structure in order to provide a path for the heat and smoke to escape. This would be done at the same time that the interior attack crew is putting water on the fire inside the structure. It calls for careful coordination between the two crews.
Rapid Intervention Team
The fourth crew is there for safety. RIT is a way to have at least two firefighters ready to quickly respond should an emergency situation arise, primarily in the form of a trapped or injured firefighter or civilian. This is a relatively new concept in the fire service, but in our opinion it is a good one. Anything we can do to make the job safer is better.
After the Fire
Once the fire has been put under control. Overhaul operations would commence. This involves making sure the fire is completely out and that the situation is mitigated completely. This is also the point at which the investigation into the cause of the fire becomes more intense and focused. Overhaul is a long, tiring and dirty part of being a firefighter. It is at this point that much of the excitement has died down and everyone must get down to the nitty gritty part of putting out a fire for good. It is not always fun work, but it is rewarding.
Experiencing a fire yourself can be a devastating thing. I would urge you to take a look at the information we have available to help you should you ever have a fire. Having awareness of this information before an incident strikes could be of great assistance and some comfort to you and your family. Knowing what to do and preparing ahead of time can ease the stress and strain that naturally results when you face a loss due to fire. View more information about what to do after a fire.