Beyond “Normal”

Issue 8 and Volume 11.

Dear Nozzlehead,

We have an apparatus committee at our fire department, and we are designing a new pumper. One of the items up for discussion is the various size hoselines we will have preconnected. Many of us would like to just have several 200-foot, 1¾-inch attack lines and then five-inch for supply, as 98 percent of our fires are single-family dwelling (SFD) fires. We pull 1¾-inch hoselines exclusively for all fires, as we are an aggressive interior attack fire department. Some of our members-some older members-are pushing for 2½-inch lines, but because of our staffing, most of us are against it.

What are your thoughts, keeping in mind that we are not a newfangled “hit it hard from the yard” department but we go in and get the fire, as that’s what’s expected?

-Tough in Texas

Dear Tex,

I love Texas and Texans, so I was thrilled when you wrote. It made me immediately think of my favorite musical band, a group from Texas called Asleep at the Wheel. They are by far the best Western swing band out there; I’ve been following them since the early ’70s, and they never disappoint … unlike your letter.

Apparatus committee? Seriously? Some of the worst and most ineffective apparatus have been built exclusively by a committee. And any excellent apparatus that has been designed by a committee was probably by accident, or the committee used an apparatus consultant, an independent fire apparatus consultant.

Look, let me make this simple: You are spending money that isn’t yours (tax dollars) on something that costs more money than your home. There are few who are qualified to build a home without an architect. You may be qualified to put fires out, but you are no more qualified to design and spec apparatus than a pilot is to spec an airplane. Have input? Of course. So, fix that committee issue, and make sure that people who understand weight, pump design, chassis, and transmissions on fire apparatus are helping you along the way.

Now that I have that off my chest, let’s move on. As far as hoselines, I don’t know your fire district, but I will bet that what you describe is a problem lying in wait. Just like the community is diverse as far as structure type, height, risks, hazards, etc., the apparatus needs to be set up to be able to deal with diverse structures on fire. Your description of handlines may work for most of your fires, but what about those others fires? The commercial fire? The long lay or stretch? The mid-rise? Poor staffing is no excuse for poor apparatus design or setup.

Fire departments must set up their apparatus and train based on what they may go to and what might be on fire. Show me the fire, and I’ll show you what your apparatus should be capable of doing-with five people or just two people. It is that simple.

Honestly, you have no “right” to just have several 200-foot, 1¾-inch attack lines and then five-inch for supply. You need 2½-inch and other lines because it is not your fire; it is someone else’s fire, and by paying their taxes, they have a right (and somewhat of an agreement with your department) to have you set up to meet their needs based on best practices, standards, and the risks you protect.

Your proposal to design and set up your apparatus for the dwelling fires will force your department to use dwelling fire tactics on the warehouse fire, the commercial building fire, and the institutional (school, hospital, etc.) fire, and the results will be a former warehouse or a former commercial building, because it will burn down.

Now about that aggressive, interior attack issue. You can’t be an aggressive interior fire department without adequate resources-people. You simply cannot have it both ways, whether you have a staffing problem or you don’t. But if you do, you will very likely become … wait for it … wait for it … a “hit it hard from the yard” (HIHFTY) fire department. WHOA! You have no choice. And, while occasionally HIHFTY may actually be the right tactic, it doesn’t have to be your exclusive tactic. But that requires evaluating, thinking, and doing what’s best for the community you protect. The community may “expect” certain things, but without resources and a department that opens its mind up to what the community actually needs, it ain’t gonna happen.

When you look at community fire protection, you must look at the following:

  • What do you have to protect?
  • What do you want to accomplish?
  • What funding/resources do you have to accomplish that?

It’s a really simple model that works; however, we often get jammed up between B and C, where we want to do things but are incapable of doing things because of resources. You need to look at that and determine if you really are the “aggressive interior department” you think you are, or things could get really bad with that illusion.

It’s not hard for anyone to search the Internet for videos, close-call reports, and NIOSH reports to find fire departments using (or having used) SFD tactics on non-SFD fires and burning the building down. Why? Because SFD is what we normally do: We “normally” respond to SFD fires. It’s what we are used to. And that may be nice and very convenient for us, but it isn’t particularly helpful to those having their nondwelling fire.

Listen, Tough Guy, open your mind a bit and consider what your fire protection responsibility is. Are you normally doing SFD fires? Hooray, then you should do them well. But also understand and know what else in your town may catch fire and then plan, drill, and train for those as experts as well. By experts I mean being ready with a more diverse range of tactics (and hoseline choices!), a more open mind in apparatus design, and a better understanding of what tactics and what equipment are needed for what kind of fire.

After all, as I have said before, when the tones go off reporting a fire, it isn’t your fire, it’s someone else’s fire, and they dialed 911 with the crazy idea that your fire department might actually respond with the right apparatus and trained firefighters who are fully prepared to quickly fix their problem-just like the experts we told them we are.