The Good and the Bad
|By Ted Corporandy|
|Tradition. Ah! Tradition. It conjures up visions of leather helmets, big fires and uncommon valor. There is a lot to be said about tradition. For me the greatest tradition is ass-kicking aggressiveness. No room for wanting to back out because it is getting too hot. No such thing as got to take a timeout to hydrate.
The finest quality of tradition was exemplified by people like BC Herb Osuna who died in the line of duty while warning firefighters to get out of a burning office building shortly before the roof collapsed. It is a sacrifice that not many people can muster up the courage to fulfill and hopefully will never have to.
Or fireman Dan Salazar who made multiple saves at a Tenderloin fire earning him the Firehouse Magazine Fireman of the Year Award.
Or people like BC Bill Cochrane who ate, breathed, and lived for the chance to crawl down a rotten hallway. It is people like fireman Al Ghughemetti, the most conscientious, competent engine apparatus operator who ever set foot in San Francisco. It is people like fireman Dan ODonnell, who quietly spent virtually his entire career at one of the busiest units in the country, all the while providing an example of character, integrity, professionalism, and humility to all of us.
These are fire service traditions to which we should all aspire. They represent a love and commitment to a profession that sometimes may have an intangible quality about it. Perhaps it is based in the risks we take and a dependence on our fellow firefighters for survival. Many of us have been in situations where we knew we might not make it, or, where fear was a significant factor. Perhaps that is the common denominator that unites us.
There are many good things to be said about tradition but, unfortunately, a few aspects of tradition tend to drag us behind. They are not so glamorous. Sometimes we dont take the time out to think about the things we do day-to-day because THATS THE WAY WE ALWAYS DID IT, you know, tradition.
Let me give some examples. One of the dumbest things I have ever heard is never place an aerial to a building 2 stories or less in height. It is right there in print in our Ladder Manual. No kidding! There are actually people who believe this! It only takes one person to raise an aerial, while it takes two or three to raise a ground ladder to the same position. Lets see, one person-aerial, two or three ground ladder. What is more efficient? Doesnt take a brain surgeon to figure this one out. And never mind that the safest position, FAR AND AWAY, from which to open a peaked roof is from an aerial ladder or platform, regardless of elevation. Yet, the geniuses that concocted this SOP cite climbing angle as the sole reason for discounting the safety it provides. Lets get real. Do any of you actually fear you might fall through the rungs of an aerial because the climbing angle may not be convenient? Tradition.
How about the Gorter Complete? It is the most illogical, mindless, and yes, DANGEROUS, piece of equipment in our arsenal. There is no doubt in my mind that the inventor of this killer did not have a clue about hydraulics or more importantly, common sense. A 7/8-inch tip will deliver about 160 gallons per minute at 50-psi nozzle pressure whether the hose size is 1 inch or 3 inch. Logically, I want the smallest size diameter hose that will adequately flow this amount of water to supply the nozzle in question. That means a 1- inch hoseline. However, the Gorter complete uses a 3-inch line. The imbecile who thought you could get more water from a 3-inch line than a 1 inch line using the same tip size should have been chased out of town long ago. And lets not forget that once the 7/8 tip is removed the operators are left with a 1-inch tip. That is a master stream, capable of flowing 400 gallons per minute. It is strictly a defensive weapon. Hard hitting yes, but not advisable with hand held streams for most people. Strong, skilled personnel can handle a 1-1/4 inch smooth bore, but the prerequisites for deploying such a line must be recognized by experienced and knowledgeable officers.
Unfortunately, we continue to spit 160 gpm out of a large line because that tradition thing keeps getting in the way. You know, that is the way we always did it. But if you think that is bad, the Gorter shut-off is a real salute to high-tech ingenuity. A crank shut-off. You gotta be kidding! This thing was probably developed long before horses came onto the scene! What is so sad is that I know there are brand new smooth bore nozzles with ball shut-offs (far more advanced and SAFE) sitting in firehouse lockers collecting dust while the killer nozzles are still taking up space in apparatus compartments. Why? Tradition!
How about that useless $850,000 piece of apparatus. We call it a truck. I am talking about leading a line over the aerial to the roof, essentially turning the truck into a VERY expensive rope. Once you lead a line over the aerial it no longer functions the way it should. It is no longer capable of moving from window to window to remove victims, provide access and egress for firefighters, conduct ventilation operations or function as a master stream device (ladderpipe). Bottom line; use a rope to lead lines from the OUTSIDE of the building, NOT the aerial. It frees the ladder to perform the functions intended. But you probably know why we lead lines over the aerial. Because that is the way we always did it.
Since I mentioned ladderpipes, how about their use and positioning? Ladderpipes usually mean we have committed the building to doom. In other words, tactically we have gone defensive. In some cases we can turn that defensive mindset to one that is offensive. It is rare, but in some instances master streams will gain enough headway to revert the operation to one that is offensive (defensive-offensive strategy). Chief officers should always keep that in mind. One of the most agonizing applications of the ladderpipe I continually witness is directing the stream from a position above the roof level and into vent openings. Would you ever consider taking a line to the roof and putting the hose stream into a freshly cut vent opening? Of course not! So why do we insist on doing it with ladderpipes? I think you should know the answer by now. As long as there is a sufficient amount of roof covering remaining, the stream should begin at the lowest floor of fire and work upwards to the top floor. With a smoothbore tip, breaching the top floor ceiling is easily attained with the resulting stream extinguishing fire within the attic space.
How about that other nonsensical tradition; leading numerous lines up the interior stairwell of a building. Nothing wrong with leading a few lines up a stairwell, after all, sound tactics require that the stairwell be protected. But after three the exterior of the building is the only way to go. Engine officers should take a utility rope, drop it to the ground and raise the hose outside of the building then lead it to the point of operation. It keeps the stairwell relatively clean and prevents companies from bunching up and hoses becoming entangled. In San Francisco we see six, seven, eight, or more lines up the stairwell creating a twisted knot of mayhem. But that is the way we always did it.
Lets continue talking hose lines. It seems the re-introduction of 2 inch hose is having trouble making progress in San Francisco. It is in use by practically every city in America, but apparently we know something they dont. Using small lines for commercial and high rise fires makes sense to those caught in the tradition rut. Some choose to ignore the fact that fires that reach a considerable size (typical of highrise and commercial buildings) require a significant stream to control it. When putting the wet stuff on the red stuff the name of the game is called exceeding the critical flow rate, that is, applying more Btu absorbing water than the Btu output of the fire. But those trapped in a time warp say, lets stick with the small line. After all, that is the way we have always done it. Never mind that experience, research, and yes, science, indicates that the 2-inch line with a smooth bore nozzle (1-1/8 inch tip) is the recommended way to go. For you Doubting Thomass, please refer to the NFPA standards for standpipe operations (NFPA 14) and the writings of that remarkably prophetic genius, the late Andy Fredericks, FDNY, Squad 18. By the way, after the high rise fire in Philadelphia at 1 Meridian Plaza, where three firefighters were killed, NFPA 14 Standards were changed to reflect the need for 2 inch hose lines.
Next subject. How about forcible entry? I still see people carrying poorly manufactured equipment, (i.e., ill-conceived contraptions developed by propeller heads in their suits and ties, stuffed in an office, with virtually zero fire experience; and yes we continue to buy that garbage) with absolutely no clue how to put it to use. Here is a bulletin: locking mechanisms on doors are changing constantly to stay a step ahead of burglars. To overcome such locking devices, we, the fire service must also stay a step ahead. The old style Chicago Door Opener is no longer adequate to keep up with dynamic and contemporary forcible entry scenarios, yet these prehistoric contraptions are being manufactured even as you read this. The reason, tradition! The combination of a flat head axe and Halligan tool is the best method available to gain entry to 90% of todays forcible entry situations. This is a barrier that so far is impossible to overcome. There are a few who deserve some credit for trying to make the change, but what I would like to ask of a small minority of them is why do you carry a flat-head axe, Halligan tool, AND a pick head axe? Leave the pick-head axe behind. It is needless weight. There is nothing the pick-head axe can do that the Halligan or the flat-head axe cannot do. While I am on my soapbox, please dont strap the flat-head axe and Halligan together, unless you are taking it over a ladder. It takes too much time to separate them in the heat of battle. Keep the flat-head ax in your belt and the Halligan in your hand or both of them in your hands.
Lets talk ground ladders. How about that SOP that calls for putting ground ladders 2 or 3 rungs into the window? Guaranteed, if you need to remove an unconscious victim using that ladder it will be IMPOSSIBLE! How about a firefighter needing to escape a room that is about to flashover (ask Felix Duag or Mark Hayes from Rescue 1)? It is certain the firefighter will be burned when having to stand up to negotiate a ladder that is extended too far into the window. Any textbook or trade journal will tell you to ladder the sill. Better yet, talk to those with lots of experience, those from Chicago, New York, Boston, or Philadelphia. But it really doesnt take a textbook to teach you common sense. Unfortunately, we do it differently. The reason? Because thats the way we always did it!
Speaking of ladders, I remember as a new firefighter with the San Francisco Fire Department there were numerous ladders thrown at building fires. It is a tradition, or more accurately, a good fireground tactic, that has gone by the wayside. Today, our obsession with the roof finds all aerials placed to this position with few or no ground ladders raised. There is no real thought as to why the roof is such a fixation. Standard fireground tactics, at minimum, call for ladders to the fire floor, the floor above, and the top floor, all of this in addition to the roof. Why?, because these areas are the most dangerous positions for occupants as well as firefighters. A means of egress as well as access must be provided to these dangerous positions. Speaking of roof fixation why do we continue to cut many holes without any consideration as to the location of the fire? Make a hole over the fire or as close as you can get to a position directly over the fire. Enlarge it if necessary. Numerous holes will only draw fire to uninvolved areas of the building and create walking hazards on the roof as well. Besides, one large hole is far more efficient than several small holes.
I am beginning to ramble so I will close. If you made it this far I thank you for sticking with me. As San Francisco Firefighters we have a lot to be proud of. I have been witness to many acts of heroism and I have been honored to know many conscientious firefighters with a great work ethic. Our long tradition of aggressive firefighting and commitment to the citizens is unparalleled. Lets keep those good traditions alive but dump the bad ones.