During a lunch break at a training facility one day, a few colleagues were discussing the aches and pains of getting old and fighting fires.
A comment was made by one individual about the possibility of them needing a wheelchair to be brought back out to the training grounds at which point I made the remark about being a handicapped firefighter.
As I thought more about the term, it dawned on me that the term "handicap firefighting" can be applied to a vast array of fire service areas where the fire service sometimes handicaps themselves with their actions.
By definition, a handicap is a disadvantage that makes an achievement usually difficult or it is the ability to make something more difficult to do.
This can be viewed upon in two areas: on the fireground and in the everyday life of the fire service.
Setting the tone
Questions that we need to ask and will explore are how do we handicap ourselves at the fire scene in the first few minutes? Will this set the tone for the entire call? Can we recover from early mistakes? How do we handicap ourselves in the fire service generally?
As we look at different handicaps, we need to consider the domino effect that is being set up. As one domino falls, so does another and another and so on until all the dominos are down.
When incidents go bad or big issues surface, it is because of a series of smaller problems that arise and are not dealt with immediately or correctly, and they lead to other small problems until eventually one big problem is created. Identifying the initial domino is the key to prevention.
Let's begin this series by looking at hose kinks. In the photo below, two 1 ½' handlines can be seen stretched and charged. The one line is snug around the rear tire of a responding apparatus and the other line is beside it.
The line by the rear tire is not under the tire, but was stretched dry with the hose pulled tight around the rear tire and then charged with water.
This caused the hose to become wedged between the tire and the pavement. This wedge — or kink — decreased the water flow in that line by half, rendering it ineffective.
Firefighters tried to pull the charged hose line away from the tire but it was wedged in too deep. The hose line had to be shut down temporarily to remove the line from the tire.
Kinks in hose lines will kill firefighters, which is the biggest and worst handicap. Other issues arising out of a kink will be the fire's ability to gain the advantage and grow, and loss of protection for crews inside operating.
Kinks can result from improper flaking of the hose line, improper pressure in the line, to low, advancing hose around sharp bends and wedging hose lines around tires and under doors.
When a hose line is pulled off the apparatus, it needs to be flaked out to remove any kinks. This responsibility will fall upon the nozzle man or back-up person to quickly retrace the hose lay to ensure no kinks are present and to remove them if found before entering the structure.
As the line is being advanced, look for any noticeable obstructions such as vehicle tires. It will be easier and better to fix the problem before making entry than to discover you have no water protection when faced with the fire.