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The Domino Effect
by Mark van der Feyst

Handicap firefighting: Securing secondary water sources

Having a water source is essential to the fireground operation, but knowing and locating where the secondary source will be is usually an afterthought

By Mark van der Feyst

Water is our primary extinguishing agent at a majority of our structural fires. It is readily available for the most part, cheap to use, and has excellent capabilities for fire suppression.

When we secure our primary water source, be it a hydrant or a rural source of some kind, are there any thoughts given to a secondary water source? Where it is? What will it be? Having a backup plan in place helps to stop the domino effect handicapping the operation once it begins.

In the video that accompanies this article from February last year, you'll see a structure fire located in a rural area.

This structure is serviced by a one-lane road, has no hydrants and their nearest water source is two miles away. As the video plays out, you'll see there are not many hand lines being used to deliver water onto the fire.

The department is also in a defensive mode, with everyone outside the structure. This will be vital as the safety of all personnel is accounted for when the pump cavitates due to a lack of water.

Despite the obstacles thrown at the fire department, they persevered and eventually extinguished the fire.

Worst-case scenarios
What would have happened had there been personnel inside the structure when the pump cavitated due to no water? Or if there were significant exposures such as nearby structures or flammables?

Losing water supply is never a good thing and will lead to further problems on the fireground. There have been documented incidents where a loss of water pressure and the supply itself led to the death of a firefighter conducting interior operations.

The backup plan can include using the onboard water supply on the pumping apparatus. Most fire apparatus that have a pump will have a booster tank of some size on board and can be used as a backup water supply if it is kept full.

Another option is to set up a reserve porta tank for a "just in case" moment. This reserve supply can range from 500 to 1000 gallons, and will supply water for a short duration of time if needed.

Having a reserve of water will allow the Incident Commander to evacuate crews operating inside the structure while still having water protection.
Utilizing mutual aid is also another way of securing a secondary water supply. Knowing which departments nearby are able to supply water and in what quantities will be a benefit to the operation.

Getting them there will be the key thing. Requesting mutual aid needs to be done as soon as possible so that they can get to where you are and be of service.

The need to pre-plan
Pre-planning your response areas is also another step that can be taken to stop the domino effect. On a preplan it can be noted where the primary water source is and also where the secondary water source will be.

Close by to where I live, there was a structure fire during the winter months about two years ago. The first hydrant was frozen, causing a delay in securing a water supply.

The second hydrant was some distance away. The time in securing the water supply allowed the fire to grow, eventually destroying the whole house and forcing four firefighters to jump from the second floor window. There were some minor injuries sustained in the fall.

Having a water source is essential to the fireground operation, but knowing and locating where the secondary source will be is usually an afterthought and thus becomes a handicap on the fireground.

About the author

Mark van der Feyst is a 13-year veteran of the fire service. He currently works for the City of Woodstock Fire Department in Canada. Mark is an international instructor teaching in Canada, the United States and India. He also a Local Level Suppression Instructor for the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy, and an Instructor for the Justice Institute of BC. You can contact Mark with feedback at Mark.vanderfeyst@firerescue1.com.


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