Modern approaches to suppression
While the art of stream application hasn't evolved all that much, the method of delivering that stream has developed to increase efficiency
By Mick Mayers
Fire is churning out of two windows on the front of the house. Thick, choking black smoke is pumping out of the building, caught by the breeze, and twisting, turning, forced down and across the front yard and the road.
Acrid fumes tear up eyes and cause bystanders to cough as they gather and watch the disaster unfold. While the sound is that of a low roar, it's almost a gentle sound, but one that is punctuated with loud pops and the tinkling of glass breaking from overheated window panes.
Within minutes, an engine company arrives on the scene, its supply line slithering and the couplings clonking on the pavement as they fall from the bed. The long, fat yellow hose gently curves along the side of the road back to the hydrant at the corner.
Obscured by the smoke as well, the crew of firefighters dismounts the engine and begin their routine. The attack line is pulled from the crosslay bed and flaked out on the well-trod front lawn, amidst myriad toys left scattered about by the home's young occupants.
At the front door, the officer meets the attack team, having walked around the outside of the house to gather information on the layout and the location of the fire.
The balance of the assignment arrives and like the well-rehearsed team they are, the second and third-arriving engines go into service and the ladder company puts the stick in the air and prepares to open up the roof.
The bystanders watch with awe as water, enhanced by Class A foam entrained in the stream, quickly knocks the fire down, evident from the steam now issuing from the same windows once clogged by flame and smoke. The outside ventilation crew on the roof gets their hole cut and conditions continue to improve ...
Our 'bread and butter'
This situation is recognized as a "bread and butter" operation in our business; a room and contents fire in a wood-frame single family dwelling. Of the actual fires we encounter, it is this scenario that is played out the most across the United States — and has been for decades.
In recent years, however, we have seen some big changes in many ways surrounding suppression activities themselves. Thanks to significant improvements in protective equipment and suppression methods, interior attacks are now much more successful.
However, we do face challenges that our predecessors did not; the toxic products of combustion that we must deal with in this millennium, as well as tighter construction and light weight structural components.
This is also a difference in staffing, with both career and volunteer departments around the nation running much leaner nowadays. Many of our colleagues will say today's suppression methodology is still the same methodology we learned 30 years ago.
But when you add together the changes in staffing, technology, building construction and fuel loads, it's simply not the case. As the rest of the world moves forward, failure to evolve will radically affect outcomes
Delivering the stream
While the art of stream application hasn't evolved all that much, the method of delivering that stream and the contents of the stream have changed to increase efficiency. Unfortunately, there are still departments out there which think the use of a 30 gpm booster line is a sufficient line for fighting structural fires. When they find their position overrun by the fire, it's too late to plan on saving the day.
Instead, early use of step-mounted master streams can be utilized to get "big water" on a fire while minimizing the amount of personnel required for operation. In commercial fires, or in a rapidly-progressing interior fire where there is a need to check the extension fast, these tactical master streams can be pulled into position by one person, set, and a large amount of water applied to overcome the immediate situation.
The addition of Class A foam or other wetting agents can considerably improve the viscosity of your stream, theoretically decreasing the friction loss in your lines (and subsequently decreasing the amount of work your pump is doing) and also making a huge difference in fuel penetration.
This effect saves water in the long run as well as help with overhaul. Even if you aren't looking at compressed air foam systems, any engine specified in this day and age should at least have a built-in foam educator to provide this ability.
An important part of the American fire service is tradition. But just as people weren't bound by stacking rocks to create shelter, the fire service should likewise unbind itself from the past when new technologies emerge, and consider changes in technique that maximize our limited resources.