Video: N.J. house fire highlights 4 lessons of fireground water supply

Water supply impacts interior ops, exposure protection, the public’s view of the fire department, and liability concerns

There’s one common denominator that matters most at every structure fire – the one thing that ultimately takes care of the problem: water.

Structure fires will be different in terms of size, complexity, amount of fire showing or progression, fuel load burning and so on. No matter what the circumstances, we need to put the wet stuff on the red stuff.

Water supply will come form one of two sources: hydrants (supplied) or natural reserves like rivers, ponds and lakes (drafted). Regardless of the source, the speed of getting water on the fire is critical to the operation.

In our corresponding video, we see a structure fire where a delay in getting water from the source – in this case, from a hydrant – has consequences. Although we don’t know what caused the delay, we can still learn some valuable lessons from the incident related to best practices for getting a water supply established.

Lesson 1: No interior work should be performed prior to the establishment of a water supply. Even though apparatus carry a supply of water, it is limited. For some fires, this may be all that is required to extinguish a small fire. Other fires, like the one in the video, will require a lot more water than what’s on board the apparatus. Once water is applied and achieves some semblance of knock down good, then crews can go inside and finish off the rest of the fire. Until that water is secured, though, crew should stay exterior.

Lesson 2: Let’s shift now to exposures. We must work to prevent further fire spread from fire building to other buildings. In our video, a fully engulfed house fire is a threat to neighboring houses. Fire spread to exposures can occur quickly – even faster if there’s a strong wind. Water is the only defense against fire spread and controlling exposures.

Lesson 3: When it comes to the public image of the fire department, we must remember that it never looks good when we are watching a building burn while waiting for water. While we may know the reasons for water delay, the public typically does not. They expect us to arrive on scene and have water flowing – fast. When we don’t, we risk losing the support of the public we are sworn to serve.

Lesson 4: Liability. When there’s a delay in water being established and applied to the fire, insurance companies are quick to put the blame back on the fire department for the financial loss. They essentially look to the fire department to absorb the liability. While firefighters are certainly not thinking about liability issues when they are on the fire scene, it’s still important to remember the bigger picture related to how water supply issues can impact the department as a whole.

Training time

After watching this video and reviewing this resource with your company, take the following steps to enhance your training efforts:

  • Review and practice the tactical skill of establishing a water supply, whether via a hydrant or a drafting operation.
  • Go through the steps of hooking up to the hydrant by pulling off the supply hose, grabbing the hydrant kit, and securing it as quickly as possible.
  • For a drafting operation, go through the same steps to set up a draft operation and getting a prime established
  • Consider wintertime operations. If a water source is frozen or not working, what is the backup plan?

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