0600 hrs.: All this to put out a little fire?
“Attention Engines 2, 7, 12, Ladders 7 and 4, Special Hazards, Rescue 3 and Battalion 3 a stillbox. “
Bright light floods the fire stations at Branch Avenue, North Main Street and Admiral Street. Firefighters immediately rise from their bunks and slide the brass poles. Within 20 seconds they are dressed in their turnout gear and mounting their apparatus.
The PA system blares again:
“Attention Engines 2, 7, 12, Ladders 7 and 4, Special Hazards, Rescue 3 and Battalion 3, respond to 63 Douglas Avenue for a reported building fire, possibly occupied.”
Immediately, fire trucks are on their way. Hundreds of hours spent studying streets ensure there will be no mistake; the trucks will arrive in the shortest time possible. The first in companies consist of four firefighters from Engine 2 and three on Ladder 7.
The radio cracks…
“0420 hrs. Engine 2 on scene, three-story wood frame, fire on the second floor, occupied. Code Red.”
Code Red signals that a working fire has been found at the location. Air packs are donned, tools readied and nerves steadied. Sirens echo in the empty streets.
A fire rages on the second floor of a tenement house. The first-floor tenant who discovered the fire and made the first 911 call relays information that people, a single man on the second and an elderly couple on the third, are still in the house.
The driver of Engine 2 stops his vehicle 50 feet past the fire building, transfers power from the transmission to the pump, gets out of the cab and prepares to feed the attack companies the water necessary to extinguish the blaze. He opens the tank to pump valve, throttles up and gets ready for commands. Engine 2’s officer, the incident commander for now, is sizing up the fireground, planning the attack until the chief arrives and establishes Douglas Command.
Strict rules will be followed: the incident command system, a nationally used method of organizing emergency responses of all sizes, must be used.
The remaining two firefighters from Engine 2 stretch 250 feet of 1 3/4-inch attack line toward the rear door, knowing that it will lead to the second story stairs.
“Battalion 3 on scene, establishing Douglas Command.’
“Ladder 7 on scene.”
“Rescue 3 on scene, establishing EMS Sector.”
The rescue is ready to triage victims and call for additional help if needed. The ladder company is prepared to “get the roof.”
The driver of the ladder truck slows down 200 feet from the fire. Utility wires, parked cars and trees obstruct his path toward the roof. The officer leaves the cab and finds a good spot to set up. There is no second chance. A wrong placement of the ladder will severely hamper the firefighting efforts. He directs the driver toward the front of the house, stopping him at the perfect location.
The driver switches the truck from drive to PTO, which enables the aerial ladder to begin operations. He and the third firefighter get ready to raise the ladder to the roof. Outriggers must be lowered and secured, the ladder unlocked, then raised. One person handles the controls, the other watches the progress.
The officer is at the rear of the house helping to force the door open. Once the ladder is in place, rising 55 feet between utility wires and through tree branches, the firefighters load up their tools, a quick vent saw, axes and poles, and begin to climb. Inside the house heat and gasses are accumulating, filling the space. Ventilation is imperative. Failure is not an option.
“Engine 7 on scene, establishing water supply.”
The second due engine is responsible for water supply. Its crew finds the closest hydrant, 500 feet away, and stops the truck. The officer and one of the firefighters get out, take two lengths of three-inch hose from the hose bed and the hydrant dressing gear and signal the driver to go. Engine 7 rolls toward Engine 2, trailing the supply lines without which no fire will be extinguished.
“Engine 2 to pump operator, charge my line!”
The firefighter at the pump expertly pulls levers and gates, and then watches as the initial 250-foot attack line fills with water and slithers toward the rear door, up the stairs into the toxic atmosphere and toward the pipe. Engine 2 carries 500 gallons of water, enough for about three minutes. The officer of Ladder 7 has located the sleeping occupant of the second floor and is helping him out of the house. The firefighters from Engine 2 man the line and hit the fire, plunging the apartment into darkness. The heat and smoke are unbearable, even to firefighters fully dressed in gear.
The fire is stubborn, more water needed.
“Special Hazards on scene.”
“Battalion 3 to Special Hazards, start a primary search of the second floor.”
“Ladder 4 on scene.”
“Battalion 3 to Ladder 4, Primary on the third.”
The Hazards and Ladder 4 turn in their packs and enter the building. The man from the second floor is safe and in the rescue vehicle. Another rescue is called for transport.
The battle rages. On the steeply pitched roof, the two firefighters from Ladder 7 straddle the peak, start the quick-vent saw that starts on the first pull – no accident; every piece of equipment is thoroughly checked daily and begin ventilating. A proper hole needs to be 4 feet by 4 feet. The two firefighters from Engine 7 have “dressed the hydrant,” removed all three ports, attached a hydrant gate to the large-diameter opening, an extra port to one of the smaller ports and a 3-inch feeder line to the other. One waits by the hydrant, the officer starts toward Engine 2. Connections to the water supply must be made. Firefighters and possibly civilians are committed inside the burning structure. If the water supply is interrupted a successful outcome will be in doubt.
“Engine 12 on scene.”
Four firefighters from Engine 12 arrive. They immediately stretch another attack line from the rear of Engine 2 and start toward the rear door to back up Engine 2.
“Engine 2 to Engine 7, turn in the hydrant.”
The firefighter manning the hydrant receives the message and turns the spindle 14 revolutions, fully opening the valve. The feeders fill and make way toward the pump, which is beginning to cavitate, every drop from the tank gone. Just in time water supply is established. The fight goes on.
With the water supply established, the crew of Engine 7 now takes another attack line from Engine 2 and enters the door toward the third floor. They fight their way up and join the crew of Ladder 4, who have just finished their primary search of the third-floor apartment. Thankfully, this time there was nobody home.
The fire has spread through the walls and is now in the loft. Inside, the fire crews feel something shift and know the roof is open. The heat and smoke clear just enough to make the fight bearable. Walls and ceilings are opened by pulling the plaster with poles. Fire is found and quickly extinguished. Two members from Special Hazards are now in the basement cutting the electric supply, the other two are assisting with vertical ventilation, opening windows and doors. Once the electric supply is off ground ladders must be raised to the second and third floor windows to supply a secondary means of egress.
Now the dangerous part begins. The flames are knocked down, but sparks and embers hide everywhere inside walls, in every nook and cranny imaginable. Every remnant of fire must be extinguished or there will be a rekindle.
Sunrise. The exhausted firefighters converge around Engines 7 and 2, repacking the hundreds of feet of hose. It was a good job: nobody was injured, the house damaged but saved.
A man walks his dog past the firefighters.
“What happened?” he asks.
“Fire on the second floor,”somebody responds.
The man stands there, looks at the house, takes in the minor damage visible from the outside, and asks smugly, “All this to put out a little fire?”
He shakes his head in disdain and walks away.