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By johnny (Fri Oct 02, 2009 at 11:32:21 PM EST) let me stand next to your fire, we can be heros, cortez (all tags)
There was a fire in Oak Bluffs, one town over from me, a few days ago. I knew it was bad when the first call came over my pager from dispatch about 9 in the morning: "Report of a house fully engaged." First call "fully engaged"? Holy shit. That's bad. The only good news was that the address was Carole Avenue, which, by luck, is only about a quarter mile from Oak Bluffs fire station. But before the first truck had signed on, dispatch said "PD (i.e. police department) on scene reporting upper level engaged, possibly collapsing." I said to Dear Wife "somebody just lost their house." I was right.

Last night at my firefighter class we began by watching a video that a neighbor had taken of the fire (embedded below, with some commentary). Scary stuff, but fascinating. 

A few trucks signed on. Dispatch put out a general alert "all responding personnel, PD reporting downed power lines arcing. Repeat: live powerlines down."

My wife said, "Will you have to go"?

I said, "Maybe. Sounds bad. Let's listen."  I brought her a cup of coffee. I put on my boots & grabbed my car keys.

Within a minute of the first Oak Bluffs truck arriving at the scene, before the complete OB complement of trucks had arrived, a call went out for mutual aid from my town (Tisbury). They requested Engine 3. Oak Bluffs has, I think 3 engines and a ladder. Maybe 4 engines. All that equipment & they were already asking for help after 1 minute on scene? Holy crap.

I'm on Ladder 1 & had not been paged out, so I was just standing by. Dispatch said, "PD reporting nobody in building; propane tank on back porch."

Evidently the homeowner had arrived on the scene and confirmed that nobody was in the house. That was the good news. Bad news was that there was a propane tank that might blow up at any moment. Jesus fuck. More trucks arrived, and the voice traffic over my pager died down. (Once you arrive on scene, you communicate with local command over your radio; you stop sending messages to dispatch.) So johnny & Dear Wife listening at home were getting less information.

Then OB put out a second call for mutal aid, this time to Edgartown, requesting a pumper to cover their station.

There's a good story about the fire in the Martha's Vineyard Times. Synopsis: OB had put out a public health warning a few days ago after detecting germs in the water supply. People were instructed to boil tap water before using. A young mother, following health advice, boiled tap water for bathing her young children. Forgetting that she had put the water on the stove, she took kids to beach. Water evaporated, counters ignited, house went up in flames during the half-hour she was away.

Below, a video taken by a local (remind me to tell you more about him at some other time. A local eccentric, husband of a teacher at Tisbury School who taught my children.)

Some things to note about it:

  1. it takes a well-trained firefighter about one minute to put on boots, pants, coat, gloves, and helmet.
  2. it takes another minute to put on air pack & secure it and make sure it's working right.
So, even after the trucks are on the scene, it typically takes another two full minutes before the first firefighters are ready to get to work. Coincidentally enough, this was the subject of my firefighter training course last night, about which I had whined in the Hole. By my reading, the first OB firefighter in full gear, including SCBA (air tank) is ready well under two minutes & pulling an attaack line towards the house.
3) Note the electrical wires coming down at about the third minute. You can hear the policeman calling out to the fireman to watch out for live wires. First names are used. In a small town, that's how it is. You can hear the police saying "Somebody better call Comm Electric". That's Commonwealth Electric, the old name for the electric company. In fire situations, they send somebody over to turn off the juice to the street.


Truckies Ventilate. Truckies Rule.

By far the most awesome part of this video comes at about the 5:39 mark, when two members of 551, the OB Ladder, ventilate the roof.

A few months ago, my friend Cortez the Killer had a drill in which he practiced ventilating a roof with a chain saw, as I described here

Among the responsibilities of ladder companies is ensuring the ventilation of burning houses. This means climbing atop the roof of a house on fire with a running chainsaw and cutting a great big hole in it to let out the hot gasses (along with flame and smoke--unwanted but inevitable).

[. . .]  And so Cortez (who is, as we all know, nearly or more than five hundred years old, (and truth be told, a little creaky) donned his heavy firefighter's gear including boots of gigantic proportion, quilted pants, turnout coat, gloves, helmet and air pack, --which together weighed nearly as much as the coat of armor that Cortez was already wearing--and climbed up onto the roof, chainsaw in hand. Along the way his boots turned into blocks of cement.

Although it was only 45 degrees fahrenheit outside, by the end of his turn on the roof cutting holes down through the roof & cathedral ceiling underneath it, Cortez was suddenly nearly overcome by a bit of heat exhaustion, and took off his coat once safely away from the ladders. Such is the exertion required to ventilate a building--which was not even on fire, as noted.

People not trained in firefighting sometimes have a hard time understanding what this operation is all about. What we see here is that two guys have just used a chain saw to create a chimney, and sure enough, almost immediately after they've made their hole in the roof, flames shoot out of it and the fire appears to accelerate. Why would they do that?

Here's the answer. That attic was filled with what firefighters call "MEBS" -- "methyl-ethyl-bad-shit" -- superheated poisonous gasses such as hydrogen cyanide and phosgene, all kinds of by-products of burning plastics and air conditioners and counter tops and every other damn thing. As long as superheated MEBS is in the house, there's a risk, or even a high likelihood, of flashover, when the whole house bascially becomes a bomb. The gasses might be at temperatures in the vicinity of 2,000F, hot enough to melt firefighter's protective gear. Not only are they a risk of blowing you  up or burning you up, if you somehow breathe them they're gonna kill you. You want that shit gone, yesterday. Until that MEBS is let out of the house, firefighters aren't going to go in (other than to attempt to save the lives of anybody trapped inside who might be alive).

After the house is vented, the attack teams can enter from below. Why would they do that, when the house is already clearly a total loss?  Basically, out of compassion. The hope is that you can save something of value, maybe only sentimental value, to the people who just lost their house.

As the newspaper article says, however, things got too dangerous when the roof started to collapse and the interior crews were ordered out. What they were left with then was a "surround and drown" situation: stand back and pour on water, pour on water, pour on water. 

A second video shows the cool water cannon from the arial platform attacking the fire from above. Sure, it can supply a lot of h20 under high pressure; that's cool. But notice how it blows everything appart. So this is a sad situation. When possible, you want to put out fires by having guys go inside; that way you minimize destrurction. But here, there's nothing left to save. It's like putting out a campfire.

Of the whole story and of all the video, the part that most sticks with me is when the chain-saw guy on the roof, after he's vented the attic, kneels down to watch the flames start to shoot up. Why would he do that, you ask? With all those superheated gasses shooting up, astonishing heat, great danger? Why doesn't he get the fuck out of there now that his job is done?

I don't know the answer, but I have a guess. I think he was just exhausted. That firefighter is wearing about 90 pounds of gear, and the saw weighs about thirty pounds, and you have to manoever it with one hand. As I wrote about my friend Cortez, when he did basically this same exercise, while wearing an air pack to simulate real conditions but not breathing through a mask, and in 45F weather (not the 70F of the fire-day), and in a house not on fire, even the mighty Cortez was exhausted nearly to the point of puking afer cutting a vent hole. I'm guessing that the heat on top of that OB roof was about 250F. That's some pretty damn impressive chain-saw work that OB guy did, I gotta tell ya.

It's my goal as a firefighter to someday vent a roof like that. I don't think it will ever happen. True, I only have a few more classes to take & practical exams to pass before I'll technically be qualified to do it. But (a), I'm the understudy on the pumps. My captain has asked me to be ready to run the truck during a fire if Jesse isn't there, and there is a whole lot more for me to learn before I'll be able to do that. So in a real fire, I'll be hanging out at the truck, helping to run the machinery. And (b) if you were the captain of my truck, who would you send to ventilate the roof? The 56 year old technical writer, or the 23 year old guys who are hard-core jocks and ride their overpowered mortocycles to fire scenes?  It wouldn't be a hard choice for me. Send the smart old guy to the pumps and the strong young guys overbrimming with testosterone onto the roof.

But you never know what might happen, and I hope I get my chance some day. That would be the coolest thing in the world.

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Fire, videos | 14 comments (14 topical, 0 hidden)
Wow by ana (4.00 / 1) #1 Sat Oct 03, 2009 at 07:05:46 AM EST
Just, wow.

My folks were volunteer firefighters in their late 50s and early 60s. It's quite a job. Thanks for sharing the vids and the commentary with us.

"And this ... is a piece of Synergy." --Kellnerin

Awesome videos by wiredog (4.00 / 1) #2 Sat Oct 03, 2009 at 12:17:38 PM EST

Earth First!
(We can strip mine the rest later.)

BLEVEs are fucking Ossim. by ammoniacal (4.00 / 1) #3 Sat Oct 03, 2009 at 02:47:23 PM EST
Not so much when they're at the neighbour's house. Stay safe, Johnny.

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

Hope I never seen a BLEVE outside by johnny (2.00 / 0) #4 Sat Oct 03, 2009 at 04:47:03 PM EST
a Bruce Willis or Terminator movie.

I really like the firefighter versions of the acronyms given here, by the way; especially the first one: Big Loud Explosion Very Exciting.

At the Codding Lane fire, there was one hose on the propane tank for about two solid hours. And that was after the temperature fell to around 0F.

She has effectively checked out. She's an un-person of her own making. So it falls to me.--ad hoc (in the hole)

[ Parent ]
Yeah. by ammoniacal (2.00 / 0) #11 Sun Oct 04, 2009 at 10:21:55 AM EST
That dude had a singularly important job to do.

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

[ Parent ]
Gracias. by MohammedNiyalSayeed (4.00 / 1) #5 Sat Oct 03, 2009 at 06:22:10 PM EST

Both for doing the job, and for this here documentation thereof.

You can build the most elegant fountain in the world, but eventually a winged rat will be using it as a drinking bowl.
It's been a while, almost ten years now by marvin (2.00 / 0) #6 Sat Oct 03, 2009 at 10:03:03 PM EST
...since I last did this, but it seemed really slow to me. I could see it taking longer to get dressed if your guys drive to the scene and then don their gear, but when I was a volunteer, the truck would leave without you if you took a minute to put on your gear.

Another minute to put on an SCBA? During training, we had to do it faster than that - in the dark, and after the assistant chief had done something to the SCBA to screw it up that you had to diagnose and fix (blind) before donning.

Our SCBAs were built into each seat frame in the fire engine, so by the time we arrived on scene, we'd be ready to go. As soon as I stopped the truck, I'd set the chocks and start delivering water. Both handlines would be deployed immediately, and by the time the guys had jumped out, grabbed the hose, and walked 100 feet, water was on its way. 

The gear is nowhere near 90 pounds.

In practice by johnny (2.00 / 0) #7 Sun Oct 04, 2009 at 06:34:52 AM EST
Getting gear on can often take less than two minutes. But two minutes is how much time is how much time should be budgeted according to this tome and the National Fire Protection Association. Certainly I've seen guys do it faster, and in the dark. But on average, that's what it the recommended time budget is. Myself, I've only been doing this a year. I always feel like I'm moving through mud when I put my gear on at an actual fire scene -- it probably does take me a minute.

On my truck, three SCBA harnesses are built into truck seats (not in the driver's seat). But there are another three harnesses that are not; you have to put them on the old fashioned way. I believe that some of the Oak Bluffs trucks are two-seaters, with only one built-in harness.

My turnout gear weighs about 40 pounds and the SCBA about 25. So you're right, that's 65 pounds, not 90. I remember the ninety pound number from class the other night and it stuck in my head.

In the drill that Cortez talked about, the roof was more steeply pitched, and we climbed from a ground ladder. So first we had to set up the ladder to the roof, and then carry up the roof ladder, and then go up again carrying the chain saw. The chain saw does weigh a ton. Or so it seemed to me as I cut the hole -- which I had to do while clinging to the roof ladder.

I'm not saying the O.B. guys had the fastest response in the world. In the first place, I simply don't have the experience to judge. I've heard some critiques from the guys in my town, Tisbury, but you know how that goes: everybody's a critic. It's also true that there are 5 fire departments on the island where I live, and Tisbury has won the muster 7 years running, so I really do think that Tisbury would have been faster on the attack, and I don't doubt that your crew would have been also.

A while ago I blogged about the incredible response of the Orlando fire department in a life/death situation, in which the truckies took about two two minutes from arriving on scene to completing the rescue of a woman and four children trapped inside a second floor bathroom. Now, I think you'll agree, was fast.

Like I said, I just completed my rookie year. I've only been on about a dozen calls, and only 4 of them had flames. So I don't mean to set myself up as an expert.

I still think that roof ventilation was awesome, and I'm willing to bet it was freekin' hot up there.

She has effectively checked out. She's an un-person of her own making. So it falls to me.--ad hoc (in the hole)

[ Parent ]
It's all site-specific by marvin (4.00 / 1) #12 Sun Oct 04, 2009 at 10:53:26 AM EST
If those pumpers showed up with just the driver, and he had to wait for the crew to drive up in their own cars, it might have been a few minutes for the attack crew to show up. The camera didn't show what the firefighters were doing in those first few minutes, so I cannot critique them because there are plenty of valid reasons for any delay. While I'm quite arrogant, I try to not be so arrogant as to cut down guys who are doing their best. If you have to park away from the scene to avoid cluttering it up, and change into gear stored in your trunk, that adds time. I do think though, that even if two minutes is considered acceptable to don the gear, one should always strive to be as fast as possible, without compromising safety or taking shortcuts.

I used to live about a 15 second drive from my hall, and we left our gear ready to don. Ten seconds to jump into your boots and pull up your pants, another ten for your coat and helmet. Everything else you could do in the truck on the way to the scene, as we stored our gloves and balaclavas in our  pockets. By being first at the hall, that meant I usually got to drive and operate the pump. Most of us who had been there a year or more had completed EVO, pumps and pumping. That course sucked back two days a week for around 2-3 months. Between that course, my day job, and her shift work, I think I had dinner with my wife one time per week during that training.

There is a cost in leaving gear at the hall, and departing after enough crew have arrived, as the truck cannot leave the hall until there is a crew. There is less delay on scene, in exchange for losing a minute or so at the hall. I did a car fire once with just me and my captain. Nobody else showed up, so after waiting a minute, we went. The car was a write-off, some dumb kid had a short in his car, so to stop his car stereo amplifier from draining the battery, he disconnected the power cable beneath the driver's seat every time he stopped. The live cable touched something inside the car that completed the circuit, and it caught on fire.

The only critique I would make is that I wasn't thrilled at how the first guy onto the property just walked over the downed power line, but I also know how hard it is to notice everything around you when you are trying to assess the fire and plan the attack. I also wonder at how much time it took them to deploy the aerial as opposed to just setting up a ladder to access the roof. Just because you have the toys doesn't mean that they should be used on every scene. Rather than carrying the chainsaw up a ladder as you described, I recall that we were supposed to pull everything up with a rope, and keep three point contact at all times on the ladder. It's been a while though.

The heat isn't so bad with the turnout gear. It does its job well.

[ Parent ]
Thanks. Please see by johnny (2.00 / 0) #13 Sun Oct 04, 2009 at 11:00:44 AM EST
further comments below.

She has effectively checked out. She's an un-person of her own making. So it falls to me.--ad hoc (in the hole)
[ Parent ]
After writing mine by marvin (4.00 / 1) #14 Mon Oct 05, 2009 at 10:09:12 AM EST
I did. Had I read yours first, I could have written less, and just said "I agree". 

[ Parent ]
Also by johnny (2.00 / 0) #8 Sun Oct 04, 2009 at 06:53:32 AM EST
I'm sure most guys drove to the scene & put their gear on there.

In Tisbury, the ladder is kept at the Town Garage, not at the fire station. As it turns out, the captain & two of the guys on the truck work for the town DPW, so if a call comes in they can be rolling almost immediately. The only times I've ridden to a fire in my truck were the two times that a call came in when we were already in the truck for a drill -- lucky timing.

I haven't been certified for SCBA yet.  I've practiced doing it at drills & I just took the classroom instruction the other night. The practical exam will be two weeks from now. Wish me luck.

At the first big fire I went to, I was one of the first guys on the scene and the assistant chief was yelling at me to hook hoses from engine A to engine B. Somehow, I figured out what he meant & did it. But boy, it sure would have looked slow to anybody who knew what they were doing.

At that fire the outside temperature was 15F, and my job was to change air tanks, which were often covered with ice. I did that for four hours.

I can assert that if you need a buddy to change an air tank for you, I can probably do it as fast as anybody.

She has effectively checked out. She's an un-person of her own making. So it falls to me.--ad hoc (in the hole)

more talking out of school by johnny (2.00 / 0) #9 Sun Oct 04, 2009 at 10:19:03 AM EST
At the Sunday morning radio-equipment check, the OB fire was the talk of the day.

I asked my Captain, who was talking with the former captain of my truck, not assistant chief, what to think of the ventilation. They rolled their eyes. I said, "come on, how am I going to learn if you won't tell me?"

So this is what I got:

  1. Vent hole was placed in the right spot & correctly cut. Chain saw work excellent.
  2. The first guy correctly sounded the roof where he got off the platform, but then walked over areas they had not sounded. Easily could have fallen through.
  3. Which is why they should have put a roof ladder in place before cutting; for safety in case the roof gave way, also,
  4. should have just gone up with a regular ladder instead of the truck platform. Quicker, plus it gives the and escape route, and finally, about looking in the hole after they had cut it:
  5. They're both lucky they weren't fricasseed. "Do your job and get the fuck out," said the ex-captain. "If I ever see you pull a stunt like that, I'll kick your ass." said my captain.
So I know it's not polite to critique the performance of my fellow firefighters, especially from the neighboring town & with whom I may have to work from time to time. But I think it's unlikely any of my OB brothers are reading HuSi. And besides, as the ex-capt said, "It's on youtube. Every fire department in the country is looking at it and saying the same things we are."

She has effectively checked out. She's an un-person of her own making. So it falls to me.--ad hoc (in the hole)
"now" assistant chief <nt/> by johnny (2.00 / 0) #10 Sun Oct 04, 2009 at 10:20:39 AM EST

She has effectively checked out. She's an un-person of her own making. So it falls to me.--ad hoc (in the hole)
[ Parent ]
Fire, videos | 14 comments (14 topical, 0 hidden)