Its 3 am, you and your crew are asleep in the bunk room when you are abruptly awakened to the bells and tones going off. Across the radio you hear ” structure fire, smoke and flames visible with possible entrapment” at that moment your heart now goes into overdrive and your brain is trying to process a million things. You get in the truck pull out of the bay, go down to road lights and sirens echoing off the empty streets, now you are really going off adrenaline. You are the first due engine; you get out of the back grab that cross-lay that you’ve pulled so many times in training, the hose starts to flake-out as you make your way to the front door. Then all of a sudden you realize the hose you pulled will not be enough to make it to the fire room. What happened? You’ve done this a million times during drills so how can such a major mistake happen at game time? Sadly, this situation happens all too often, and it comes down to one thing, knowing your first due.
The basic job function of the Fire Service is preserving life and property just like the basic job function of the engine company is to find and extinguish the fire. We spend countless hours going over hose loads, nozzle reactions, flow charts, 360 size ups and all the other hot topics throughout the service but very rarely due we dive into knowing the ins and outs of our first due structures. Commercial buildings have an advantage of residential which is we spend a lot of time conducting pre-plans. Building plans, hydrant locations, FDC locations, and other vital information is at the touch of a finger on the officer’s tablet or laptop. When we get into residential structures, we are entering the unknown. The only ways we can see the insides of some of these is during EMS calls, and false alarms. Those situations prove to be vital opportunities to get a quick mental image of the layout, building construction and other key pieces of information needed to make game-changing decisions on that 3 am call.
When we look around our communities both large and small, we can all find spots where new construction is going on. These homes in different stages of construction can be a huge training opportunity when taken advantage of. Not only are we seeing how the homes in our area are being built but we see each step in the construction process, the methods and materials being used can and will play a factor in fire spread and structural integrity. They also play a role in hose advancement. When we think back to the times on the drill ground, I would be willing to bet more often than not we want to go straight to the cross-lay and pull. Now don’t get me wrong, cross-lays do have a time and place, but we need to be sure our people are trained to decide when that cross-lay will not measure up to the task.
Sadly the fire service is in a trend of finding the easy way out of a lot of things and when it comes to hose work I believe we are falling behind. This article is not meant to just attacking cross-lays but the entire size up of that first due company. If we look back to that 3am call and take a picture of the scene a few minutes in what will we see? Are we making sure the engine pulls past the structure to allow the Truck company a prime spot in the front? Not only are you allowing the truck to get into position but by pulling past you have given the officer an opportunity to see three sides of the building before stepping foot off the rig. Now once off the engine its game time. Are we pulling the correct line with the correct nozzle for the fire at hand? Muscle memory plays a vital factor in what we do when our heart rates rise which is why we must train and train. Don’t get into a habit of grabbing that 1 3/4 line just because it’s lighter and easier. Remember when faced with big fire you need big water grab that 2 1/2. Now the big choice to make will be which line? This is where those first due training will play a big factor. How far off the street are you? Where is the fire room? Will stairs be involved? These key factors will play a big part in how much hose you’ll need. Are we taking the nozzle to the opposite side of door swing so the hose will not get caught up? Have we trained enough so each guy remembers when flaking out the hose to have loops close to the door so that the “first 50” can be brought in easily? When looking at most private dwellings, the first 50 will more times than not be enough but when it’s not enough a proper hose deployment will have the next 50 ready for an easy advancement in.
Will every fire be the same? Absolutely not. Can we ever practice enough to get it perfect every single time? No, but that training we do can and will save time when seconds count. Pulling hose, advancing lines while flowing, size ups, apparatus positioning, and water supply are all task we need to be beating in our people’s heads. When that 3 am call comes in that is not the time to be figuring all this out. Take advantage of every single spare minute you have to grow as a crew. The citizens we swore to protect will never understand all the ins and outs of the fire service, but what they will do is expect perfection each time they have to call 911, and it’s our sworn duty to make sure we do the very best we can each and every call. Stay Hungry, stay motivated, keep learning and never stop improving. Now get out there and learn your First Due!