Have Tool, Will Destroy

It is a common reaction on the fireground; give a member a tool and he or she will have a Pavlovian impulse to destroy something. The theory could be aligned to being on the truck (or squad) and having the assignment to “force” entry, “vent” the building, and “open up” for hidden fire. In some departments certain members have a tool “fettish”; they purchase their own tools and will be regularly found even at the alarm malfunction, with said tool in hand (not to be confused with a small officer’s tool, but a 4′ halligan hook or a 6′ Boston rake). I’m not certain where the need comes from, but it has to have some effect on fireground operations. In the opposite view, we can see where such a member has his impulses tempered, breaking only the panes of glass and not removing the whole sash. Either way, these extremes effect the the fire behavior or means of egress (sometimes both if you’re inside).

Take a look at each video, not necessarily for the whole fireground operation, but just the horizontal ventilation
Early horizontal ventilation (00:08) before the charged hoseline is in position to make the attack (1:08). Not a long period of time but the auto extension to the floor above has been greatly increased.
A “classic” (as far as age, in the YouTube world)…
Again, don’t become focused on the whole fireground, but look at the actions at 1:02. Why not take out the whole window? When conditions go bad your egress needs to be as uncomplicated as possible.

Where is the disconnect between taking out the whole window and when you should wait for the engine company to move in? Give the truckies some credit to be smart enough to know the difference.

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  • Dave LeBlanc says:

    I was always taught, if you are going to take the window out…then take it out. That way no one gets cut on jagged glass, and everyone can fit through the hole you made.

  • Anonymous says:

    In my opinion, the primary reason for such actions is not the desire to bust something, it’s ignorance of proper ventilation procedures. These firefighters have had just enough training and seen just enough pictures of OVM doing their work, that they immediately start opening things up without truly understanding the benefits and/or consequences of their actions. They don’t stop to consider proper timing, with regards to the engine co. advance, or even their purpose in venting. Case in point is balloon-frame construction. My department had one about a year ago, and another firefighter and I waited to vent the roof until the first-floor knock had been made and hoselines had been advanced to the upper floors and to the entry to the attic. In my opinion, roof vents, that occur too early in balloon-frame incidents, do nothing but create a flue that draws any fire encroaching into walls at the lower floors, right up to the attic. We had smoke blowing from the eaves at the onset of operations, but the fire never extended beyond the second floor and that was only minimal and directly over the point of origin.

    On the flipside though, I have seen many circumstances in where appropriate venting or opening up has been withheld to avoid “unnecessary” damage to the home. This is probably a common problem in rural communities where everybody knows their neighbor and the firefighters do not want to appear to be uncaring with regards to their neighbor’s property. In fact, I ran into this very problem during the fire incident I described above. I asked a couple firefighters to get some ground ladders set up to the second floor windows as emergency egress points for the firefighters extending lines to second floor and attic. The chief officer was concerned about taking the windows out at these locations because, other than smoke, these windows were not damaged. If it is a question between the cost of a window and piece of plywood to cover it up after the fire or the life of a firefighter who is disoriented or needs to bail due to worsening conditions, I’ll take windows out all day long. I know that ultimately the chief would agree with that choice, but the close-knit, small town mentality is something that has to be overcome at times for safe and proper operations.

  • Jeebs says:

    All of these videos are a case of Etch-a-sketch Brain. Etch-a-sketch Brain is a phenomenon where someone who is trained and capable of performing a task becomes overwhelmed by the situation. As a result, when a person gets shaken by a scenario their “mental slide tray” of knowledge is erased (like an etch-a-sketch). It can happen to the best of us. The firefighters in these videos are no different. Their efforts were well intended, just ill timed and/or poorly executed.

    All (certified) firefighters are taught in basic firefighting to:

    (a) Ventilate as close to the fire as possible
    (b) COORDINATE ventilation WITH fire attack
    (c) Clear windows of glass (from the TOP down) and window coverings PRIOR to making entry

    All are very basic in nature, but possibly seldom trained topics. Other considerations for tactical missteps:

    (a) Freelancing (maybe it was a case of someone who just likes to break stuff)
    (b) Miscommunication (not that this ever happens on the fireground)
    (c) Lack of experience (even basic training is BASIC and can only be reinforced by experience and/or mentoring)

    It’s become a cliché in the fire-service, but back-to-basic training is commonly the answer to most of our operational “problems”.

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