Hooks, Rakes and Slipshod Ventilation

Hooks and, depending on where you work, rakes are relatively inexpensive items when compared to other essential equipment carried on your ladder trucks. There tends to be plenty of them on the rigs and you can always find one holding up a truckie or RIC member. However, they have absolutely no value when you leave them in their holders or down on the street. The video below is interesting for the many highlights it contains, but no more so than the use of the ‘foot hook’. Not knowing the building, fire and department specifics doesn’t necessarily matter. The point is not to bash or quarterback the operations but to take a look at how it is we might become distracted or simply forget something in the height of the battle.

Lesson No.1 When venting windows either for life or fire take out the whole window. The stream being played into the window will not hit the fire at the ceiling level (if that is the goal) if panes of glass and other obstructions remain.
Lesson No.2 Don’t use your body as the force or leverage needed to finish the roof cut. The rigs carry tools; stop and check the bucket before you move into position. It only takes a second to see if you have a hook. Even though we may be fortunate enough to be tethered by harness to the tower bucket we can still be thrown off balance and drop into our vent hole.
Lesson No.3 Expect fire. Notice the amount of smoke pushing, seeping, dripping from that roof. Should we have expected anything less once the cuts were done and open? Equally important is the fact that while the fire venting out is a good thing, the excitement it causes leads the crews below to play their hosestreams on the venting fire. In essence, defeating what was just accomplished.
Lesson No.4 Hooks provide reach. Other than a closet hook the average hook gives you at least 4′ of minimum reach. In the case of venting the window from that shade awning a hook would have been a much better choice of than the axe. In the case of the roof work a hook would have been a much better choice than the leg. Note: did you see the number of hooks laying on the backstep of the engine? I count three, so it is obvious there was no shortage.
Lesson No.5 Spectators. I count two “white coats”, one “white hat” and one “vest”, so obviously we can rightly assume that there are four individuals operating on this side of the structure who have some degree of authority. There are also a number of other personnel evident as well. As proven by the video no one thought to grab a hook or two; throw a ladder to the window for ventilation (and vent the window with said ladder in its raise); or throw a ladder to the roof as a secondary means of egress. In a time where we bemoan the fate of short staffed companies, having at least half a dozen members standing around (see video) certainly isn’t encouraging.
Lesson No.6 Roof design keeps water out, unless you cut a hole in it. Again we see the excitement of the fire causes the misapplication of hosestreams. It is a basic tactic that we do not operate hosestreams into ventilation holes, when the purpose of the hole is ventilation. There are certain situations where we might do this, but generally it is not an acceptable practice. If the purpose of the roof work was to reveal the fire area more for extinguishment, then the hole could have been enlarged, from the safety of the tower bucket, or additional ventilation holes could have been cut.

These lessons may appear as a form of quarterbacking, but that is not the intent. I’ve rewritten this article many times before posting to make certain that it doesn’t come across as a bash. What we see is nearly nine minutes of video, not a one-thousandth of a second photograph, so I don’t believe these ‘lessons’ are too far off the mark. If I’m wrong, then speak up, especially if you were there. I’d glady write another post about this fire with your assistance. That would be equally beneficial, if not more so; none of us ever stop learning or know all there is about the job.

Truck company operations are probably the one part of basic firefighting whose normal tasks can be practiced over and over and not need a completely realistic scenario to be teachable. Utilizing numerous props for forcible entry and ventilation, and the ease of simply throwing ladders against the firehouse, training on truck work is perhaps done easier than engine work. There’s no hose to rack over and over again; you don’t have to worry about getting things wet; you don’t have to place the rig out of service when you use it. It is only when we fail to make our training as antagonistic as safely possible that we end up with rash, unsatisfactory actions on the fireground, sometimes captured on video.

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  • Richard Kirrstetter says:

    Windows should always be fully broken & vented. No Monday morning QB but….. the vent on the roof should have been cut in the early stages. Where was the 6’hook to push down the cieling boards. All I can say I hope the brothers were not inside when the heavy streams opened up. This was defeating the venting process.

    Richie Kirrstetter
    Retired FDNY, Safety chief Lansing NC Fire & rescue

  • Scary…scary because I can see bits of my own dept. in similar situations. This is definitely a great video to reflect on and learn from. I think your lessons were a good summary of key points, and reinforce the need for constant training from the basics on up. Thanks for giving me a morning discussion item for next shift.

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