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As a fire burns, it generally moves upward, then outward. Removing windows and cutting holes in the roof, or "ventilation" in firefighting terms, stops that damaging outward movement and enables them to fight more efficiently, resulting in less damage in the long run. It also reduces the amount of carbon monoxide and Hydrogen Cyanide from the building, which "buys" victims more time and reduces the chance of a "backdraft" or smoke explosion.
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The job assigned to an Engine Company at a fire is determined by the arrival sequence of the engine. For this discussion, we will consider an assignment to a report of a house fire. This type of assignment would include two engines, one ladder, and one assistant chief.
The first engine company to arrive on the scene of a working fire is charged with extinguishment. Newburgh Fire Department policy is for a quick interior attack on the fire whenever possible. This includes making quick entry to the fire building to find and extinguish the source or seat of the fire. Throwing water at smoke from outside a window will not put out the fire. The old adage is "you have to put the wet stuff on the red stuff." Of course every fire is different, there is no such thing as a normal fire. Initial fire line placement, method and location of the entry point, and fire line size are just a few of the variables that must be considered on every scene.
The second engine company to arrive on the scene of a working fire is charged with water supply to the first engine and then backup for the first crew in the building. The "usual" procedure for the second engine company is to stop at a hydrant closest to the fire and lay a 4 inch diameter supply line on the way to the fire building. This size supply line should be large enough to supply the first engine with water to spare. Once the second engine is at the fire building part of the crew will complete the hook up of the supply line to the first engine. The third engine will be called to fill in any gaps, often stretching a 2nd or back up attack hose.
The Engine companies are responsible for fire suppression, so on the engine they carry 500 gallons of water. Each engine also carries about 1,000' of 4" hose, which can be connected to a hydrant and used to run water from the hydrant to the engine once the engine's 500 gallons has diminished. The engine, also known as a pumper, has a pump on it, which can pump over 1,500 gallons a minute. Also on the engine there are several hand lines which can be taken inside the building. The standard hand line is 1 3/4" in diameter. In comparison, a garden hose is approximately 5/8 inch in diameter.
The ladder companies carry equipment that will assist with ventilation, forcible entry, search and rescue, and overhaul. Ventilation is important because it allows the superheated toxic gases to escape and also allows the firefighters inside to do their work safer and more efficiently. All ladder trucks carry chainsaws and circular saws. These saws are used to cut holes into roofs and walls.
To be able to get into a building you need the right kind of tools, therefore ladder companies carry many different types of tools. A couple examples are the hydraulic rabbit tool, which pulls a door away from the jamb, and tools to snap even the strongest padlocks. For search and rescue the technology is now available to have handheld thermal imaging cameras. These cameras allow firefighters to see through the smoke and see the victims. Our department has one on each of our companies. Overhaul is basically cleaning up and removing all the debris that was destroyed in the fire and making sure all hot spots are extinguished.
The job assigned to a Ladder Company at a fire is determined by the arrival sequence of the ladder. For this discussion, we will consider an assignment to a report of a house fire. This type of assignment would include two engines, one ladder, and one assistant chief.
The first ladder to arrive at the scene of a working fire will assist the first engine with gaining access to the building: "forcible entry." Once entry is made the crew will do a quick search of all areas which can be entered. They are looking for victims and for fire. They will advise the engine as to where they should stretch hose lines. As they search, they will ventilate the building as they go opening windows to remove the smoke. If the fire is on the top floor, the ladder crew will go to the roof to ventilate it. After the crew has completed a primary and a secondary search they are assigned to open up the walls, ceiling, and floors to look for fire which may be burning out of sight.
The ladder operators (drivers) are assigned to position the truck to be able to use and if needed raise the aerial ladder. It is critical and often very difficult to position properly as it must be close enough to the building to reach it and due to obstructions, like parked cars, trees, overhead power lines and in some cases other emergency vehicles. Once that is completed, the drivers team up to perform outside ventilation and to set up portable ladders, and lighting. Outside ventilation usually includes breaking the windows in the fire room from the outside. This ventilation will remove some of the heat from the fire area allowing engine companies to get close enough to extinguish the seat of the fire.
This is called overhauling and the Fire Department has to be sure, absolutely sure, that ALL the fire is out and that there are no hidden fires inside the walls or partitions. Some fire departments use the term "rekindle" to describe when they are called back to a second fire (sometimes hours later). The Newburgh Fire Department does not believe in "rekindle", we believe that the only way a fire gets going again is the FD failed to properly overhaul and they left while some pockets of fire were still burning. Newburgh firefighters pride themselves on the fact that if we get called back to a fire it is only because an arsonist tried to finish the job.