Ever wonder if we take our job a little too seriously?
Put the fire out if you can, but if that is not possible with the personnel at hand, at least protect the means of egress, so that people can escape and rescuers can enter.
This still places rescue as the highest priority; it just uses a different method to conduct it.
The New York City Fire Department (FDNY) has an old saying that has been proven time and time again—engine members love it, and ladder members (truckies) hate it—but it’s true: More lives have been saved by properly positioned and operated hoselines than by all other means! That is the guiding principle behind the next concept.
When you don’t have sufficient personnel to perform all of the needed tasks, first perform those that protect the greatest number of human lives (fig. 1–1).
Although most firefighters would have a poor opinion of anyone who might suggest that they play God, the fact is that firefighters must occasionally make some hard choices between life and death.
Sometimes conditions are such that people are going to die no matter what actions you take.
Although this is surely a stressful, disheartening situation, firefighters must realize that additional lives may hang in the balance, requiring quick action based on rational decisions.
I recall responding to a multiple alarm fire at which two 2½-story wood-frame houses were fully involved on arrival.
Fire was already extending to two additional wood-frame houses on the left side of the fire, as well as to a six-story, nonfireproof apartment building on the right.
All five buildings were fully occupied, and coupled with the lateness of the hour, all presented high life hazards.
The first engine and ladder to arrive, both staffed by an officer and five firefighters, faced a difficult decision—where to operate first.
The two frame exposures were definitely a great hazard, but so was the apartment house.
The decision was made to concentrate on protecting that building, since it was home to 45 or 50 families.
The two frame exposures received attention next, with a single outside line used in a holding action.
Although the four families in these two buildings were severely threatened, the possible loss of more than 150 or 160 people in the apartment building far outweighed their possible loss.
The occupants of the two original fire buildings received the lowest priority, since the buildings were solid flame from cellar to ridgepole.
The word savable should be used in discussions of life hazards. A person in a room that is filled with fire isn’t savable.
In recent years, there has been a good deal of emphasis on survivability profiling of buildings, in an attempt to reduce the amount of risk that firefighters engage in at structure fires and ultimately to reduce the number of needless firefighter fatalities.
After all, human life takes precedence over all other concerns, and that includes firefighters’ lives.
This issue is extremely complicated and not easy to put in a one-line guide, beyond the fact that a person in a room that is filled with fire isn’t savable.
That does not mean that a person in a heavily involved building is not savable.
It depends on where the person is in relation to the fire.
I have seen numerous people survive in heavily involved buildings, saved by such things as a closed door between them and the fire, or an open window in the room they are in (fig. 1–2).
Fig. 1–2. At first glance, it might seem that there was no chance of survivors in this apparently fully involved structure.
Given advances in the treatment of smoke inhalation, particularly the use hydrogen cyanide antidotes and hyperbaric oxygen therapy, it is important that we don’t write off civilians too early.
There is a huge difference between “smoked” and “roasted.” In my book, they are not beyond attempting to reach unless they are “roasted.”
If they are in a room full of flame, they are dead. If they are in a room with smoke, even the heaviest smoke, they may be savable (fig. 1–3).
Fig. 1–3. Examination of the rear of the building, however, showed that there were several rooms with closed doors that offered shelter to the trapped occupants. Several children were in fact removed alive from this home. Do not get so enamored with survivability profiling as to write people off without giving them a chance.
It will be your call.