At the Fire
The basic tactics of fighting a fire can be divided into the following categories: rescue operations, protection of buildings exposed to the fire, confinement of the fire, extinguishing the fire, and salvage operations. The officer in charge, usually designated as the fireground commander, surveys the area and evaluates the relative importance of these categories. The commander also estimates what additional assistance or apparatus may be needed. Rescue operations are always given priority. Fire fighter safety has assumed increasing importance.
Once the fireground commander has appraised the situation, fire fighters and equipment are deployed. Pumper, ladder, and other truck companies, as well as rescue squads, are assigned to different areas of the fire, usually in accordance with the number and types of hose streams the fireground commander considers necessary to control the fire and prevent its spread.
In accordance with standard procedure for first alarms, fire companies go immediately to their assigned locations without waiting for specific orders. Special plans cover contingencies such as a fire covering a large area, a large building, or a particularly hazardous location. Usually on a first alarm one of the pumpers attacks the fire as quickly as possible, using preconnected hose lines supplied by the water tank in the truck, while larger hose lines are being attached to the hydrants. Members of the ladder and rescue companies force their way into the building, search for victims, ventilate the structure—break windows or cut holes in the roof to allow smoke and heat to escape—and perform salvage operations. Ventilating the structure helps to advance the hose lines with greater safety and ease, and also serves to safeguard persons who may still be trapped in the building.
Temperatures within a burning building may exceed 815° C (1500° F). Brightly burning fires principally generate heat, but smoldering fires also produce combustible gases that need only additional oxygen to burn with explosive force. The hazards to which fire fighters and occupants of a burning building are exposed include the breathing of superheated air, toxic smoke and gases, and oxygen-deficient air, as well as burns, injuries from jumping or falling, broken glass, falling objects, or collapsing structures. Handling a hose is difficult even before the line is charged with water under pressure. Nozzle reaction forces can amount to several hundred pounds, requiring the efforts of several people to direct a stream of water.