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Fire Suppression

 

Firefighting in Modern Times

The Orange Fire Department is an all-risk emergency response organization.  Although known as the Fire Department, fire crews spend only a small amount of their total time responding to fires.  Fire crews spend a great deal of time training for these incidents, however, because lives and property hang in the balance when fire strikes.  Fire growth, and the threat to lives and property, grow exponentially in the first minutes of a typical structure fire.  Only the best trained firefighters can keep fires from growing out of control and extinguish large fires without further damage.  With few exceptions, the Orange City Fire Department is successful in doing just this.  Read on to see just how complex firefighting can be:

Car Fires and Dumpster Fires

The majority of the fires to which the Orange City Fire Department responds are either vehicle or dumpster fires.  Vehicle fires pose various hazards which include the presence of gasoline, exploding gas-shock bumpers and extremely toxic smoke.  On occasion, people may become trapped in a burning vehicle.  This situation can prove fatal in seconds if not handled properly.  While most vehicle fires are routine, vehicles suffering collisions can come to rest on the ground in any position, whether it be on the wheels, side or roof of the vehicle.  Firefighters respond in any weather conditions including the heat, high winds or rain.  These situations only complicate efforts to put fires out safely and efficiently.

Dumpster fires can contain all kinds of hazardous materials or exploding objects, so firefighters are trained to approach these fires in a safe manner which protects them.

Residential Structure Fires

Residential fires are the most common type of structure fire to which the firefighters respond.  While these fires may be considered the “bread and butter” of the fire department, they still qualify as “low-frequency, high-risk” incidents.  That means that they occur infrequently, and present a high potential for life-loss if handled improperly.  And, while residential fires may  seem to represent one type of fire, there are all kinds of variables, such as the following:

  • Combustible roofs that throw up burning brands when the roof burns
  • Difficulty in laddering some roofs, which delays cutting a hole in the roof used to ventilate smoke and hot gases for protection of firefighters and victims trapped inside the structure
  • Tile or metal roofs that complicate the ventilation process
  • Light-weight and engineered wood construction that loses strength faster than “conventional” wood construction and collapses with little or no warning
  • Concealed spaces, especially those spaces formed by the light-weight and engineered wood construction.  Attics, floor-ceiling assemblies and ventilation-runs are examples
  • Basements
  • Multiple-story
  • Hillside locations
  • “Hoarding” or “packrat” conditions
  • Hazardous materials or munitions stored in garages or living areas

Firefighters operate within a highly-developed, yet highly flexible, structure of organization and actions upon responding to emergency incidents.  Residential structure fire responses are no exception.  The first-arriving unit gives an initial “size-up” over the radio, which basically consists of a confirmation of the location, a description of the structure construction, the fire conditions, if there are any trapped occupants, whether the unit will be in the “attack,” “command” or “investigative” modes, whether or not a water supply is needed from another fire engine, whether a rescue crew needs to be established on the exterior of the structure to standby for the rescue of firefighters who will be entering the structure, and whether or not the second-arriving unit needs to establish command of the incident.

The first-due officer normally takes a fast walk around the entire structure to observe any smoke or fire that may have been hidden from view from the perspective at the front of the structure, any occupants needing rescue, unusual construction features (such as a “one-in-the-front; two-in-the-back” construction where only one story is visible from the front of the structure, where two are visible from the back [mainly on hillsides]), hidden hazards (such as barred windows or a drained pool) or blocked access.

In the first few minutes of a structure fire, the first-arriving company officer is expected to give a clear size-up, issue initial orders to his or her crew members, take a fast walk around the structure, request additional resources as appropriate, and assign the first-alarm units if appropriate.

The initial crew making entry for fire attack and searching for victims has to ensure that it is not progressing farther into the fire than can be safely accomplished.  Fire can “flank” a crew, blow over its head, burn the floor out from under it or burn in the attack behind it (causing the roof structure to collapse on the firefighters).  Firefighters are taught to punch a hole out in the ceiling immediately inside the door if there is any chance that there is fire in the attic.  They also check the temperature of the atmosphere above their heads using a very specific pulsing of water from the nozzle of the fire hose.

Many times, firefighters cannot see the ceiling due to a smoke layer.  They can be caught in a situation where everything in a room bursts into flame at the same time from floor to ceiling if they are not careful.  This complete combustion is called a “flashover.”  Even with all of the personal protective gear they wear, firefighters are killed in these situations if they are inside the door any more than a few feet.  If there is a basement or floor below them, they “sound” the floor with a pole to make sure that there is not a weakening of the floor structure, just as they would do while walking on the roof.

Different types of tactics an hose streams are required in differently sized areas and with different types of fire.  These tactics are called “direct” and “indirect” attacks, and are employed depending upon the size of the space and the type of fire present.

The considerations listed above are only the very basic considerations.  Firefighters have very specific procedures for establishing water supplies in areas without fire hydrants, deploying fire hose, throwing ladders, using thermal imaging cameras, effecting rescues, shutting off utilities, rescuing other firefighters, evacuating a structure, avoiding collapses, establishing the incident command structure and working with neighboring agencies.

All of this is to say that the Orange City Fire Department emergency response crews are professionals who specialize in stabilizing and mitigating time-sensitive emergency events that have little or no forgiveness for mistakes.

Commercial Structure Fires

Residential structure fires share many common characteristics with commercial fires.  There are many differences, however, that pose significant safety risks to firefighters and the public. 

Buildings housing commercial uses can take the form of “strip centers,” brick or masonry construction (as in Old Towne Orange), or even concrete buildings with combustible roofs.  Each type of construction poses its own safety hazards such as collapse zones in the event that fire weakens a given structure, potential collapse of a roof upon which firefighters walk in order to cut a “ventilation” hole, lack of openings, and shared walls between businesses housing hazardous materials or processes.

Commercial fires typically involve commodities that are either on display for sale or being stored for sale or use.  Hazards typically involved with this use include materials that are stored in bulk, flammable aerosol sprays that can both explode and spread fire throughout a building, or flammable, combustible or other hazardous materials.  If stored on racks, packaging of products can become damaged by fire, with the product itself being weighted by water from fire hose or fire sprinkler water.  Smoke can obscure the product from firefighters, with the falling product then becoming a hazard for the firefighters. 

Other entrapment and fall hazards include ceiling lay-in tiles and related wiring falling on firefighters, automatic doors closing behind firefighters while conducting searches, and smoke causing firefighters to become disoriented in the fire.  Fire crews train for all of these situations to maintain a high level of safety on the fireground.

Industrial Fires

While residential fires contain products bought from commercial businesses, and commercial businesses store products made by industry, industrial fires contain yet another set of hazards for firefighters.  Industrial, or factory, use of buildings frequently includes bulk use of all sorts of materials, including hazardous ones.  Additionally, specialized manufacturing equipment and processes (such as high pressure hydraulics) pose unique hazards to firefighters.

High-rise Fires

High-rise buildings are efficient and elegant during normal operations.  When a fire starts, however, they can pose deadly threats to firefighters.  Some unique hazards in highrise buildings include restricted access and egress points through stairwells, utility shafts that run the height of some buildings, open floor plans that produce widespread fire that is difficult to extinguish, and logistical problems of transporting equipment to firefighters near the floor of the fire.  Additionally, high-rise buildings have increasingly been used to house non-traditional uses such as chemical laboratories.

Firefighters have a special command structure and response tactics that they use for high-rise incidents.  In many cases, fire crews rely upon special fire suppression systems that are installed in these buildings to assist in firefighting efforts.  Some of these systems are specialized communications systems, elevator functions that provide for fire department use, smoke exhaust fans, pressurization fans for shafts and fire water pumps.

Fire crews have to train especially for these fires and the hazards they present.  The risks for firefighters in the City of Orange are high, as there are twenty-nine high-rises within the city limits.

Wildland Fires

Firefighter deaths in wildland fires are not rare.  These fires are driven mainly by weather (wind, temperature and humidity), fuel (brush, grasses or trees) and topography (slopes).  The main hazard while firefighting in wild-land conditions is change – change in wind, fuel types and slopes.  The sun heats and cools different slopes during its course through the sky.  Winds, temperatures and humidity change throughout the day and, of course, the location of grasses, brush and trees on slopes or in gullies can cause creeping fires to “explode” into a wall of flame.

Some firefighters spend their whole careers learning how to fight wildland fires.  They start by learning a whole slate of safety orders, including the “Ten Standard Firefighting Orders” and “Eighteen Situations that Shout ‘Watch Out.’”  The east side of the City fronts wild-land areas, and is appropriately termed the “Wildland-Urban Interface” (WUI).  The Orange City Fire Department holds annual training to refresh firefighters on the techniques used for protecting homes in the WUI, to review associated safety hazards, and to teach the latest, most effective techniques in dealing with these fires.

Wildland fires use specific variations on the command structure.  Local fire agencies, including Orange City Fire, have established a “mutual threat zone” to detail specific methods of communicating, establishing a command structure and assigning resources in specific locations.  These locations are areas that present a high possibility of fires moving from one fire agency’s area of responsibility to another agency’s area.  This plan is a whole other area which demands  proficiency by all Orange City Fire Department crews.

Hazardous Materials Fires

Most people think of simple spills or abandoned hazardous materials incidents.  However, chemical plants do catch on fire, as do metal plating shops, plastics plants, coating manufacturing and application shops, and many other businesses.  Firefighters are trained to isolate, deny entry, evacuate and assess scenes where hazardous materials are involved.  They are also trained to evaluate priorities based upon life safety, the environment and property in the event of fires with hazardous materials involvement.  Every material and fire are different, so fire crews have to be well-trained in standard operations while maintaining the flexibility to address unique conditions.

Miscellaneous fires

The City of Orange contains a petroleum distribution facility, high-pressure underground pipelines, railroads and freeways.  All of these transportation-related infrastructures present a “grab bag” of possible fire incidents.  The fire crews at the Orange City Fire Department train to be proficient as the first responders to these incidents.

The Larger Perspective

Confirmed structure fires comprise only one type of incident to which the Orange City Fire Department responds, amounting to less than five percent of incidents.  That being said, the community expects firefighters to be experts in a wide range of topics to address emergencies that may arise only very rarely.  The members of the Orange City Fire Department serve the community every day by providing professional and courteous emergency medical services.  They also stand ready to protect the community in times of extraordinary need when the unthinkable happens.

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