Fire Fighting in Canada

Features Hot topics Opinion
FIRE IQ: A smorgasbord of interesting terminology

This month we’re looking at a variety of topics, a little history and a poorly disguised reminder to fight the complacency that occasionally creeps into the workplace.

October 31, 2008 
By Peter Hunt


This month we’re looking at a variety of topics, a little history and a poorly disguised reminder to fight the complacency that occasionally creeps into the workplace.

We’re throwing in some building construction that you’ll probably never see, but is an interesting architectural feature, and some tactics that can save some time and reduce your dollar losses.

Speaking of tactics, I’d like to hear from you if you’ve had some successes or failures in trench cutting large steel roofs, and particularly if you’ve adopted a less labour-intensive approach to roof operations at these buildings.

Through the lock forcible entry
This lost art involves pulling a rim or mortise lock cylinder out of a door or vehicle using a lock pulling tool such as a Rex tool, O tool, A tool or K tool. Once the cylinder has been removed, the locking mechanism can be manipulated with a key tool or slotted screwdriver to unlock the lock.


This method is often quicker and less destructive than conventional forms of forcible entry, but unfortunately, is not taught by most fire departments.

If you have an opportunity, attend a seminar or hands on training on this subject.

The trench cut
This defensive ventilation strategy involves the creation of a roof-top firebreak to separate the burned and unburned sections of a building and is usually reserved for larger structures.

Timing, placement, tool selection and adequate staffing are essential, as many fires have passed under the feet of vent teams cutting their way across a roof in this fashion.

Although the trench cut works well on older, traditional roofs, modern steel roofs present a major challenge to firefighters and their equipment.

The Bresnan nozzle
When legendary FDNY Chief John J. Bresnan developed his specialized nozzle for fighting fires in inaccessible areas in the late 1800s, I’m sure he never dreamed it would remain such a valuable tool in the 21st century. Also known as the cellar, rotary and distributor nozzle, this appliance allows firefighters to apply water through a small hole in a floor or roof to a fire without spending unnecessary time on modern lightweight components.

When used in parallel through several small plunge cuts in a steel roof, the resulting water curtain is an excellent alternative to the trench cut, sets up faster, and uses less manpower and equipment.

The Philadelphia fire tower
From his book Fire Ground Size-up by Michael A. Terpak comes this description of an unusual and rarely seen type of high-rise stairwell…

“A further-advanced design of a smoke-free stairwell is referred to as the fire tower stairway, or by many in the East Coast as the Philadelphia Tower. This stairwell does not rely on the concept of forced air within an enclosed shaft, but with a design that has the stair shaft separate from the actual floor. It achieves a smoke-free atmosphere by having an open-air, outside balcony between the floor space and the building’s stair shaft. In this design, building occupants will traverse from the floor area, outside across an open-air balcony into a separate stair shaft. Any smoke that exits out the door of the involved floor will automatically exit into the open atmosphere. Building occupants will then be able to exit down a separate, and smoke-free shaft. This design, although outstanding, is rarely found due to the added costs in design and construction.”

Make the connection
Your department may already have a policy requiring that the first due pump connect to a building’s standpipe or sprinkler connection on arrival.

When something is showing, it’s a given that the hook-up is going to take place.

However, with the massive volume of false alarms that we’re all attending at our local high-rise, commercial, and industrial buildings, pump operators eventually become complacent and stop making the connection to save on taking up the hose later on.

As a big believer in common sense, I offer the following suggestions: If the building has a dry system, an unreliable domestic supply or fire pump, is under construction or on fire, go ahead and make the connection, grab the second due pump operator, get a water supply, and be ready when the order comes to charge the system; if the building has an adequate and reliable wet system, and a false alarm is confirmed, locate and check the fire department connections anyway. This is easily accomplished by threading a 2.5-inch double male into the female standpipe and/or sprinkler connections.

Here are some of the problems you can anticipate if you start making the connection: damaged or non-compliant threads; missing caps; damaged or missing clapper valves; connections jammed with trash, bird nests or dirt; and seized female swivels. Either approach the building staff yourself, or get the prevention guys involved in correcting the problem.

On a related note, our department operates 1.5-inch high-rise hose with a fog nozzle at small- to medium-sized fires in buildings with standpipes. The nozzle has a flush feature but is also equipped with a screen filter before the shutoff.

On several occasions, our crews have experienced a loss of water supply at working fires due to debris from the standpipe system jamming the nozzle!

Although the contaminants were not evident to the pump operator making the connection, it probably entered the system due to missing caps on the fire department connections.

So, check the connections when you’re cruising your district, and make the connection when you’re first due.

Print this page


Stories continue below