Last night prior to our fantasy football draft (yes we do other things besides the fire department, not a lot but some), my brother and I got into one of our usual debates on fire tactics (imagine that right). he was telling me about a recent fire his department responded to and how the performance from some of the companies was less than stellar.
The thing that really got me was he made the comment of “half of them didn’t have there airpack on”. I asked him if he had is airpack on his response was “oh yea I was wearing my airpack”, then I asked him if he had his mask on. His response was “no, there was not that much smoke”. My reaction to him was “well then I think your worse than the guys with out there airpacks on”, he of course did not like this and asked me why I felt this way, so here is why.
1. A little bit of smoke is just as dangerous as a lot of smoke. Its been proven that the aggregates in smoke damage, and weaken arteries, and heart muscle. Add to that the things that are present in todays (it’s not the same as in the past since just about everything is made of synthetic material which has cancer causing agents) and you have a deadly combination which does not equally longevity in the fire service or a long life after it.
2. If you are going to carry around 25 extra pounds then why not get the benefit from it. You are carrying around this tank of air and its various accessories that are HEAVY. It makes you work harder, puts strain on your back, and you elect not to use the air in it? Then why bring it? If you’re not going to use it you would be better off just leaving it in the rig and making yourself lighter, and your work load easier.
3. Never sacrifice your safety for your comfort. This is kind of the all-encompassing rule. For all that I know about fire behavior, fuel loads, building construction, air track flow, reading smoke, and fire dynamics fire is still an unpredictable thing that we use all of those fancy words to take educated guesses at in order to extinguish it. In order to be at the height of aggressive firefighting we have to be at maximum protection when operating within the “hot/collapse” zone of a structure (which does include some exterior portions). Remember the story from this post http://averagejakeff.wordpress.com/2010/08/11/another-fire-service-debate-masking-up-when-to-do-it/ about a firefighter that had hot tar from roofing material fall from the soffit on a defensive fire? Thankfully he had his mask on. This same firefighter recently told me of another story of a fully involved vacant building fire where he was venting windows to allow access for the engine company streams. As soon as he did so the fire vented rapidly and fire vented over his head and ignited a porch roof. Good thing he had his mask on and on air already.
4. Even during the overhaul phases of the fire materials can still be off gassing and producing harmful chemicals. Even atmospheric monitoring will not tell you when that stuff is no longer producing, it’s better to just wear your SCBA or at minimum a particulate mask during overhaul.
5. Lastly AIR IS FREE! We pay a firefighter a lot of money every shift to staff our air utility truck so that he can fill air bottles at a fire. ‘That’s his job for 24 hours. It’s not costing my department anymore or less money if I only use one bottle or 20 at a fire, so I use it. Most larger departments are in a similar situation so there is no excuse for not using air. Even most of the smaller departments have mutual aid agreements, and in station or on unit cascade systems so again air is not that big of a deal. If you do find yourself in the position of having to manage your air during a shift then use it in the right circumstances, and get some particulate masks even if you have to foot the bill, your family, and your heart and lungs will thank you.
That’s my take, what do you think? Leave some feedback in the comments section, and spread the word about the blog!