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Why Firefighters Don't Just Stick the Hose in the Window

An expert explains the bigger picture.

I watch a lot of Youtube videos of house fires these days. Usually, on a fire, I’m pretty busy, no time to take in the bigger picture of what’s going on outside of the parts relevant to what I’m doing. Having the civilian-eye view of a fire is a relatively new concept for me, but one with immense educational value. 

Then there are the comments. “Why didn’t they do this?” “Why did they do that?” And the ever-present, “What took you so long?” Seems everyone thinks they know what we are supposed to be doing, how long it is supposed to take and exactly how to do it, except, of course … us. We take a pummeling from large crowds of people standing, arms folded, shifting from one foot to the other, that seem to always gather in the cul-de-sacs. It’s even worse from the keyboard quarterbacks on Youtube. Sometimes it’s downright dangerous … good firemen have lost their lives rushing into something because people were yelling at them to do so, instead of taking a minute to do a walk around.

It occurs to me that perhaps some education is in order. A rubbernecker’s manual, so to speak … some do’s and don’ts and some FAQ’s about what you’ll see from the cul-de-sac.

“Why don’t they just stick the hose in the window?”

You got your fire, bright, orange and burning madly out the front window. So why do those idiots take the hose around to the other side of the house and go in there? That part of the house isn’t on fire!

It's a common misconception that it is always the best thing to do is spray water on the fire as quick as you can. Tempting, too, anyone worth their bunker coat wants first steam on the fire. Depending on the situation, it might actually not be a bad idea to just stick it in the window and swirl it around.  

But here’s the problem -- sometimes the fire you see blowing out the window isn’t the biggest part of what’s burning, it’s just the part that’s found a way out. What you see just might be the tip of the iceberg. It’s found it’s way out, created a vent for a lot of fire, smoke and heat. So if the main fire, the seat, is down the hall, and you stick the hose in the window and swirl it around, all you’ve actually done is cut the vent off, trapped all that fire, smoke and heat back in the house and right on top of anyone who happens to be in there. Since you’ve cut the vent off, now the fire is going to find another way to get out, which means you’ve just redirected the fire through parts of the house that aren’t burned up yet. Way to go.

That’s why you see the guy with the red helmet in the front seat of the first truck take a walk around the house before he does anything else. He’s looking for indications of where the “seat” of the fire is, making sure there’s not a basement to fall into, or that the gas tank in your backyard isn't glowing red and ready to explode. He’s making sure the fire has a vent, and if not, how to make one to keep the smoke and heat off his firemen so they can go fight the fire and not push all that fire throught the rest of the house. He’s looking for the best way to get his people in there, not push junk all through the house and not get themselves killed in the process. 

That's why they go in on the other side of the house, where the fire isn't -- so they can push the fire OUT that window, and not all through the rest of the house. It's safer for us; and a more effective way to save the rest of your house, your grandma, or your pet dog Skippy.

And we're going to do it that way every time, no matter what you say about our mothers! 

I hope that clears that up a little bit. Tell your friends.

Jeff Allen is a longtime Loganville resident and a Walton and Henry County firefighter.

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