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Response to the Fire
When a house fire occurs, the City of Goose Creek Fire Department sends two engine companies, one rescue unit, and one chief to the call. Volunteer firefighters and off-duty personnel carry voice pagers that tell them about the emergency. They respond to their station to staff back-up apparatus and/or respond to the fire.
Each seat, except the driver seat, has an air pack, or SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus) built in. Firefighters put on their fire-resistant gear and don the mask and air pack while they are in their seat on the way for the fire. This allows firefighters to get off the fire truck quickly, ready to begin their duties.
Arriving at the Fire
Fire engines carry 500 to 750 gallons of water. This is used for small fires such as cars or trash. However, a lot more water is needed to extinguish major structure fires. Because a single 1.75-inch diameter fire hose can easily deliver 120 gallons of water per minute (about 12 times that of a garden hose), the first crew can be out of water in less than five minutes. This would place them at great risk.
Consequently, fire engines stop at the nearest fire hydrant and connect a large 5-inch diameter supply hose to it. We call this "laying a line." The engine is then driven to the fire location where firefighters disembark and take various size attack lines to the fire.
Sometimes it is difficult to get into a fire. Firefighters use heavy crowbars and other tools to gain entry through doors and windows. We call this “forcible entry.” Large saws can cut through metal and may be used to cut security bars or garage doors.
Search & Rescue
Our first priority when arriving at a home fire to save lives, the second is to protect property. The most important thing is to make sure that no one is still trapped in the home or business. We "save lives" first, then "protect property." A well-staffed and trained fire department can perform several functions at once including search and rescue, fire attack, and ventilation.
We call our first quick search of a structure a "primary search." In many fires, the smoke makes it very difficult to see, even with a powerful flashlight. We work by "feel" rather than by "sight." We bring a hose line in, and then work in one direction all the way through the house searching for victims.
We crawl on our knees, feeling out along the floor, under beds, on sofas, and in closets, searching for anyone trapped. We search with the vigor as if one of our own family members were trapped or lost. While being thorough, we must do this quickly because every minute that goes by, the raging fire increases and becomes more dangerous.
The Fast Attack
While the primary search is complete, the attack on the fire begins. In some fires, it takes only a few seconds to put out the fire. Other fires take half an hour or more.
One of the most important factors in putting a fire out quickly is whether or not it has "ventilated." The term “ventilated” is simply described as the fire breaking through the building’s side or roof. If a fire has not ventilated, and we apply just a few gallons of water on a super heated fire, it will quickly convert to the water to steam and assist in smothering out the fire. This results in minimal water damage.
Unfortunately, if the fire has ventilated, the steam goes out of the house with the smoke. Most fires require a direct application of water to the seat of the fire in order to be effectively extinguished.
Search & Rescue Again
If there are sufficient crews to fight the fire, any extra crew is given the order to perform a "secondary search." Since the primary search is very fast and conducted in a smoky environment that limits the ability to see, a victim may have be missed. As a result, the secondary search is done when firefighters can see and can be more thorough in their efforts.
Some stubborn fires won’t go out with steam conversion. These are very hot fires that have consumed a lot of fuel and are looking for something new to burn. The fire then begins to move rapidly to unburned areas of the home or business, searching for fuel and oxygen.
Without ventilation, the smoke and heat that was at the ceiling begins to fall to the floor as new heat is rapidly added. This makes it difficult for firefighters to work and can become extremely dangerous, risking an explosive phenomenon called "flashover."
Firefighters then may make a cut in the roof or walls to release the trapped heat and smoke. While this may make the flames get larger, the fire slows in its lateral movement because it has enough oxygen (fuel) where it is, and the heat has been released into the air. To remove more heat and smoke, firefighters may even set up large fans in a door or window to push it out.
A firefighter’s goal to save property means more than “brick and wood.” To us, this means someone’s home. We believe this includes the contents of your rooms. When you see firefighters carrying large tarps or a heavy canvas, it is because they are going to try to save your belongings. This is done once the searches have been completed, and there are sufficient firefighters controlling the blaze.
Fire has a tendency to spread where no one can see it. It goes whether it can find enough fuel and oxygen to survive. As a result, firefighters act as hunters searching for any small remnants of the fire. We use special tools to tear open walls and ceilings looking for any remaining smoldering embers.
If these are missed, what was a small fire extinguished early in the day can become a raging inferno later. During this phase, we take any smoldering furniture outside without moving things important to the fire-cause investigation.
A fire that takes 30 minutes to extinguish may take the Fire Department two hours to clean up. At the scene, firefighters will begin the process of readying the fire engines to respond to the next emergency.
Back at the station we will wash and scrub hose, bunker gear, hand tools, flashlights, and breathing apparatus. Any item used in the extinguishing of the fire has to be cleaned, dried, and replaced on the fire engines. It is common to spend twice as much time cleaning up from a fire as it took to put it out. Our work is not done until all fire engines are ready to respond to the next emergency.