Sunday, July 26, 2009

Getting Familiar with Unfamiliar Dirt

I recently spent a week on vacation that included a lot of reading on the beach. I was able to complete a six-book series, the Corean Chronicles by L.E. Modsitt, Jr... an excellent read if you're into the genre. In one of the books, a group of soldiers is deployed to an area with which none of them are familiar. They're tired from traveling and just want to set up camp and relax, but their officer immediately sends out patrols. They complain, but the officer tells the soldiers that they need to "Get familiar with the unfamiliar dirt" where they're operating in order to prevent any nasty surprises from the enemy. Frank Brannigan always told firefighters that buildings were our enemy, and "Know Your Enemy". Driving around a beachfront town that I hadn't visited in several years reminded me that there was a lot of unfamiliar dirt there, and that the unfamiliar dirt had a lot of unfamiliar buildings on it.

How will getting familiar with unfamiliar dirt help firefighters? It helps us learn how to gain access to places we may never have been, it helps us learn occupancy-specific hazards, and it helps us plan firefights in places that aren't directly conntected to the dirt.

Some firefighters don't like to spend time on the dirt at the Training Center.
The places you train are built on some very important dirt.
I spent four hours on this dirt yesterday (Sunday) with several companies of very dedicated firefighters. So did two other chief officers, one of whom was off duty at the time.

Some of your dirt has structures containing bad things like hazardous materials containers...

...or hazardous materials processing.

The dirt may be open and inviting on Side A.
No matter how familiar you are with Side A, if you have to bail out the Side C door of this occupancy, you're in trouble.

How about this dirt? Which Side C door connects to which strip mall occupancy?
How well will the cantilivered awning hold up if fire attacks the interior anchors?
If you need to force entry on Side C, will basic engine tools get you through the fortified doors, or will you need the additional power carried by a ladder or rescue company?

Is some of the structure built a long way above the dirt?
How will you access the upper floors of this structure...especially if the 1st due is a single-station volunteer fire department? Are there fire protection systems to help you keep this building from becoming part of the dirt?

Does the structure extend horizontally away from the dirt?
Do you have a way to handle emergencies in places that are not readily accessible from the dirt?

Are some of the structures on the dirt crammed tightly together?
Can you safely walk between the fire building and an adjacent exposure, or is there a chance that you'll be trapped or burned if part of the fire structure collapses or autovents while you're walking the 4-foot wide dirt between the buildings?

Does the dirt include an antique building modified into apartments over an industrial occupancy with no fire protection systems?

The officer in the Corean Chronicles had an important teaching point for the fire service...learn the unfamiliar dirt to which you're first due... that you don't get familiar with this kind of unfamiliar dirt.

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