By John Morse
The most basic concepts of putting out a fire is to put water on the fire. When you put water on a fire you can extinguish it by cooling it with water to remove the heat, or smother it with water and remove the oxygen. It sounds pretty simple but there is really a lot that goes into getting the water on the fire.
Fire departments are rated by the Insurance Service Office. The dispatch system accounts for 10% of the department’s rating, the entire fire department accounts for 50%, and the water system accounts for 40% of the rating. That percentage really shows how important it is to have a good water supply. That 40% has nothing to do with your manpower, training, or apparatus, just the water supply like water mains and hydrants. The water system is just about as important as the entire fire department.
Newly built industrial areas may have 12 inch or larger water mains. Sophisticated systems have booster pumps and water mains set-up to provide a lot of water. In older towns with older buildings, the water mains can be much smaller, sometimes only 4 or 6 inch water mains. When you have these small water mains, added by years of sediment, you won’t start with decent pressure and the water available for a fire will be cut drastically. When you try and flow a couple master streams with these systems, you quickly find out that it won’t work. When the second line is opened, the first one dribbles.
If you have some areas like this in your town, it is a good idea to do some preplanning and be ready when that fire happens. If you know water supply is going to be a problem, you can make some plans to help things going a little smoother. Most important is knowing that you have a water supply problem. Knowing in advance will keep you from committing manpower to the interior of a building.
Coming up with alternatives during a pre-plan is much better than changing your plan at a fire. Relay pumping can be used to get water from further water mains or large diameter hose can be used to provide an “above ground” water main. While some of this pre-plan training can be done on paper, there also needs to be some hands-on training. If you are planning on using large diameter hose, make sure your rig or the mutual aid rig has enough hose to reach a different branch of the water system. Planning to have a neighboring rig come in and drop there LDH for you is a great idea, until they show up and you find out they are 100 feet short.
Hydrant maintenance and flushing are also critical to a water supply system. Hydrant that haven’t been opened for years are going to be much less reliable. Besides being hard to open, these hydrants might have issues with sediment, debris in the hydrant or malfunctioning valves. Annual flushing and maintenance is the best way to keep your water system in good condition and also allows you to familiarize yourself with hydrant locations and fire loads in areas with poor water systems.
Water is the easiest way to put out a fire, but making sure the water is there is not quite as easy. A proper maintenance plan, and building pre-planning will go a long way to keep you from coming up short.
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