Friday, June 28, 2013

Not Sexy but Necessary: Overhaul

There are few jobs on the fire ground less sexy than overhaul.  That said, it is right up there with laddering the building, ventilation, and the like in terms of importance.  Long before I was old enough to wear bunker fear for more than cute pictures, I heard my father, “generation one,” repeat one of his main firefighting philosophical tenets on the subject multiple times:  “There is no such thing as a rekindle.” 

Overhaul can be hard, dirty, nasty work.  It’s a time when many tired firefighters get injured.  On heavily damaged structures it can be highly challenging.  One bad habit some departments get into is substituting the use of Class A foam for good overhaul practices.  “Just soak the hell out of it.  The foam will take care of it,” is something I’ve heard more than once.  Sorry, but there is no substitute for good overhaul—period. This is not a “how to” piece, just a suggestion to refocus on an important ingredient in the recipe. 
It can present a great learning opportunity for inexperienced firefighters.  They can learn about fire behavior, travel, construction types, cause and origin, and myriad other topics.  Nothing says that the officer supervising them has to remain silent.  He or she can talk about all these things while the crew works, using things they find as examples.  We have great tools today, unavailable years ago, such as thermal imaging cameras, but even this can be a crutch for proper overhaul if you let it. 
The building is in the basement and not safe or accessible?  Don’t just go home and wait for the neighbors to call in the “rekindle.”  Leave a single company or make arrangements to send one out at a set time to take care of the anticipated flare-ups.  You may need to do either or both for days, depending upon the building. 
Whatever the fire situation, don’t just call it out and go home because everybody is tired.  There’s no such thing as a rekindle—only the fire that didn’t get put out the first time. 

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