At 0354 on Tuesday morning, Engine 511 was dispatched to a house fire in Gainesville. As the engine approached the scene, the officer and driver could see heavy flames glowing through the pre-dawn fog. Engine 511 entered the scene from the opposite direction of the other arriving apparatus. The driver connected to a nearby hydrant and established a secondary water supply while the officer and firefighter contacted command.
Command sent Engine 511’s crew to deploy an additional hose line to “side charlie,”* which is fire ground shorthand for the back of the house. Because there was not an engine close enough, the crew grabbed a pre-packed “high-rise” pack and connected it to the tip of a leader line. They then made entry and assisted other crews in extinguishing residual fire and ensuring the blaze would night reignite.
A second alarm* was initially sounded because the heat from the heavy flames began to ignite the adjacent exposure.* Engine 511 assisted the driver of Tower 524 to connect water supply to the elevated master stream* (i.e., the high-powered hose at the top of the extendable ladder/tower). Crews were able to knock down the fire before the master stream needed to be activated, but the quick work of these crews prepared them to contain the fire if needed.
On the fire ground, every unit and crew has a job to do. Crews from completely different stations need to work together because many of these jobs are interdependent. For example, large ladder trucks do not carry a water tank. They depend on engines (or “pumpers”) to supply water to their powerful master stream nozzles that they carry on their ladders. Big fire needs big water, and these master streams can make all the difference in keeping a big fire from spreading out of control.
Communication is critical in the fire service because crews need to react swiftly and work together. This communication is simplified because personnel use specific terms to save time and convey critical tactical information. Here are some explanations of starred terms (*) from this article.
Side Charlie: Because units arrive to a scene from all different directions, the sides of buildings are labeled A, B, C, and D (or alpha, bravo, charlie, and delta). This means when an incident commander (the fire chief with the gold helmet shield) tells a crew to go to “side bravo” they know exactly what side he means. So no one has to say “YOUR right or MY right” when the situation is already hectic.
Second Alarm: Any time a fire is reported, a single alarm is dispatched. This alarm receives a preset group of engines, rescue apparatus, command vehicles, and medical personnel. A number of conditions can warrant a second alarm, such as a rescue in progress or significant fire. Command makes the decision to activate additional resources (or back-up) so that they are on their way if needed.
Exposure: In fire tactics, a home, business, or other property near a burning building or incident is called an “exposure” because it’s proximity exposes it to the hazard of the main incident.
Master Stream: A master stream is a nozzle that can deliver 500 or more gallons of water per minute. These streams are often mounted on ladder trucks or tower trucks, giving them an elevated reach that can spray down into the seat or heart of a fire, especially one that has burned through a roof. Hand lines (or hoses operated by one or more firefighters) usually deliver about 150 gallons per minute and are limited in their reach because they need to be advanced through doors or windows and then perhaps even down halls to reach a fire.