|Chris Mc Loone|
The hoselines we stretch to attack a fire are our lifelines on the fireground.
They allow us to find our way out if we become disoriented, and when used to properly apply water to a fire, they help make conditions within a burning structure more tenable for all inside. We test them annually to ensure they can withstand the pressures we put through them to achieve proper flows. We maintain them, and we pack them. When we need them, we expect them to deliver water to the seat of the fire every time. However, in recent months, fire hose failure after being exposed to extreme temperatures during fire attack has garnered increasing attention. This is a storyline everyone in the fire service should be paying attention to. We shouldn’t be monitoring it because we seek to assign blame for an incident’s resolution but because of the lessons it reminds us about.
No fire hose manufacturer is going to sell a fire department a product that has failed a pressure test or that fails to comply with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1961, Standard on Fire Hose. And, fire departments are going to then test that hose according to NFPA 1962, Standard for the Care, Use, Inspection, Service Testing, and Replacement of Fire Hose, Couplings, Nozzles, and Fire Hose Appliances. So, we know that there are standards in place to ensure that what we are purchasing has been tested and that there are criteria in place for us to annually document that the hose still meets a nationally recognized standard. Some might decry the fact that it took so long for this to finally gain attention, but let’s look at the good that is coming from it.
Unfortunate though it is, sometimes it takes more time than we’d like to recognize an issue. Yes, there have been documented cases of burnt-through hoseline failures in the past. But, for reasons we don’t know, they did not receive the attention they deserve. However, now we are in a position to start scrutinizing fire hose construction to see when, how, and why hose fails when its outer layer burns through. The Worcester Polytechnic Institute recently received $75,000 to study hose and develop one that will withstand greater temperatures without failing. How we arrived at this point does not matter. It’s good news for firefighters because the outcome will be a lifeline that we can be confident will not fail in certain conditions.
But more importantly, the recent news about this hoseline study should remind all of us that it is never OK to stop asking, “Why?” when it comes to the standards with which our equipment complies. Questioning the rationale behind a standard’s requirements shouldn’t only be encouraged, it should be required.
Despite what some believe, the standards on which the apparatus we ride and much of the equipment we carry are based on and seek to ensure firefighter safety on the fireground. It is hard to argue with something that has our ultimate safety in mind. Be that as it may, we should never just accept a standard without question. The results of the Worcester Polytechnic Institute study will hopefully justify a change to NFPA 1961-if a change is warranted.
There is an old expression that says it is not about the journey but the destination. If hoselines are failing because they are burning through and fireground tactics are not to blame, then we should absolutely be asking why. Is it manufacturing defect? Is it because the standard to which it is measured is not stringent enough? Should the standard be changed to address the reports about burnt-through hoselines failing on the fireground? These are all valid questions that require answers before we blame a hoseline failure for a negative outcome.
Remember-do not to jump to conclusions. We are a passionate bunch in the fire service, and emotions run high. Our natural inclination is to try to figure out why we reached a certain outcome. Don’t stop questioning, but make sure you are asking the right questions armed with the right information to arrive at informed conclusions to make qualified suggestions. These are our tools. We have every right to question how they are measured before they arrive at our firehouse.