Big Highway Fires Require Special Tools

Last month we took a general look at highway fire responses from a water suppression standpoint. This month we are going to look at some tools and equipment that can help us do the job when responding to a fire involving a vehicle whether it is for a small compact car or a semi tractor trailer.

Let’s break the tools and equipment down into several areas starting with water supply. If we are to put the fire out we must have a water supply. Having some short sections of 3-inch hose and a manifold to aid in filling apparatus will help keep the area clear of unneeded hose along the roadway where you need to keep a tight operational area to ensure safety.

This also allows for an easy set up and connection and control of these operations. Add in some storz connections to these lines and you have an even better situation.

When working with dry standpipes along the roadway or with connections in sound barrier walls, a short 25- or 50-foot section of 5-inch hose is a great piece of equipment to have as it allows for easy hook up and for fishing a line though a wall opening without having to work with a large amount of hose.

Again this helps keep the excess length of hose lying around to a minimum. These small hose sections should be stored someplace where they are easily accessible such as the pump compartment, running board or front bumper.

Portable Tanks, Jet Siphons

Another piece of water supply equipment that is a great tool not only for this type of response but whenever you are using two collapsing portable tanks is a jet siphon. This device helps develop and maintain a good reliable flow between the two tanks when using this type of water supply operation which we may need when dealing with larger vehicles and larger cargos.

While on portable tanks, don’t forget to get an old salvage tarp or cheap plastic tarp to put your tank(s) on so the road gravel and debris don’t puncture it.

In the area of fire suppression, let’s start with a good tool box to carry tools for gaining access, disconnecting batteries and other operations. A good set of bolt cutters and a set of irons for gaining initial entry to the areas of the vehicle are necessities.

As for direct fire suppression, consider placing a piercing nozzle on your engine. There are several of these nozzles being made from various manufacturers.

I happen to prefer the Superior Flamefighter as it is a good, tough, and proven unit that can be struck easily, forcing it into an object to get water to the seat of the fire. It is also available with handles to help hold and maneuver.

Augustus and TFT also make some tough piercing nozzles. The Augustus tool can also be fitted to a pressurized water extinguisher for additional mobility which is quite handy whether you are dealing with an engine compartment fire or a deep seated cargo trailer fire.

Again this type of nozzle is especially handy when dealing with a cargo trailer fire. You can use this nozzle to breach the outer skin of the trailer to get water and or foam to the burning material inside of the trailer. This gives you some initial knock down time while you are trying to get into the vehicle.

Another nifty tool for this type of operation is the old cellar nozzle. The nozzle and a short piece of 2.5-inch or 3-inch hose attached to the nozzle dropped through a hole in the top side or roof of the trailer will help get some water onto the fire while you are opening up.

Consider Attack Lines

What about our attack lines? How long are they – 150 feet, 200 feet or 300 feet? Sometimes longer is not better when we are out on the road. In some instances it might be better  to have a 100-foot or 150-foot attack line to avoid having to stretch hose every where to get rid of the excess.

If you don’t have a short line then maybe look at putting one on the engine or a few rolls in a compartment or use your hi-rise bag if you have one and if it has around 150 feet of hose.

When it comes to nozzles, high flow nozzles are the best, but they also must be controllable.

Take a look at the break-apart nozzles, especially the ones with the slug tips which offers the advantage of a variable stream and solid stream.

A solid stream is nice to have when dealing with a cargo full of Class A materials or a garbage truck fire to get good penetration into the seat of the fire.

All-Purpose Nozzles

Also, another advantage is that you can extend it easily if needed without much effort. If you have one of the obsolete Navy all-purpose nozzles with the right-angled extension on it sitting in a closet, and you run a lot of tractor trailer fires, you might want to dig it out and put it back on the engine. This is another nozzle that is good to get water into the hard to reach places.

The Blitz Fire by TFT is also an excellent tool for suppression especially when dealing with large vehicles, trucks and flammable liquid/hazmat fires. This little blue baby lets you deliver up to 500 gpm with an easily deployable device.

If you have one of these it should be preconnected rather than just sitting in a compartment.

While we are talking about suppression, let’s talk about foam application. We could spend days on this and everybody has a theory.

But let’s just look at a few basic. The first is supply. What type of foam do you carry? How much do you carry? If you need more, where can you get it quickly?

Can you call upon an ARFF crash truck or a foam unit and do you have the telephone number handy?

If your engine is not set up with a foam system, then you should look at getting a good eductor and a nozzle that will function easily with it – then train and train some more on using foam and your equipment.

Another neat unit for foam production is the small foam pack unit such as the TFT Pro-Pak along with several others that are being manufactured these days.

Portable Foam Packs

These compact units allow you mobility and the ability to easily lay down some foam.

If you have an eductor, consider putting it in a small bag with a matching nozzle and keeping it with your foam supply so everything is in one place.

Also don’t forget to put a laminated copy of how it all works to take the guess work out of the operation when those with less experience are on the engine.

Some suppression support tools and equipment that make our job easier include the thermal imaging camera which can be used to tell where the fire is when dealing with cargo trailers and other boxes.

Also folding attic ladders, Little Giant and step ladders for ventilation and access are important.  Portable lighting, various saws and forcible entry equipment, positive pressure ventilation equipment and overhaul tools should also be readily available.

And, you should have a small book with contact numbers for heavy equipment when we need to go to the overhaul by front end loader and dumpster operation. Or, better still, make sure your dispatchers have all the contact information too should you need them to make the contacts.

Remember, the most important consideration during any operation is safety first.

Next, you must have a good, established water supply, with additional water available as necessary to meet the demands of the kinds of vehicles involved. Then, you need to be able to get access to the fire and apply water to its seat to effect extinguishing and declaring the scene under control.

Keep in mind you’ll need to overhaul quickly and get out as fast as possible to keep everyone safe.

Don’t be afraid to call for the big guns, like a crash truck, when dealing with something bigger than you might be able to handle with the equipment you have.

Remember, you’ve got to get the wet stuff on the red stuff to be successful and working a big fire on the highway can sometimes be difficult at best.

As always be safe and return to quarters.

Editor’s Note: Allen Baldwin is the manager of operations and incident response for the Pennsylvania Turnpike commission and a volunteer captain with the Gettysburg (Pa.) Fire Department. He has been a firefighter and EMT for over 25 years, once serving as a career fire chief, and is an instructor with the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy and several community colleges.

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