Each shift at the Monroe Fire Department formally begins at 8am each morning. At this time each Company Officer (Fire Captain) begins the shift by assessing the crew on the apparatus, the status of the apparatus and its equipment, and any training, public relations events, or utility or truck maintenance that may be scheduled for the day.
The Apparatus Operator (Lieutenant, Fire Driver), together with the firefighters (Privates and Recruits) assigned to the apparatus assess the readiness of the unit. This includes opening each compartment and pocket, comparing the contents of each to a predefined equipment list, insuring all contents are present or otherwise accounted for.
Equipment assigned to the apparatus, such as cutting saws, positive pressure ventilation (PPV) fans, hydraulic tools, and each self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) is individually operated and tested to insure readiness. Any needed maintenance, such as cleaning, refueling, changing blades, or refilling is done at this point.
For engine companies, the Apparatus Operator will also test the fire pump. The fire pump receives static water from the built-in 500 gallon water tank or from the four-inch supply hose line connected to the fire hydrant and pressurizes it to send to the various fire attack lines and discharge ports on the truck. During this test, the driver engages the pump, charges the pump with water from the tank, throttles the engine to build pressure in the pump, insures there is appropriate discharge pressure on the discharge side of the pump, and tests the pressure relief valve. He or she will also insure the diesel tank for the motor and the water tank for the fire pump are both full. Also, the fluid levels in the motor are checked, including the engine oil, transmission fluid, power steering fluid, and radiator water level.
For ladder companies, the outriggers are set and the aerial ladder is raised to insure the hydraulics, the lifting mechanisms, and the stabilizers are working to specification.
For the rescue companies, the hydraulic spreader and cutter are charged and operated under stress to check for any leaks in the hoses and couplings, and to insure they are ready at full power for any kind of a vehicle rescue.
Finally, the apparatus is check for cleanliness, both inside the cab and outside. The truck is washed and detailed if necessary to insure cleanliness and a professional appearance. Each apparatus is regularly waxed with cleaner wax, polish, buffed, and has finish wax applied to protect the clean appearance and to insure a "new" appearance for many years to come.
This process is repeated every morning at 8am at every shift change, seven days a week, every day of the year, to insure each unit's readiness for an emergency.
When a citizen recognizes the need for the fire department, he or she should call 911. After alerting the 911 dispatcher that they have need for the fire department, such as in a structure or vehicle fire, the call is routed to the Monroe Fire Department Communications Center. The call is answered, and after determining the location of the incident and other details, the appropriate fire department units are dispatched.
The Monroe Fire Department uses a tone-alert system by way of radio and pagers, to insure all units receive the alert simultaneously, and any necessary information regarding the incident is relayed to all responders.
When a structure fire is reported, an initial compliment of six units is dispatched. Included in this is the closest two fire pumpers (engines), the closest ladder company, the heavy rescue company, the EMS / Safety Officer, and the closest District Chief along with a second District Chief for safety.
The first arriving Monroe Fire Department unit, whether an engine company or District Chief, will alert the other units by way of radio traffic to the description of the scene. This usually describes the structure and the amount of fire and smoke that can be observed. He or she will also establish a command structure, patterned after the National Incident Command System (NIMS). If the initial unit on the scene is not the District Chief, then command is usually transferred to the District Chief upon his or her arrival.
Upon arrival at the structure, if fire or smoke is observed by the Company Officer on the engine company, he or she will order a connection of the 4" supply hose on the apparatus to the closest fire hydrant. This connection is made by the designated "plug man" which is usually the youngest person in seniority on the unit. This connection usually gives an adequate water supply to fight a small to medium sized structure fire.
Upon arrival at the structure fire, the Company Officer on the engine company, along with the senior private, or "side man" initiates the fire attack using standard 1 3/4" ("inch and three-quarter") hand line, one of three that are designated for fire attack, and have a reach of 200 feet.
The Incident Commander, Company Officer, or the person leading the attack has to determine if an interior or exterior attack will be used. This decision is based upon the amount of fire showing as compared to the size of the structure, the perceived stability of the roof and supporting construction, and the presence of any signs of a "backdraft."
A "backdraft" is a state of combustion where objects in an enclosed room, one where all windows and doors are shut, have burned freely and are to the point where sufficient heat as well as sufficient fuel (contents of the structure) are present, but the combustion has consumed all of the oxygen inside the enclosed room. Firefighters watch for the signs of a backdraft before entering a smoke-filled structure. One of these signs is discolored, usually yellow-gray or yellow-green instead of dark grey or brown. Another sign is small amounts of smoke exiting small openings, and then being drafted back into the opening in reverse.
If a backdraft is present but not recognized and a door is opened or a window is broken, this will give the smoldering fire oxygen, which is the final component it needs to suddenly erupt in a violent outburst of fire and superheated gases, usually followed by the fire extinguishing itself momentarily, leaving more smoldering objects. Backdrafts have been known to blast firefighters violently backward, propelling them through the air as a result of the sudden violent release of superheated gases.
If the backdraft is recognized in advance, then the Incident Commander will order vertical ventilation, where the Ladder Company will position themselves on the roof directly as close as possible over the seat of the fire and using a chain saw, axe, or K-12 saw, will create an opening through the roof for the superheated gases to escape through the opening, thereby greatly lowering the temperature in the affected room.
If the person leading the attack perceives the structure to be stable enough for an interior attack, and if an interior attack has not been declared contraindicated by the incident Safety Officer, then he or she will enter the structure at an entrance where the fire can be attacked from the unburned area to the burned area, to insure the fire is stopped at this point. If the fire is attacked from the burning area, it could be "pushed" from the burning area to an unburned area of the structure, causing more fire and smoke damage.
If an exterior attack is ordered, then it is usually because the structure is perceived to be too unstable for an interior attack. In these instances, firefighters may position themselves in exterior windows and doors and attack the fire safely from the outside.
All persons entering a hazardous area, such as inside or outside adjacent to a structure fire, are required to wear a self-contained-breathing-apparatus (SCBA). This provides approximately 20-45 minutes of breathable air for the firefighter during the interior attack.
The Company Officer on the ladder company, if directed by the Incident Commander, is usually responsible for ventilation of the structure.
This is usually accomplished by creating an opening through the roof of the structure as close to the "seat" of the fire as possible. Creating an opening in the roof directly over the fire gives the fire and superheated gases a path to exit the structure in a manner to minimize the heat and fire damage to the rest of the structure. This opening is usually created by a firefighter using a powered tool such as a K-12 saw or a chain saw, or manually with a pick-head axe.
For safety reasons, Monroe Fire Department firefighters are required to place a "roof ladder" on the roof of the structure to provide a more stable platform on which to work. This helps minimize the risk the roof collapsing under the weight of the firefighter, causing he or she to fall through to the interior of the structure.
Responsibilities of Other Fire Units
The second dispatched engine company to arrive usually assists the first engine company in connecting to the water supply and in the fire attack, providing manpower to use as the Incident Commander delegates.
The District Chief on the scene usually serves as the Incident Commander for the incident, directing firefighting tactics, managing resources, and interfacing with other agencies.
Also dispatched to every structure fire is the heavy rescue company "Rescue-2," and the EMS/Safety Officer "Med-1." Upon arrival at a structure fire, Rescue-2 will assist in the fire attack, making sure they can be placed available in the event of the development of a rescue-oriented incident.
Med-1, the EMS/Safety Officer is charged with monitoring responders to help insure safe-practices are followed, such as proper equipment is worn at all times, and reporting of scene hazards. At larger incidents, Med-1 will establish a rehabilitation area for responders to have a "cooling area," where their vital signs and EKG is monitored for any unusual or harmful changes.
After the fire is completely suppressed, or stopped to the point where it will not advance, leaving only small harmless "spot" fires, a resting period is ordered for the responders to "cool down" and regain some energy. This also gives more time for the residual smoke to exit the structure, either naturally or with the assistance of "positive pressure ventilation." Positive Pressure Ventilation uses a powerful fan to increase the air pressure in one opening of the structure, usually an entrance doorway, forcing residual smoke and harmful gasses through another opening, where they disperse harmlessly into outside air.
After the residual smoke is removed from the structure, the EMS/Safety Officer will direct a survey of the interior of the structure using an air monitor, which evaluates the oxygen content, the carbon monoxide content, and other harmful gases. This device is taken through each room of the structure where it evaluates the air content, sounding an alarm if the air is found to be unsafe. This helps insure that the responders can safely work without the cumbersome SCBA units and that when the resident returns to the structure, that there will be no harmful gases remaining.
Salvage and Overhaul
After the initial investigation is complete, the salvage and overhaul phase begins. During salvage, the firefighters, working with the resident, remove any objects that may be of value and secure them to the resident. After salvage is done, then the firefighters begin "overhaul," which is the process of looking for small "spot" fires that may grow into a re-ignition of the structure, if not extinguished. This is done by digging through the burned rubbles of scarred lumber, furnishings, and fixtures, searching for smoke or heat sources, and applying water if such a hot-spot is found.
After the fire is extinguished, and the initial investigation, salvage, and overhaul processes are complete, as well as insuring the safety of the structure, the Incident Command will report to the resident and/or property owner and give a full report of the actions of the department needed to control the fire. At this time, the control of the structure is usually returned to the property owner. The supply line and attack line hoses are drained of water, inspected for any damage, and placed back on the apparatus along with any equipment used on the scene. The units are checked to insure all equipment is present before leaving the scene.
Returning to the Station
Upon returning to the station, the firefighters remove any equipment that may need cleaning such as the SCBA units, axes, and their own personal gear and clean them to insure their readiness for another incident.
The company's apparatus operator (driver) insures that the truck is promptly placed back into a state of readiness, and that all equipment assigned to the apparatus is present, cleaned, and working properly. He or she is also responsible for insuring the apparatus has an adequate supply of diesel for motor fuel, and water in the water tank for the initial attack.
The Company Officers begin the process of documenting and reporting the incident in the computer-based incident reporting system, which later generates the fire report needed by the property owner for insurance purposes. This report contains data on the chronology of response by all responding units, information regarding the structure, location of the ignition within the structure, objects and materials damaged by fire, actions taken by the firefighters, and narrative by each Company Officer describing what was seen, done, and found.