Can You Hear Me Now?

Almost 7 years ago we featured a post titled Under, Over, or Not At All? discussing the pros and cons and the ins and outs of wearing a radio strap on the fireground. The post generated a great discussion with well over 100 comments. Many of our readers certainly have their preferences and some had great justifications. Recently, Fairfax County (VA) did an extensive study and report on the topic. Click here for the report. The report makes some pretty startling discoveries, and should be reviewed by everyone in the fire service, from the guys crawling down the halls, and to the Chiefs behind the desk.

The photo above shows the least ideal, but unfortunately the most common way to carry a radio, a coat integrated radio pocket. Signal loss, the actual closure of the pocket failing to keep the radio contained and exposing the radio to a greater level of thermal insult are all likely scenarios with this method of carry. The worst case scenario would be radio failure that could potentially lock up the tactical channel, having a negative impact to everyone of the fire ground.


Besides the obvious added entanglement hazard, carrying the radio on the exterior of a coat also exposes it to the negative conditions found on the fireground. The strap outside the coat also puts the radio at a higher risk for failure due to thermal and moisture issues.


Carrying the radio with a strap under the coat, but hanging low enough to have the antenna outside and away from the body (see photo below) is the most ideal and gives the user the best operational reliability.


So after reading the detailed report, has anyone have a change of heart? Is anyone going to start to carry the radio differently based on this report? Do any of your departments MANDATE a particular method of carry? We suggest printing the report and leaving it on the kitchen table for everyone to review and discuss. One of the most important findings in the report is that the failure of a single radio on the fireground could potentially put everyone else at risk by tying up the fireground tactical channel. A special thanks goes out to the Communication Section Of Fairfax County Fire for their commitment to this research and sharing of this report.



About a year ago the FDNY, Underwriters Laboratory (UL), and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) did a study on ventilation and what effect it has on a fire. Here is a great 2 minute video about VES and the effects of closing the bedroom door and not closing the bedroom door. It’s a great visualization of conditions when someone leaves the door open and does not isolate the bedroom. Even thought we feel you shouldn’t have to add the “I” and corrupt the acronym VES, the isolation step is in fact one of the most important components of performing VES. Click here if the video is not showing up below.


FDIC 2014

We just got notice that VentEnterSearch’s own Jimm Walsh will be presenting his class titled Aggressive Truck Functions for a Safer Fireground again next year at FDIC 2014. We’ll post more specifics about the exact date and time when the details become available.

Here is a short description of the class:

Many people associate the term aggressive with unsafe, particularly when it
comes to truck company functions. The fireground can actually be made safer
through the timely execution of truck company functions. This presentation will
stress the importance of aggressive truck functions on the fireground and their
positive impact on fireground safety. Due to the limited staffing that most
departments are currently facing, we must improve our efficiency on the fire
ground. Many departments are cutting staffing or eliminating truck companies
all together. Aggressive truck functions will allow everyone on the fireground
to work in a safer and more efficient manner. This presentation will expand,
and give valuable insight on the understanding of aggressive yet safe truck
company skills, and the value of training. Class participants will gain valuable
tips on how to increase the efficiently and effectiveness of their truck
company functions. In addition, participants will better understand the
necessity of truck company functions on every fire. Most importantly,
participants will better understand how aggressive truck company functions
can be utilized to create a safer fireground.

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Two Bed Garage

David Wolf from Cy-Fair (TX) found another reason why we should always expect the unexpected. He found this garage converted to two bedrooms on a house fire. They needed to make entry to the garage, but found the garage door locked. They cut the door with a rotary saw, only to find wood studs and drywall behind it. They cut the studs, breached the drywall, and found two bedrooms in the garage space.


Here are a few things to think about while doing an interior search: Typically there will be a 4″ drop from the interior floor level to the garage floor level. Many laundry rooms are between the interior of a residence and the garage, meaning to get from inside the house to the garage you commonly have to walk through the laundry room. While preforming a search if you turn towards side “A” you may be heading towards a garage. Also garages tend to lack windows and secondary egresses. Signs like these could give you good clues that you may be searching a “two bed garage.”

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Third Time is a Charm

Lieutenant Chris Wells from Dunn’s Corners (RI) sent in this photo of something they recently ran into on a single story seaside residential structure fire. Upon arrival crews found the building heavily involved, but were able to knock it down within 10 minutes. The truck crew quickly went to work on the roof, opening up a vertical vent (shown by red arrow). When they tried punching through, they found a flat membrane roof underneath (shown by yellow arrow). The second roof was close enough to also be cut with the saw. Once the second roof was opened, the crew tried pushing through again to find ANOTHER separate asphalt flat roof (shown by green arrow.) They already had moderate smoke coming rom the hole, and decided to abandon the vent. Within minutes of abandoning the roof, fire was visible from the vent hole. Once the fire was out, it was found that the fire had gained access between roofs three and two, creating a cockloft effect. Crews were able to knock this fire down by making an attack from the gable end of the roof.

Another interesting part of this story is that the fire was started by POT on the stove. The occupant was cooking 4lbs of butter and mixing in marijuana buds. He passed out in his bedroom, and another occupant awoke to find the fire on the stove. While trying to remove the flaming POT from the stove, the occupant caught the living room on fire and received second and third degree burns on approximately 50% of his body.

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In our recent post titled All Jacked Up we included a lot of technical information about the three most commonly carried jacks. It is important that we know the capabilities and limitations of our equipment. It’s handy to have all this information in one place for a quick reference or studying purposes.  Here is a way to keep all the technical information in one place by making a laminated “cheat sheet” or quick reference card. Below is the list of equipment and technical information on the cheat sheet pictured. You can easily design your own based on your department’s specific equipment and needs.


High-Lift Jacks

  • 60” and 48”
  • Lift height= Total height minus 10”
  • Base rotates and accepts 5/16” chain
  • Base is 7” wide to accept two 4X4’s
  • Shear bolt breaks at 7,000lbs. Max load=4660lbs. (2660lbs for the last 12” of the 60” jack)
  • Lifts 7/8 of an inch each ratchet. M/A=40to1
  • Top clevis rated at 5000lbs.

Paratech Vehicle Stabilization Kit (VSK)

  • 2 short- 47”(4ft)-60”(5ft)
  • 2 long- 68”(5ft)-96”(8ft)
  • 10,000lbs max w/ a 2to1 safety factor
  • Heads accept a 3/8” chain
  • 45-60 degree angle is ideal


  • 6 bags- 12,17,21,31,35, and 2.8 ton, set at 118psi
  • Bags will only lift full rated load 1”
  • Measure surface area of bag (in inches) touching load and times by 118 to determine current capacity

Petrogen Torch

  • 1.5 quarts of non-ethanol gas, only fill 2/3rds full
  • Tip size 0 (zero) cuts up to ¼”
  • Use tip sizes 81 or 83 for material greater than ¼”
  • Set gas and O2 at 20psi
  • Start up: Set pressures, purge O2, open O2 valve ½ turn, Open gas till fine mist, purge O2, light, inner blue flame 3/16”

Hydra Ram

  • 10,000 lbs. of force w/ 4” of spread
  • Inward doors of metal construction

Team Search Bags

  • Main line bag: 200ft of 9.5mm Kevlar coated poly rope
  • Rings and knots every 20ft, number of knots times 20 will tell FF how far down the line they are
  • 3 retractable line bags: 20ft of 6mm Kevlar coated ploy rope

All Jacked Up

There are three main styles of jacks that a frequently found on our rigs. They each have their strengths and weaknesses, so we decided to do a little comparison in this post. The three main jacks that will be discussed are Hi-Lift Jacks (left), Bottle Jacks (middle), and Racing Style Floor Jacks (right).

Bottle Jacks are the smallest (in size) of the jacks reviewed. The size to lift ratio on this style of jack is tremendous with some bottle jacks having lift capacities in excess of 20 tons. Most bottle jacks have an adjustment screw that can be used to bridge the gap from the jack’s fully collapsed (stored) size to the height of load that will be lifted. The adjustment screw prevents wasting any of the lifting stroke of the jack. The handle of a bottle jack is typically small, and requires more movements to produce lift. The handle size and location typically require the operator to be very close, and possibly under the load, which present obvious safety concerns.

A small 2 ton bottle jack would have a 7” stored height with about 5” of potential lift. This would result in about 12” of extended height up to about 15” of height when the extension screw is in use. This jack would typically have a 3.5’ x 4” base and weigh about 6 pounds. Keep in mind that the 7” stored height of this jack won’t fit under most common passenger vehicles.

A larger 20 ton bottle jack would have a 11” stored height with about 7” of potential lift. This would result in about 18” of extended height up to about 21” of height when the extension screw is in use. This jack would typically have a 6” x 6.5” base and weigh about 31 pounds.

Racing jacks (floor jacks) are the quickest an easiest to use of the different jacks being discussed. Racing jacks are typically fabricated out of steel, aluminum, or a combination. Aluminum is obviously the lightest, and as a result, is typically the most expensive. Aluminum is the best choice for our use since we’ll be required to pull the jack out of a compartment. No reason to create a career ending injury just to save a little bit of cash on this useful piece of equipment. Racing jacks with the single solid large wheel on the front are better and easier to maneuver than the ones with two smaller wheels on either side of the jack. Some manufactures even offer a “low profile” racing jack if the average stored height is a concern. Racing jacks typically have long handles that place the operator away from the lift. This provides a little more safety and allows the operator to see more of the lifting evolution during its use. Racing jacks also require the fewer movements of the handle to produce all of the jacks lift potential. The one pictured here produces 1 ¼” of lift with each pump and only requires 9 pumps. One drawback to the racing jack is the natural arc of movement produced during the lift. As long as this arc is understood and anticipated ahead of time, it shouldn’t produce too much of an issue during a typical lifting operation. Because of this arc either the jack, or the load is going to move during the lift. There might be certain operations where this arc could cause issue however. Racing jacks also have the ability to roll with a load on them, which again, depending on circumstances could be either a good thing or bad thing.

Both the bottle jack and racing jack produce their lift via a hydraulic cylinder. As with any other hydraulic cylinder, they need to periodically be used and placed under a load. Simply taking the jack out of the compartment and operating it in a non-loaded fashion is not enough. Placing it under a load ensures that the O-rings maintain lubrication, and handle pressure, and support a load. Any time a new jack is placed in service it should be noted how many pumps it requires to operate correctly. Its not a bad idea to write on the jack how many pumps it takes so you can always gauge the jack’s performance.

Hi-Lift jacks come three different lengths, and even a specialized series of “first responder” jacks. All three models are rated at 4660lbs (but are tested to 7000lbs. Its important to note that the last 12” of lifting height of the larger 60” jack is only rated for 2660lbs (tested to 4000lbs.) Please note that the Hi-Lift shown in these photos has the top clamp-clevis removed due to the way the jack is stored in the rig.

The 36” Hi-Lift weighs 27lbs max and has a max lifting height of 27”. The 48” Hi-Lift weighs 30.2lbs and has a max lifting height of 38.63”. The 60” Hi-Lift weighs 33.3lbs and has a max lifting height of 49.75”.

The Hi-Lift has the greatest range of motion, each pump of the handle produces about 7/8” of lift requiring 55 pumps to produce 50” on lift on the largest jack. The jack tends to be unstable when standing on it’s own, but it becomes much more stable when placed under a load. The part that actually holds the load is relatively small, and does not project far from the jack, this limits the lift (or purchase) points of the jack. Most modern vehicles don’t have solid bumpers anymore, so we have to look for other options. One of the most effective lift points on a vehicle is the wheel well. It will damage the vehicle, but if someone is trapped under it, that should be the least of your worries. Hi-Lift also offers an accessory called the LM-100 Lift Mate, which is specifically made for this purpose and to prevent damage. The Lift Mate is rated at 5,000lbs and attaches to the jack to provide two hooks that can attach to almost any style wheel. This allows the jack to get a purchase on the wheel as the lift point as shown below.

The Hi-lift requires the most maintenance of each of the jacks reviewed. The climbing pins and reversing latch all need to be lubed in order to work smoothly. The Hi-Lift also requires the most training to remember how to use it correctly. However, the most interesting thing about Hi-Lift’s is that they can be used for much more then simple lifting operations. For example, they can be used either as a winch or as a clamp with a 7000lb rating. These expanded capabilities make the Hi-Lift (particularly the first responder edition) and excellent “tool for the tool box.”

Click here for the detailed instruction manual on the jack.

In the photo below each jack is raised to it’s highest point.

As with any other lifting operation, the adage of lift-an-inch / crib-an-inch applies. We should not make a habit of operating under a load that is only supported by a jack, regardless of which type of jack it is. A quick stack of cribbing makes the operation much safer with little effort. Anytime we are lifting a vehicle we should make sure to chock the wheels to prevent any front to back movement during the lifting operation. We need to remember that when we raise a vehicle on the front and back axis, the vehicle will naturally raise in an arc motion. Both the bottle jack, and the Hi-Lift jacks remain stationary, which could result in either the jack tipping over, or the vehicle slipping off the lift point of the jack. The floor jack on the other hand is designed to work with this arc, since it can roll into position.

The two photos below show how arc that is created as the racing jack is operated.

As we mentioned earlier each jack has its pros and cons, its all a matter of determining what your needs are and understanding which jack is best for the task at hand. Its not a bad idea to have one (or more) of each style jack available for whatever may come your way.


Boxed Lock

Alex Newman sent in these pictures of an interesting supplemental lock he recently came across. Alex was a firefighter with Escambia County (FL) prior to leaving to join the military. Even though he’s currently deployed, he’s still thinking like a firefighter!

As you can see in the image below the supplemental lock is secured with a “guarded” padlock.

Below, the lock has been removed, on the left door you can see the tab that the supplemental lock slides into. On the right door you can see the bracket where the padlock would go when its installed.

Below is the supplemental lock removed.

There are a few different options for forcing this set-up. Bolt cutters would certainly be the quickest, but only if they were readily available. Unless we knew this lock was present ahead of time, but that’s not likely. The tabs on the door are through-bolted and back plated, so the bolts are not likely to be “pulled through” the door by prying. The depth that the padlock is recessed might be the solution. The padlock looks shallow enough that the pike of the halligan could be inserted into the shackle. Once the halligan is in place, a few solid strikes with an 8lb axe would either defeat the padlock or hasp.

The rotary saw is always an option as well. In this case a small cut on the left side of the supplemental lock would defeat it’s attachment point on that door as shown below. Once that is complete, forcing the door traditionally with the irons (above or below the supplemental lock) would complete the task. The supplemental lock would remain attached to the left door, and swing out of the way when that door was opened.



Nate Quartier from Ormond Beach (FL) Quint 92 “B” sent in something they recently ran across in a local church. Crewmember Jim Peters noticed an odd looking piece of metal sitting on a table.

Upon giving it a closer look, they noticed it was actually a little drop bar for an exterior door. After some investigating they noticed all of the other exterior doors had they installed as well. The mini-bar (no, not that kind of mini-bar) simply drops into place on the lower knob-side corner of the door, and holds onto the inside of the frame.

The exterior of the door did reveal 2 small rivet heads for the bracket, however they might go unnoticed in the dark. They crew dropped the bar into place and began lightly “testing the door” and found it to be much more sturdy than it appears. Anyone good with the irons will still be able to get this door fairly easily, but it’ll put up some good resistance at the bottom. Removing the rivets by punching them through with the pike of the halligan might be a viable option.

Another thing to consider is if a crewmember encounters this supplemental lock from the inside while trying to make an escape of the building. What if the drop bar was padlocked to the bracket? Placing the halligan just to the right of the bracket and to the left of the “hook” that goes to the door, a clockwise twist should shear the bolts and defeat the lock. Or perhaps placing the halligan in the same spot and simply pulling back, using the halligan as a lever might be another viable option. We need to expect supplemental locks on every door, and be able to identify and visualize how to remove and defeat them, both from the outside and the inside. Just another reason why secondary means of egress should be established early in the incident, before they are ever needed.


If We Don’t Search It Who Will?

Strong work from Columbus (OH) Ladder 23! They had a fire at a “Vacant” structure… They searched the structure and found a 8 year old boy inside, who probably would have not made it if it wasn’t for their actions. Reports are the ladder was first on scene and kept the fire in check with a few water cans.

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