"MAKE A HOLE, MAKE IT WIDE" on Backstep Firefighter

In the 1987 movie about the Old Guard, 3rd Infantry Division, Sergeant Major “Goody” Nelson (James Earl Jones) makes this statement during a barracks inspection. There is no significance between the movie and the rest of this piece other than the title, but it is a really good movie if you are looking for one.

One of the best methods for ensuring the safety of everyone on the fireground is a well placed hose line. The effective use of a hose line has saved more lives than all the searches combined. Sorry truckies, it is the truth. Of course most hose lines wouldn’t get in place without good truck work, so as always, it is a team effort and every member counts.

The layout man, control firefighter, or last guy on the line has an important job –
keep the “outstanding firefighters” outside.

When the engine is advancing toward the seat of the fire, it is important that the path in is clear, and that they have a clear path out. In other words, “Make a hole, and make it wide”. It is equally important that other firefighters don’t become the blockage that keeps the engine from getting out. Engine company firefighters should remove debris encountered along the path of advancement. If firefighters from the truck are advancing ahead of or with them, they should try and do the same.

Each door that the line passes through should be chocked open, so that it remains out of the way and won’t close on the hose line reducing or stopping the flow of water. In one case an engine company became trapped when the door closed and the line got jammed under the door. Those firefighters faced heavy fire with no water, and were unable to force the door open again. What saved them was a firefighter that saw their fingers under the door and took his ax and cut the line.

This is where it is important that your policies and procedures dictate where companies are assigned, and that those companies stick to their assignments. It is no secret that everyone wants to get close to the fire. But it is important that everyone stick to their roles for the sake of their mission and the sake of the attack. Whether you operate with a dedicated truck company, or you assign firefighters to perform the truck functions that are necessary, it is critical that the engine knows where the truck is and the truck knows where the engine is. This is especially critical when firefighters are operating on the floor above.

In his book “Safety and Survival of the Fireground” Deputy Chief Vincent Dunn gives three main reasons for not crowding the engine company. 1) Firefighters could inadvertently be pushed into the fire or dangerous area. 2) Retreat from flashover and backdraft conditions could be delayed or altogether blocked. 3) Crowding could prevent the engine company from making an aggressive attack – knowing their path to retreat is blocked.

Depending on your manpower and how your department operates will dictate how many firefighters are near the attack crew. It is important however that this number be limited to the number of firefighters necessary to accomplish the task.

In Hyattsville, Maryland a firefighter was burned as he advanced the nozzle toward the seat of the fire. The fire occurred in a Cape-Cod style house and while advancing into the second floor conditions rapidly deteriorated and heavy smoke became heavy fire. The firefighter turned to retreat and was blocked by numerous firefighters on the stairs. The firefighter eventually dove over the firefighters on the stairs, but not before suffering 2nd degrees burns to his head and face. After a trip to the burn unit and a miraculous recovery, Firefighter Jeff Shaw returned to Hyattsville for a TV interview. His statements reflect the dedication and spirit of a “good Jake”, and his story is a lesson for everyone.The story reflects what can happen when too many firefighters are bunched up behind the nozzle team and don’t leave them room to retreat when things go bad.

Often the firefighters behind the attack team will not feel the heat and conditions that the attack team is being exposed to. These firefighters are actually being shielded by the nozzle team and could be unaware of their need to retreat from the conditions.

Another factor with crowding the attack line is slowing down the advance. More firefighters in a hallway or around the hoseline could keep the line from being advanced easily, in this case the firefighters actually become obstructions, much like furniture and doorways.

Firefighting is a coordinated effort that involves search for victims, search for fire, ventilation, fire attack and overhaul. All of these functions must be performed, many simultaneously, for our efforts to be successful. If firefighters are crowding around the attack line, then who is performing the other functions that need to be accomplished?

There are many skill and traits that are required to be a good fireman. Accountability to yourself, your crew and your mission is one and the discipline to stay on task is another. The fire won’t go out if the engine cannot advance to the seat of the fire.

It is up to all members to keep the path clear, to “Make a hole and Make it Wide.”

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