The City of Solon prides itself on minimal fire loss as reported annually in the year end report. Solon Fire Rescue is responsible for protecting the lives of approximately 23,000 permanent residents and up to 40,000 people who travel through or work in Solon. This is admittedly an expensive venture. While the fire service does not necessarily generate many dollars, it is our responsibility to protect the over 1 billion dollars of real property (2000 evaluation) that generate the tax dollars that make our community strong.
Admittedly, Solon does not experience a large number of fires each year. This is a fact our department, and we hope our citizens, are very proud of. While we have smaller number of fires compared to other communities, it does not mean the potential is not there.
Fire prevention efforts, a well trained staff, and sufficient staffing and equipment are the key components to effective community fire defense.
The need for rapid response
Despite our best efforts to prevent fires, unfortunately they do occur. While fires make up about 25% - 30% of the total emergency incidents for our department, they pose the greatest risk. The risk of fire, of course, is twofold. Initially, fire destroys property, sometimes irreplaceable heirlooms. More importantly, fire can injure a large number of people in a very short amount of time compared to an emergency medical call which usually only involves 1 person. Because of these reasons, it is imperative for the fire rescue service to have the ability to respond with the proper amount of equipment and personnel to have a chance at a successful outcome.
Victims of fires are almost always overcome by smoke before they are threatened by flames. Actually, the majority of fire deaths, 75%, are caused by smoke, not by flames. This smoke is a mixture of carbon monoxide and other deadly gasses and chemicals. Once a victim is overcome by smoke, rescuers have a 4 to 6 minute window to rescue the person and begin life saving resuscitation efforts if there is a chance for a positive outcome.
An event that occurs frequently at structure fires is a phenomenon known as “flashover”. Flashover occurs when every item, from floor to ceiling, reaches its ignition temperature and explodes in flames. Flashover is a critical stage of fire growth for 2 reasons.
It is impossible for any person involved in a flashover to survive. Temperatures can be as high as 2000 degrees Fahrenheit.
Flashover involves a quantum leap in the rate of combustion, thus spreading the fire faster.
A post-flashover fire burns much hotter and moves faster which complicates the search and rescue function in other areas of the building. This complication requires additional resources of personnel to effectively and safely carry out this function. Flashover can occur in as little as 5 minutes from the beginning of a fire.
For these reasons, it is important to remember to report all fires immediately, no matter how small they are. This will insure a rapid response to the situation. Additionally, do not assume that someone else called the fire department. When you see a fire, it is important that you call 911 to report the incident. This way, you are sure that we were called. There have been incidents where people have seen fires and assumed someone else reported the incident, when in actuality, no 1 had called.
The need for adequate personnel
As we have seen from the above description, time is of the essence in a fire emergency. Just as important is having the appropriate resources to accomplish a multitude of tasks. There are many functions that must be accomplished simultaneously within the first few minutes upon arrival to prevent the situation from getting out of control. These functions are listed below:
Water supply - While all of the apparatus operated by Solon Fire Rescue carry their own water, it may not be enough to extinguish the fire. The engine operator is responsible for initially using the truck's own water to supply firefighters. The operator then connects a hose line between the fire hydrant and the fire engine. This person is assisted by another firefighter who connects the hose to the hydrant and turns the hydrant on .
Hose lines - New standards governing the fire service recommend 2 personnel on each hose line. This crew is responsible for attacking the fire with water.
Back-up hose line - Firefighting is an extremely dangerous and high risk environment. Even a fire that appears to be small can explode instantly into a much larger fire overwhelming the first hose line. It is an industry standard to have a back-up hose line with at least 2 firefighters ready to go or possibly attacking the fire if it is large enough.
Search and Rescue - Minimally 2 personnel are required for this task. Depending on the size of the building, more personnel may be required.
Ventilation - To immediately improve the building conditions for the victims and assist the search and rescue crews, ventilation is completed early to release the smoke and help control the fire.
Utilities - One firefighter immediately begins shutting down the electric and gas utilities. This is done for the safety of the firefighters and to prevent the spread of fire from these hazards.
Rapid Intervention Team (RIT) - This team of no less than 4 firefighters assembles equipment outside the fire building and stands ready to jump into action if a fellow firefighter becomes lost or trapped.
Safety/Accountability - One firefighter or officer is assigned to be responsible for the safety of all personnel operating at the emergency. This person reviews tasks being performed for safety as well as monitors the condition of the building. If the safety officer feels the building is becoming unsafe, they can order firefighters out.
Command - One officer, who is not part of the actual firefighting crew, remains outside of the fire building to constantly assess the effectiveness of the firefighters actions. If all is going well, the fire will begin to decrease. If the fire is winning the battle, the officer needs to assess the safety of the building and the need for more resources.