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Firefighting Terms & FAQ's
Updated On: May 03, 2017

Below you will find some of the common terms associated with firefighting. If you hear a term that you are not familiar with and it is not listed below please contact us via email and we will explain the terminology to you. 

Terms

Apparatus- Any vehicle that serves a specific function other than just transportation of people. Engines, Trucks, and Rescues are examples of apparatus.

Backdraft- Term applied to the explosion caused by the sudden inward rush of oxygen when all of the super-heated gases, (heated above the ignition temperature) in a room or structure, ignite at the same time. If the gasses are pressurized, in a relatively closed room, an explosion could be the result. While the likelihood of such an occurrence is low, a backdraft is often fatal to anyone caught in it.  See an example of a backdraft here, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aTQWNCeCBvQ&feature=related

Bangor Ladder- This is a 45 foot or larger ladder that has "tormenter poles" to assist in the raising and to stabilize the sides. It is also called a "pole ladder". It takes several firefighters to raise this ladder. These are sometimes used when a structure is inaccessible by aerial apparatus. They are very resource intensive to set. Stratford Fire Rescue carries a 45 foot Bangor ladder on Ladder 1.

Black Fire- This term has only recently been officially recognized. This describes a situation where HEAVY, dense, black smoke is being emitted by a fire. This smoke will be of high velocity, turbulent, high volume and extremely dense. It will also be very hot. For all practical purposes this is a dense, superheated, cloud of fuel that is too rich to ignite. This smoke may be doing as much damage as fire. It can also be a sign of eminent flashover.

Booster Line- A hose that is usually one inch in diameter and rubber jacketed. But in some departments this can be the name given to any pre-connected line for the use of tank water. They are used on small fires using the water carried in an apparatus' booster tank and are usually stored on reels.

Box alarm- This term may mean slightly different things in different departments. This comes from the old practice of transmitting fire alarms through a telegraph system. In general it means a "full alarm" or a predetermined amount of resources for a structure fire.

Brush Truck- There are vehicles for fighting brush or grass fires. Some of these are four wheel drive. In fact, there are some vehicles constructed on Humvee's. Most often this is a tank and a pump mounted on a four wheel drive pick-up.

Bunker Gear- This is the slang term for the protective clothing a firefighter wears. It generally consists of: boots, pants, coat, gloves, hood, and helmet. It is technically referred to as “Personal Protective Equipment” or “PPE” and includes the SCBA. It is also known as "Turnouts".

Clear- This is the same as "In Service" or "Available". It is used over the radio when a unit is able to handle another call. For example “Dispatch, Engine 2 is clear from the scene.”

Command- Command exists for every incident. However, we usually do not establish a formal incident command unless the incident warrants it. If there is more than one unit at a scene, command is usually established so that everyone knows who is in charge. The first officer on the scene usually has the option of taking command or assigning it to someone else. Beyond that only chief officers have the authorization to transfer command.  The first arriving unit in Stratford will establish command. Command is transferred to the on duty assistant chief/Car 3 once they arrive.

4 Gas meters- Stratford apparatus have hand held battery operated devices that can measure concentrations of gasses in the air. These are often used to monitor the presence of carbon monoxide in structures after fires. They can also detect the presence of CO and other gases in the home.

Deck Gun- A large water nozzle attached to a engine. Deck guns deliver larger amounts of water than hand-held hose, typically in excess of 500 gallons per minute. They are also sometimes called a "deluge gun".

Defensive Operations- This is what usually appears on the news. This is a fire ground strategy based on firefighter safety and the protection of exposures. The goal is to simply confine the fire to the building/area of origin. No aggressive interior firefighting operations take place in the defensive mode. All fire streams are operated onto the fire from the outside. This strategy is employed when a fire has advanced to the point where attack operations are too dangerous, and/or the fire is beyond the capabilities of on scene resources.

Drafting- Pulling water from a source other than a hydrant or another fire apparatus. Cisterns, lakes, ponds and swimming pools are often used in drafting operations. Stratford has hydrants in most areas, but still maintains the equipment to perform this type of operation.

Drag Rescue Device(DRD)- This is a strap, or webbing, that is integrated with the firefighter's turnout coat which allows for easier dragging. A relatively, small strap protrudes, from under a flap, near the collar on the back of the fire coat. A rescuer can grab this strap and have a means to drag a fellow firefighter to safety.

Engine- This is an apparatus designed for fire attack. It is the most common vehicle in fire departments. This apparatus carries, hose, a fire pump, and between 500-1000 gallons of water. Modern fire pumps can pump over 1500 GPM (Gallons Per Minute). These vehicles also have the ability to supply foam and usually carries 3-4 personnel. Although Stratford Fire Rescue uses red apparatus, many departments use different colors; such as Red, Blue, Black, Lime Yellow, Yellow, Green or White.

Exposure- These are all the endangered structures or other property that can be subsequently damaged by fire, traveling from another fire. This can include anything from autos to other buildings to stacked products. The protection of exposures is a prime concern with any fire. Something that many people may not realize is that large fires can radiate intense heat. This can cause heat damage to objects 100 feet away or more.  Often firefighters will apply water to structures or objects across the street from heavy fires. There does not have to be direct flame contact for an object light on fire. Fires from petroleum products such as natural gas, propane, or gasoline can be especially intense sources of radiated heat. Vehicles are common victims of radiated heat. Paint can be damaged or plastic parts melted great distances from the actual fire.

Extrication- The systematic and safe freeing or removal of persons who are trapped or pinned. This can be accomplished by highly technical means or may be a easy as opening a locked door. Stratford Fire Tac 5 is the primary apparatus used for extrications.

Flashover- Similar to a backdraft with the exception that the room is not closed or pressurized to the point of explosion. All of the contents of the room have given off flammable gases that have been heated to their ignition point and a fire suddenly envelopes the room. From the outside you will often see the exiting smoke appear to instantly ignite.  See an example here, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QqMVm72FMRk

Foam- This is a mixture of water and a product that causes foam OR reduces the surface tension of the water. In the movies you think of airports "foaming the runways." Today, foam is use more often for structure fires and protecting exposures. The mixture of foam concentrate can be from as much 6% to as little as .3%. The lower concentrations are to cause the water to be able to penetrate burning substances by reducing the surface tension. This is especially valuable in situations where there is debris. It is difficult to extinguish bales of hay or tires without foam. A mixture of 3% might be used for a liquid hydrocarbon fire while 6% is used for burning alcohol. In the past it was only specialized apparatus that had the ability to pump foam at will. It is now common for fire engines to be able to provide foam at the flip of a switch in many communities. There is more than one type of foam.

Forcible Entry- This is a term often heard in news interviews. It is the act of gaining access to a structure or vehicle through means other than an open window or door. Frequently, firefighters must force open doors that are locked or blocked in order to enter a structure to search for victims & extinguish fire. A wide variety of hand powered & hydraulic tools can be used for forcible entry.

GPM- Gallons Per Minute. Everything we do, with regard to extinguishing fires with water, is about GPM. We talk of the amount of GPM's we will need to extinguish a theoretical fire or while formulating strategy on a working fire. A large apartment or warehouse fire may require thousands of gallons a minute to stop the spread and extinguish the fire. 

Halligan- An all-purpose steel prying bar used as a forcible entry tool. It looks like a adze with a point on the side. The story is that it was invented by a New York City firefighter named Huey Halligan. In some circles it is known as a "Pro Tool". Often this tool is married together with an ax. Together with possibly some other forcible entry tools, this is often referred to as "Irons".

HazMat- This is short of "Hazardous Materials Response Unit." With today's complex and high technology world, many departments have invested resources and money to responding to such emergencies. Most of us would be surprised, if not alarmed to learn the many types and dangers associated with chemicals and products in our communities. Stratford Fire currently utilizes HazMat 4 for such calls, as well as calling for the Fairfield County HazMat Team.

Irons- A flat head ax and halligan bar. The essential tools for forcible entry.

K-Tool- A veryeffective tool for the removal of door cylinders in mostly commercial structures. The firefighter simply slides the "K" shaped tool over the lock and then pry down with the halligan. The cylinder pops right off, giving easy access to the latch.This tool is often included with "irons".

Ladder- This is another name for a truck company.

Ladder Pipe- This is the process of pumping water to a nozzle mounted on an aerial ladder. This can be a ladder with plumbing built in or it can be the process of laying hose on the ladder and attaching it to a nozzle and the rungs.

“LDH”- This is Large Diameter Hose, usually 5 inches in diameter. Using this hose, large volumes of water may be transported, under relatively low pressure. Many departments have converted to LDH from 3 inch. Some may carry both on their apparatus to give them flexibility and options.  You can’t drive over this or move it. It is too big and heavy.

Maltese Cross- One can easily find web sites that will tell you that the current emblem of the fire service, in the U.S. and some other countries, is based upon the cross worn on the tunics of the Knights Hospitallers of Jerusalem, AKA the "Knights of Malta". But there is evidence that the current emblem bears little resemblance to this cross. However that does not mean that it wasn't originally based upon the "Maltese Cross". Perhaps it has just evolved and adopted other icons as well. The cross of St. Florian is one design that may have influenced the current shape.

Monitor or Master-stream- A large ground or apparatus mounted nozzle through which large amounts of water can be flowed. This device can often be remotely operated or it can be set up and allowed to run unattended.

Mutual Aid- This is an agreement between jurisdictions for the mutual assistance in the event of major events. Even the largest departments may need help from time to time. There is usually a pre-agreed upon procedure for implementing mutual aid. During large structure fires, you may see fire companies relocating to Milford or Bridgeport, or they may cover in our stations.

MVA- Motor Vehicle Accident.

NIMS- The National Incident Management System. A federally mandated program for the standardizing of command terminology and procedures. This standardizes communications between fire departments and other agencies. It is based upon simple terms that will be used nationwide. Currently, U.S. federally required training programs, from DHS, NFA and FEMA, are in the process of standardizing many terms and procedures under NIMS.

Overhaul- The systematic search for hidden fires or for fire extension. It is generally a damaging process. If the fire impinges upon a wall, that wall will probably be opened to insure that the heat and fire hadn't communicated through to the inside.

Pass Device- This is one name given to the device all firefighters wear for locating firefighters in trouble. This device senses if a firefighter has remained motionless for a short period of time. A piercing alarm is sounded after approximately 30 seconds. They are usually attached to the SCBA. The noise alerts other firefighters to the need for assistance and can help them locate a downed firefighter in zero visibility conditions.

"PAR"- Personnel Accountability Report - At various points during a operation command will call for a "PAR" This might also be referred to as a "Roll Call". All company officers will report that they have their crew in sight or physical contact. They will respond with, "Tac 5 has PAR." or "Ladder 1 , PAR." An accountability report happens at timed intervals or when they situation has changed. Examples would be: Partial structure collapse, Fire Under Control, Change in tactics, Report of lost or injured firefighter.

Pike Pole (NY Hook/Boston Rake)- A pike pole could be any number of designs or lengths. It is a piece of equipment used for overhaul. Most often it is use for the opening of ceilings. Of all the tools of the fire service, the pike pole is probably among the most often used. It is often the practice to have one carried in by a firefighter at all structure fires. The most common design is a hook with a point. But there are many styles and designs.

Plug- Slang term for a fire hydrant. This survives from the days when water mains actually had holes in the tops that were plugged.

Pumper- Another term for an "Engine". More common in some parts of the country then others, but you can find this term in some use in almost any region.

Primary Search- Very early in any fire or hazardous environment search or rescue Command will call for a "Primary Search". This is a quick search of all compartments in a structure for victims, usually under active fire conditions. Searching without the protection of a hoseline increases a victim’s chance of rapid removal and survival but can often be one of the most dangerous jobs on the fireground.

Quint- A piece of firefighting apparatus that can perform five of the major apparatus functions. This includes carrying hose, water, ground ladders, an aerial ladder for water tower operations, and is equipt with a pump.

Rehab- A location or procedure allowing firefighters to take breaks and recover. It might be as simple as getting a drink and a fresh air cylinder or it may involve food or even medical checks. It depends upon the extent of the operation. The time of year, summer vs. winter, can also play a huge part in what is offered at a rehab station.

Radiated Heat- Fire can produce intense radiated heat. This "radiated" energy travels through clear mediums (i.e. air & glass) without a problem. But when it strikes an opaque surface this energy excites the molecules and warms the surface. This can cause the object to combust even though it may be many feet from actual flame contact.

"RIT"- "Rapid Intervention Team" This will be a crew who is established strictly for the purpose of rescuing emergency personnel. Some form of RIC is required by NFPA 1500. They will assemble a collection of rescue tools and spare breathing apparatus. They cannot be used for firefighting unless a new crew is detailed to take their place. These people can be rotated as relief to the fire if another crew is detailed as the RIT.

Salvage- The procedure whereby property is protected or saved. This can commence at the same time as firefighting or it can occur later. Salvage operations often include the covering of furnishings with tarps known as “Salvage Covers” or it can be as simple as placing a pan under a water drip to protect the apartment below.

Secondary Search- This search differs from a primary search in that it is slower and more meticulous. It is usually done after the fire is under control.

Taxpayer- This is the fire service name for a small structure that has a business on the lower floor and a residence on the second floor. The residence may be presently used as an office, but it is still considered a "taxpayer" style of building.

Thermal Imaging Camera(TIC)- This is a camera that can be used to seek out hidden fires or see through smoke. It uses thermal imaging technology to detect the heat given off by objects. It can detect a difference of 1/10th of a degree. The camera can also tell you the temperature of the object in the cross hairs. This device is so sensitive that it could help us find a victim who is is completely under many layers of bed covers. 

Triage- A method of determining priority of treatment. This involves a quick treatment of those life threatening conditions that can be corrected in seconds. The actual requirements placed upon triage can vary depending upon the situation. In the worst of situations, with multiple patients, CPR is not performed. In situations where there is adequate manpower, CPR may have been considered in a similar patient. Often a officer who is an EMS supervisor is placed in the position of “Triage Officer”. But any EMS person may be given this task.

Truck- This vehicle carries equipment and ladders. The equipment may include lights, generators, salvage equipment, overhaul tools, forcible entry tools, and rescue tools.

Ventilation- The process of removing heated gasses or smoke from a building. This makes the building more tenable and helps to prevent such things as flashover or backdraft. This can be accomplished by several methods, from opening a window to cutting a hole in the roof. It can also be accomplished by forced ventilation, using high powered fans for horizontal ventilation.

Frequently Asked Questions

Question : Why does a fire truck respond when I call 911 for a medical emergency?
 

Answer : The Stratford Fire Department is usually the first unit on scene providing initial care to our citizens, due to the location of our stations and being spread out among the community. The first couple minutes of any emergency could mean the difference between life and death. 

All fire apparatus in the Town of Stratford have trained Emergency Medical Technicians at a minimum. These apparatus provide care within four minutes of the initial call and are supplemented by Stratford EMS. 

Fire trucks carry a compliment of medical supplies, including an Automated External Defibrillator(AED), which all members are trained to use.

Fire trucks carry specialty tools that are often required to access patients. Many times patients are not able to unlock their front door and it is necessary for the Fire Department to gain entry to their home so the patient may be accessed. The Fire Department also carries specialty equipment utilized to remove patients such as collapsible backboards, half boards, and other patient immobility devices. 

Often times patients are not in easily accessible locations. Many patients are in homes or apartments on the 2nd or 3rd floor and first responders must carry these patients through hallways and down stairways. The additional manpower is required to ensure patient safety while moving the patient to the ambulance. 

Most of the serious medical calls require a minimum of 4 people to actively treat a patient. Studies have shown that having four qualified personnel on scene greatly increases the effectiveness of CPR and other life saving measures. 

These are just some of the reasons it is necessary to have the Fire Department respond to your home when you call 911 for a medical emergency.

 

Question : Do firefighters collect Social Security when they retire?

Answer : No. Furthermore the Town does not contribute to Social Security on the employee’s behalf.

Question : Why do so many Fire Trucks respond to a reported fire?

Answer : Each fire truck that responds to a fire performs a specific function. The fire trucks carry the tools and equipment, as well as the personnel needed to accomplish these tasks. According to numerous studies regarding firefighter staffing each fire apparatus should carry a minimum of 3 firefighters and 1 officer, but should carry a minimum of 4 firefighters and 1 officer in districts with special hazards (ie manufacturing plants, schools, nursing homes, hotels, hospitals). SFD Engines 1, 2, 3, and 4 each respond with 3 firefighters 1 officer and all provide fire protection in areas of the Town that contain special hazards. TAC 5 only responds with 2 firefighters and 1 officer, and Ladder 1 responds with 2 firefighters only.

According to numerous manpower studies and the national standard, set by the National Fire Protection Agency, a minimum number of firefighters are needed to adequately fight a structure fire and complete all of the tasks to do so safely and effectively. The standard for fighting a structure fire is 13 firefighters and 4 officers, totaling 17 total personnel on scene within 8 minutes. The Stratford Fire Department currently responds to structure fires with 11 firefighters and 3 officers, well below the national standard and also well below what other municipalities of comparable size (in Connecticut), send to a structure fire.

Question : What are the different types of firetrucks and what are they used for?

              Fire engineRescue, Ladder, & Quint

Answer : An engine or pumper is the most common type of fire apparatus. Its main job is to attack the fire and carries a large amount of hose, a water tank between 500 and 1000 gallons, and a fire pump capable of pumping water usually between 1250 and 2000 gallons per minute.

Stratford Fire Department engines carry a small compliment of ground ladders (extension ladder, roof ladder, and attic ladder), medical equipment, lockout kits, a small hydraulic combination tool (for minor extrications), cribbing, bolt cutters, variety of hand tools, a thermal imaging camera and some power saws. The Stratford Fire Department currently operates 3 front line engines (E1, E3, E4) and has several spares. 


A Rescue is sometimes referred to as a "rolling toolbox". A traditional rescue doesn't carry water but does carry a large assortment of power and hands tools, extrication/technical rescue equipment. Stratford Fire Department TAC 5 carries large extrication tools, cribbing, stabilization equipment, confined space and rope rescue equipment, air bags, winch, power saws, pneumatic tools, jacks, medical equipment, a wide variety of hand tools, various patient packaging devices, and spare air bottles. The Stratford Fire Department currently operates 1 front line rescue (TAC 5) and does not have a spare. 

A ladder truck is equipped with a large aerial ladder usually around 100 feet that can be used for accessing roofs and upper floors. It also carries a compliment of ground/roof ladders. Ladder company responsibilities at a fire typically include ventilation, forcible entry and searching the building for potential victims. Stratford Fire Department Ladder 1 carries a small hydraulic combination tool (for minor extrications), medical equipment, a limited amount of supply and attack hose, longer lengths of cribbing, ventilation fans (both gas and electric), power saws, Rapid Intervention Team (RIT) equipment, spare air bottles, a chimney kit, and various hand tools. The Stratford Fire Department currently operates 1 front line Ladder (L1) and has 1 spare.

A quint is similar to a ladder truck but also is equipped with a fire pump and water tank. It performs five functions (carry hose, carry water, carry ground ladders, pump water and has a fixed aerial device) thus the "quint" nickname. The Stratford Fire Department currently operates 1 front line quint(E2).

     
     
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