Rural firefighting calls for a different and streamlined approach, including the access to and use of static water sources.
Henry Lovett, a veteran volunteer firefighter and product manager for the TurboDraft Fire Eductor, described the lay of the land.
“Rural firefighters are faced with many challenges, including a drastic decline in volunteers, extended response times, lack of funding and resources as well as the absence of municipal water supply systems,” he said.
Such factors mean that rural fire departments and firefighters must engage in preplanning activities. According to Lovett, that means evaluating all possible firefighting water supplies within their response areas before a fire occurs.
“Once these static water sources are identified, a detailed plan should be developed as to the appropriate equipment and techniques needed to utilize the resource,” he said. “This can be accomplished by setting up and testing the equipment configuration as well as documenting the available flow rates in a water supply playbook.” Such documents should be shared with all mutual aid departments to cover all bases, he added.
Planning is only as good as the training, however — which Lovett points out can often be a weak area. “A lot of (departments) talk about it, but don’t train,” he said. However, this “muscle memory,” as he called it, is critical to success.
There’s no substitute for knowing your equipment and regular practice. Lovett recommended that firefighters explore training opportunities outside of the “normal” training routine. There’s also a power in collaboration. “Reach out to the mutual aid fire departments and invite these folks to train and work together,” he said. “The day of the fire is not the time to discover the weaknesses or deficiencies in the equipment or personnel.”
He also cautioned against accepting status quo as the only option.
“(M)any departments get bogged down in the ‘that’s the way we always have done it’ mentality and are resistant to change or new ideas,” he said.
Lovett said the recent residential fire in Fairfax County, Va., is a prime example of what could go wrong in this scenario. There was no water supply or proper training, which proved to be a deadly combination. Along with the size of the blaze, the location of the house made the fire difficult to contain. Crews had to string long lines of water hoses because there weren’t any fire hydrants near the structure.
Such circumstances have led firefighters to turn to a variety of solutions, including the TurboDraft Fire Eductor, which fire companies use to tap into static sources such as lakes, ponds, streams and swimming pools up to 250 feet away from the apparatus. TurboDraft can be deployed in a matter of minutes, using standard 2 1/2-inch hose line and a 5-inch large-diameter hose, to generate usable flows up to 670 GPM.
While Lovett backs the product, he stressed that the operational component is just as critical, if not more, to the outcome. Battalion Chief Robert Avsec — retired — underlined this point. He served with the Chesterfield Fire and EMS Department in Virginia for 26 years. He is an instructor for fire, EMS and hazardous materials courses at the local, state and federal levels, which included more than 10 years with the National Fire Academy.
He offered a case study from his own former department. One of the stations had a large response area with no municipal water supply, and they took an innovative approach to this situation. According to Avsec, they made arrangements with the regional law enforcement aviation unit to photograph all the potential static water sources in their district. Then the potential sites were disseminated among the three sites for follow-up visits from which they were able to draw multiple conclusions, particularly factors related to water supply or lack thereof and the nature of land ownership.
In such cases where the site was located on private land, and the owner was amenable to allowing departmental access, Avsec said a written agreement was executed between the two parties. Each of the identified viable drafting sites was then assigned a unique numerical identifier and entered into a dispatch system. They were also entered on the map cards carried aboard the station’s apparatus. Lastly, aluminum signs were posted on the roadway to demarcate the site’s location.
The lesson here? A coordinated approach makes all the difference — and that begins with having the knowledge in the first place.
“Rural fire departments that rely on static water sources for their water supplies during firefighting operations must have personnel who are knowledgeable, skilled and practiced in conducting rural water supply operations,” he said.
To that end, he recommends that rural fire departments seek rural water supply training classes from the authority having jurisdiction for their state.