Friday, September 26, 2014

How Many Firefighters Does It Take…

No, this isn’t the opening line to a bad joke…

Someone recently asked me how many firefighters it takes to put out a fire.

The answer is, of course, “It depends.”

Structure fire.
(Photo courtesy of MorgueFile.com)
How big is the fire? Is it a structure or wildland fire? What kind of structure is involved (house, apartment complex, strip mall, factory) and what kind of materials were used to build it? What kind of wildland (grasses, heavy timber) is involved? What are the weather conditions? Firefighting is labor intensive in the best of circumstances, and crews try to rotate through tasks and take breaks when possible for safety and health reasons. Extra crews may be needed on extremely hot or cold days simply to relieve other firefighters.

In Colorado Springs, local news reports said that 68 firefighters responded last weekend to fire at a large hotel/condominium complex. Not every firefighter was directly involved in fire suppression; some of these personnel operated in a support capacity (safety, firefighter rehab, refilling SCBA bottles, etc.) or as part of the command staff. But an incident like this involving a large number of occupants and a high-rise building is going to require a lot of resources, even in a best-case scenario.

A recent house fire prompted the response of 24 Colorado Springs firefighters. Again, some of the firefighters were on scene to provide support.

But it’s important to remember that many fire departments, especially small and/or all-volunteer agencies, are limited in resources. A few weeks ago, a house fire in the small town of Walsenburg, Colorado (population around 3000 people) was handled by 16 firefighters, which probably stretched the capabilities of the departments responding to that blaze.

Even if the fire involves a huge warehouse or a bunch of railroad tanker cars, there may be only so much the local department can throw at it. Additional personnel and equipment will have to come from neighboring jurisdictions.

For writers of all kinds, it’s important to understand that numbers only paint a small portion of any fire picture. Fires of all kinds require “as many firefighters as it takes” to put them out.

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