A firefighter is a rescuer extensively trained in firefighting, primarily to extinguish hazardous fires that threaten life, property and the environment as well as to rescue people and animals from dangerous situations.
The complexity of modern, industrialized life has created an increase in the skills needed in firefighting technology. The fire service, also known in some countries as the fire brigade or fire department, is one of the three main emergency services. From urban areas to aboard ships, firefighters have become ubiquitous around the world.
Firefighters and fire apparatus at the scene of a factory fire in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
The skills required for safe operations are regularly practiced during training evaluations throughout a firefighter’s career. Initial firefighting skills are normally taught through local, regional or state-approved fire academies or training courses. Depending on the requirements of a department, additional skills and certifications such as technical rescue and pre-hospital medicine may also be acquired at this time.
Firefighters work closely with other emergency response agencies such as the police and emergency medical service. A firefighter’s role may overlap with both. Fire investigators or fire marshals investigate the cause of a fire. If the fire was caused by arson or negligence, their work will overlap with law enforcement. Firefighters also frequently provide some degree of emergency medical service, in addition to working with full-time paramedics.
The basic tasks of firefighters include: fire suppression, rescue, fire prevention, basic first aid, and investigations. Firefighting is further broken down into skills which include: size-up, extinguishing, ventilation, search and rescue, salvage, containment, mop up and overhaul.
A fire burns due to the presence of three elements: fuel, oxygen and heat. This is often referred to as the fire triangle. Sometimes it is known as the fire tetrahedron if a fourth element is added: a chemical chain reaction which can help sustain certain types of fire. The aim of firefighting is to deprive the fire of at least one of those elements. Most commonly this is done by dousing the fire with water, though some fires require other methods such as foam. Firefighters are equipped with a wide variety of equipment for this purpose that include: ladder trucks, pumper trucks, tanker trucks, fire hose, and fire extinguishers.
While sometimes fires can be limited to small areas of a structure, wider collateral damage due to smoke, water and burning embers is common. Utility shutoff (such as gas and electricity) is typically an early priority for arriving fire crews. Specific procedures and equipment are needed at a property where hazardous materials are being used or stored.
Structure fires may be attacked with either “interior” or “exterior” resources, or both. Interior crews, using the “two in, two out” rule, may extend fire hose lines inside the building, find the fire and cool it with water. Exterior crews may direct water into windows and other openings, or against any nearby fuels exposed to the initial fire. Hose streams directed into the interior through exterior wall apertures may conflict and jeopardize interior fire attack crews.
Buildings that are made of flammable materials such as wood are different from building materials such as concrete. Generally, a “fire-resistant” building is designed to limit fire to a small area or floor. Other floors can be safe by preventing smoke inhalation and damage. All buildings suspected or on fire must be evacuated, regardless of fire rating.
Some fire fighting tactics may appear to be destructive, but often serve specific needs. For example, during ventilation firefighters are forced to either open holes in the roof or floors of a structure (called vertical ventilation), or open windows and walls (called horizontal ventilation) to remove smoke and heated gases from the interior of the structure. Such ventilation methods are also used to improve interior visibility to locate victims more quickly. Ventilation helps to preserve the life of trapped or unconscious individuals as it releases the poisonous gases from inside the structure. Vertical ventilation is vital to firefighter safety in the event of a flashover or backdraft scenario. Releasing the flammable gases through the roof eliminates the possibility of a backdraft, and the removal of heat can reduce the possibility of a flashover. Flashovers, due to their intense heat (900–1200° Fahrenheit) and explosive temperaments, are commonly fatal to firefighter personnel. Precautionary methods, such as smashing a window, reveal backdraft situations before the firefighter enters the structure and is met with the circumstance head-on. Firefighter safety is the number one priority.
Whenever possible, property is moved into the middle of a room and covered with a salvage cover, a heavy cloth-like tarp. Various steps such as retrieving and protecting valuables found during suppression or overhaul and boarding windows and roofs can divert or prevent post-fire runoff.
Wildfires (known in Australia as bushfires) require a unique set of strategies and tactics. In many countries such as Australia and the United States, these duties are mostly carried out by local volunteer firefighters. Wildfires have some ecological role in allowing new plants to grow, therefore in some cases they will be left to burn. Priorities in fighting wildfires include preventing the loss of life and property.Read more: Firefighter