As I watch car commercials I am always struck by the new and better ways car manufacturers come up with to get us from point “A” to point “B”. All the bells and whistles add up to is more bells and whistles on wheels, but they don’t change the fact that we just need to go from point “A” to point “B” reliably. I came up with a phrase for it a few years ago “The Dumbing down of Drivers”. I think it started with the automatic transmission then worked it’s way to ABS, back up sensors (now cameras), then came the lane wandering doohickey, and now there is the “I can’t parallel park” button and automatic “Oh Shit” brakes. None of this crap is actually NEEDED to drive a car. Sure they are nice to have so drivers can focus on other things like phone calls, texting, TV, and whatever they are warming up on the heated seat. But the bottom line is they don’t change the point “A” to point “B” thing. The one thing they do change is they allow poor drivers to appear competent. Drivers can’t tell if their car is running hot because there is no gauge to go by, just a light that comes on when it’s too late. Many drivers could not back into their garage without the camera or a ground guide. In the city at night you will see numerous drivers without their headlights on because they are used to the car doing it for them, they may not even know how to turn them on. Cars are now designed to help prevent incompetent drivers from damaging other people’s property, and sell you the next big thing of course.
I could say the dumbing down of pump operators started with the relief valve on steamers but I’ll keep it a little more recent.
I didn’t mind when computer controlled pumps came around, they were inevitable. But they were probably the recent beginning of the end of really proficient pump operators. As proof of that we were doing a drill with a probie and a mechanically controlled pump that we had as a spare while ours was in the shop. We made him break off and charge a line before he went to make the hydrant. He turned the throttle up to the proper pressure and then went for the hydrant, when he opened the hydrant the man on the pipe got a bit of a high pressure surprise. The only way to control the pump was by controlling the RPM’s, the probie was used to the computer controlled pump that would idle down if more pressure came in. We also learned that the pressure relief valve was not set at our department standard of 130PSI, it was set at 190. I know, I know, this is a case of knowing your equipment but I think the bigger issue is not knowing how the pump works because the computer controlled pumps compensate for lack of operator expertise. Pumps are designed to remove operator error and operators are leaning on these safeties without even knowing it.
I’ve just been introduced to the preconnect and I’m not a fan. Not a fan at all. I actually think this is another step in the dumbing down of firefighters. Peconnects started as a great time saver that firefighters could use on a large swath of their fire calls. But they have turned into THE way to connect to a pump. I can see the value of having a preconnected handline on your apparatus. What I cannot understand is why ALL of them are preconnected. Preconnects eliminate 90% of the hydraulic calculations, so it’s cookbook firefighting do what the recipe says you don’t need to know why. The anecdote for this “new and better” idea comes from a drill I was lucky to be a part of. We ran a small line off a pump, then went back for a 2 1/2″ line. We didn’t need the whole 250′ so I asked the operator to break it off at 100′. He did, then he pulled the rest of the crosslay out, unhooked the remaining line and hooked the 2 1/2″ up in the bed. I had to look at it for awhile to understand what I had seen. He was so used to running preconnects that he forgot about the regular discharges on the pump panel. Also the angle of the connection in the bed kinked the line so bad water would not flow, it had to be shut down and be moved to a regular discharge anyways.
Automatic Nozzles….Why would you? Automatic nozzles continue the dumbing down of the fire service and are a hazard. Too many firefighters have leaned on them for far too long. They are used as a crutch to replace training and real world experience with nozzles. As a firefighter you need to pull lines and flow water, then you need to add challenges and complications. It’s better to figure out how to clear these complications in training than at an incident. I’ve worked with people who could not tell a fog nozzle was clogged and then had no idea how to work around it (pull the fog nozzle off and go solid stream) because they have never had the opportunity to do it. Automatic nozzles give you a pretty stream, not a consistent volume and its the volume of water that puts out a fire, not the attractivness of the stream. We all know it’s nice to have something pretty but when it’s time for me to place my trust in my equipment I want to know how its going to perform not how it’s going to look.
When your department agrees to purchase automatic nozzles they are saying 2 things, maybe 3.
1. We don’t think our operators are competent enough to supply the proper GPM’s at the proper pressure.
But when you are running preconnects you don’t have to worry about what to set anything at, right? So I guess it works out.
2. We don’t trust our officers/pipe people to know when something is going wrong with their water supply.
Bad looking stream = bad water. Automatic nozzles always look “good”.
3. We buy what the city next to us buys. Administration mails it in, line personnel pay the price.
Their is no replacement for experience. If you cannot get that experience on the fire ground try to get it on the training ground. When you run lines and flow water you need to add complications, you need to see what happens when you have inadequate/excessive pressure. You need to break off the line and hook it somewhere different.
Fire departments are getting sucked into the “Fast Water” craze that had been swirling about recently and have forgotten that fast water has always been an issue. Fast water is just another hollow concept that firefighters aspire to without any understanding of. Being good at the basics of your job will more for everyone in your community than worrying about “Fast Water”. If you train on your equipment there will be no difference between a preconnect and a flat lay, but you may have to pump at a lower PSI. Many firefighters are not prepared to change things that “Have always been done that way” also know as the worst excuse for cookbook firefighting ever. Firefighters are focusing on minutia of the service and letting GIANT issues slide, like inexperience and lack of training.
Take a self assessment, are you one of those drivers that knows how to control your vehicle if it starts to slide? Do you know how your ABS works? Do you know why your pump’s RPMs drop when you open the hydrant? Do you know to pump for 1/2 a bed of line instead of just the preconnects? Can you successfully troubleshoot a poor fire stream?
I realize there is PLENTY I don’t know. When listening to the retirees I’m amazed at how many little tricks they have, possibly because they had to do the same job with less. Their bells and whistles were actually just bells and whistles and not much else.