The Domino Effect
with Mark van der Feyst
Not one situation will be the same gentlemen positioning of the fire apparatus and chocking considerations of not only your vehicle can come into play as shown in this video.
Video underscores the importance of proper apparatus positioning and wheel chocking
Responding to a vehicle fire is a common practice for firefighters. No matter where you are located or what type of fire department you belong to, you are going to respond to a vehicle fire.
Vehicle fires are always unpredictable events because of the many unknowns that are presented to us, like the contents inside the vehicle (including the trunk of a personal vehicle) and the fuel type being used in the vehicle. Many things can go wrong at vehicle fires, which is why we always prepare for the worst through training.
UNIQUE HAZARDS: RUNAWAY VEHICLES AND FIRE APPARATUS COLLISIONS
The unpredictable nature of vehicle fires strikes again in the video example from South Carolina. The video shows an on-fire pickup truck – that’s also towing a camper trailer – roll downgrade toward the fire truck and ultimately come to rest against the fire apparatus. How or why the vehicle started to roll forward after catching on fire is unknown, but we certainly know after many other examples of such collisions that it does happen.
Let’s examine the various hazards associated with this incident – and everything that can go wrong – and how to prevent the domino effect of catastrophe.
First, the on-fire vehicle almost takes out the fire truck – the main source of water and equipment on scene. The fire truck was parked so that it would provide scene protection for the crews, but this position was right in the direct path of the vehicle on fire. It would be better to park the fire apparatus on the uphill side of the burning vehicle, if this is possible to do to with the avenue of approach. The officer should be able to tell the topography of the roadway and stage the fire truck on the uphill side.
Additionally, a rolling vehicle could strike a firefighter in its path. As crews are getting hoselines stretched out, water from the pump to the lines and trying to figure out if everybody is accounted for, they are focused on extinguishing the vehicle fire. And firefighters focused on the primary effort may not notice the vehicle starting to roll.
At the very beginning of the video, we see a citizen run into the frame carrying a large block of wood, presumably to chock the trailer tires. Once the vehicle stops, the wheels are chocked, both in the front and the back of the trailer.
In our basic training for extinguishing vehicle fires, we rarely teach our firefighters to chock the tires as soon as we get on scene in order to prevent this from happening. I say “rarely” because I am sure that some instructors do teach this. It is a prescribed step in the basics of firefighting skill sheets as an “if necessary” statement. We have seen these events a few times now this past year occur, and we can certainly do something about it – chock the wheels as soon as we get on scene!
VEHICLE FIRE TRAINING WITH YOUR CREW
After watching this video with your company, take the following steps to help prevent similar incidents:
- Talk to your crew about apparatus positioning on scene to prevent a situation in which the fire apparatus is in the direct path of the vehicle on fire.
- Review the department’s current standard operating procedures/guidelines (SOPs/SOGs) to see if the wording needs to be changed to reflect chocking the wheels when arriving on scene at a vehicle fire.
- Conduct a training session on vehicle fires at the training center or elsewhere, incorporating the extra step of chocking the tires when arriving on scene.
- Re-arrange the compartment on the fire truck to have a quick grab-and-go set of wheel chocks just for vehicle fires.
Vehicle fires present many hazards, so it’s imperative that we prepare for potential problems and train on mitigating hazards that are within our control, like proper apparatus positioning and chocking the wheels to prevent a runaway vehicle.
About the author
Mark van der Feyst has been in the fire service since 1999 and is currently a full-time firefighter in Ontario, Canada. Mark is an international instructor teaching in Canada, the United States and India. He is a local-level suppression instructor for the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy and an instructor for the Justice Institute of British Columbia. He is also the lead author of the book “Residential Fire Rescue.” You can contact Mark with feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.