“TENS FIRST IN.” Several years ago, I ran across a video documentary by Harry Garvin on Station 10– Task Force 10– of the Los Angeles [City] Fire Department (LAFD). The title is “Tens First In.” Of course, there is no shortage of good stuff out there on the LAFD, including a large body of really good work by Alan Simmons and some nice pieces on You Tube. Still, even though it was produced in the late 1990s, it remains one of my favorite videos of all types and times.
What’s so great about “Tens First In?” Well, it’s got a subtle, well refined story line, refined videography that gives you a unique feeling for being in the middle of everything (not just watching it), and one of the most engaging and memorable conclusions of any film, of any type, I’ve ever seen. And, it introduced me to LA’s unique “task force” concept. I’ve only seen the video in VHS format– grab one if you get a chance.
Like many fire departments, LA refers to its aerial apparatus as “trucks.” Ladder trucks don’t tend to run a lot of calls by themselves. But, in LA, the independent value of trucks is expanded by teaming them up with what might be considered their own engine, forming a 2-piece operational unit called a “light force.” In LAFD parlance, a “task force” is a 3-piece combination of a truck and two engines (an engine and a “light force”), all running out of a single station, often as a single unit. The task force idea appears to have developed during LA’s Watts riots of 1965. Staging these 3-piece groupings of apparatus as a single entity, simplified assignment, communications, flexibility and autonomy.
In current practice, a task force’s fully staffed primary engine operates as the station’s main fire “attack” unit– what some East coast companies would have called a hose wagon or “wagon” in earlier, 2-piece engine company days. The task force’s other engine, the “pumper” (since, at a major incident, it would position at a hydrant and pump to the attack engine), is lightly staffed (sometimes with only an operator). Its primary job is to support and equip the station’s truck or attack engine. This is a fairly unique organizational structure in modern times. Fascinating.
STATION TEN– SPIT AND POLISH. I “grew up” in the rather utilitarian traditions of East coast fire service culture. Tools were tools and, while they were cleaned, sharpened and repaired, as necessary, and sometimes taped or painted for identification purposes, they seldom offered much in the way of aesthetic appeal. I certainly appreciated the quality and value of highly polished tools like Fire Axe Inc’s. essentially hand-crafted pickhead and flat head axes and Aazel’s option for polished versions of their entry bars (as shown below). However, it was hard to imagine an operation where such refined tools and equipment were the rule, rather than occasional exceptions.
Clearly, though, Station 10– the whole Los Angeles Fire Department, for that matter– is that kind of operation. On a recent trip to LA, I had a chance to confirm that first-hand, with a visit to Station 10, some 20 years after “Tens First In” was produced. The crew was great– a couple of younger troops “agreed” to give me a detailed tour of Truck 10. It was unique in my experience. The array of tools and equipment, and the condition of tools and equipment, was all spit-and-polish– uniquely LAFD.
Right away, in the first compartment we opened, you could see the LA difference. It contained an array of forcible entry tools. In addition to twin Partner saws, axes and sledge hammer, this compartment included highly polished stainless steel Halligan-type and Hayward claw tool-type bars– but the biggest surprise was the equally bright companion bolt cutters.
The bright work seen in the first compartment, turned out to be a staple of virtually every other compartment, as well. If the contents weren’t fire engine red, they were likely to be polished stainless, chrome plated or highly polished bare metal (like the pump pot coffee caraffe, fuel cans, hose appliances and the pair of rubbish hooks caribinered together for ease of transport, shown below).
STATION TEN INGENUITY. The condition of their rigs was impressive, but, Station 10 was more than spit-and-polish. Truck 10, for example, was bristling with innovative “tricks of the trade.” Among these were the set of entry adjuncts assembled by one of its crew members (photo below) for access to motor vehicles, building doors, elevators and other specialized entry.
Under the flip-up door at the rear of the truck is an array of the station’s traditional West Coast wood ladders. Most are constructed using a tapered truss design pioneered by Frederick Seagrave in the 1880’s, before his firm began manufacturing fire apparatus. Truck 10’s A-frame combination ladder is stored with a medium length, D-handled pike pole mounted on it.
TENS ARE ALL IN. The concluding segment of the Garvin’s 1995 documentary on Station 10, left me with the impression of a well-integrated operation that was ready for virtually anything. My visit with them clearly confirmed it, in my mind.
FORCING INWARD SWINGING DOORS IN TIGHT QUARTERS.On a visit to Montgomery County, Maryland, my good, long-time friend Andy Levy, Coordinator of the North Central Region of the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute, introduced me to Captain Jay Blake, who was then the In-Service Training Coordinator at the Montgomery County (MD) Fire and Rescue Training Academy– FRTA. While we were there, Jay gave us a thorough tour of their training site. As we approached the Academy’s Burn Building, Jay commented that they felt that forcible entry classes often lacked sufficient attention to working in low visibility and tight quarters. Therefore, part of their in-service rapid intervention team (RIT) evolution in the Burn Building, involved some serious tight quarters entry.
In-Service Training Coordinator Captain Jay Blake
I had just delivered a 72″ Hawk/Raptor combination to Jay but had a 42″ Hawk/Raptor along. So, as we moved through the Burn Building, he took the opportunity to test the shorter tool’s potential for dealing with the tight-quarters entry problems he’d been discussing. At the top of a long, dark, narrow flight of stairs was a steel forcible entry prop on an inward steel swinging door. It was hinged on the left. This length tool provides a good balance between tight space use and sufficient length for useful mechanical advantage. Jay didn’t have the door prop dialed up to its full “Fort Knox” level of challenge, so, popping the door with the Raptor didn’t present a terrific challenge.
Ordinarily, if more force been required, the rear-facing adze on the Hawk (with a shorter fulcrum) could have been a better choice. But, in this case, the stair corridor was about a foot wider on each side than the doorway– there wasn’t any working space for the handle. In response to the tight space, Jay rotated the tool about 45° downward and found that the flare (widening) of the adze at the rear allowed it to enter the gap and still have enough room to use the handle as a lever; once the gap widened a little he was able to work the handle up to a horizontal position and pry normally (see photos below).
CONTEMPORARY TRAINING IN A “LEGACY” FACILITY. At the time we visited, the academy was in the process of relocating to a new facility. The old site was part of a larger Public Safety Training Academy which included the Montgomery County Police Training Academy. It was built in the 70s on a 56-acre site on the edge of Rockville, which was then a fairly young suburb of Washington, DC. It had long since outgrown its site and its mission. However, the facility was still one of the most energetic and current academies you’d find anywhere.
On arrival, you couldn’t help but be distracted by the impressive fleet of modern apparatus, used to support the FRTA’s recruit program and in-service driver/operator courses. There seemed to be academy apparatus everywhere. We entered the large administrative and classroom building through a full-scale (but simulated) fire station that’s attached to a large administrative and classroom building.
A big part of Jay’s work involves development and delivery of continuing education for firefighters, including one or more major new department-wide training initiatives virtually every year. The previously mentioned RIT course is an excellent example. For this program, the Burn Building was transformed into an amazingly complex and comprehensive series of RIT-related props. Besides the previously mentioned forcible entry prop at the top of the stairs, the building-size prop includes: a) a number of wall breaching areas, with an ingenious method of replacing sheets of drywall and heavy reusable steel studs, b) an interior collapse scenario with SERIOUS disentanglement challenges, c) other entry and access challenges sprinkled throughout the facility, etc. Far more than a set of repetitious, individual props, this was an arduous full-blown scenario, requiring lots of ingenuity.
RIT training is heavily scenario-based, with lots of decision making thrown in. Starting outside, crews are given a Mayday scenario by radio. They first have to select an access route: first floor or second-floor window; first-floor door; breaching a wall? Each choice exposes crews to additional challenges: new entry problems, debris fields (top left above), wall breaching (top right and left center) or structural collapse (bottom illustrations).
The structural collapse prop is particularly challenging. It is a heavy, full-scale section of framing hinged at one side, but trapping a rescue dummy “victim” under the other. Crews have to use the equipment they brought (or wait for it to be shuttled in) to lift the structure off the victim. To ensure the safety of the evolution, an instructor, out of sight on top of the assembly, backs up the crew’s lifting progress using a mechanical advantage rig attached to the ceiling.
A “LEGACY” TRAINING FACILITY THAT STAYS “MODERN.” On a recent visit to Maryland, my good, long-time friend Andy Levy, Coordinator of the North Central Region of the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute, made arrangements for me to visit Montgomery County (MD’s) Fire and Rescue Training Academy– FRTA. It was pretty neat. The academy is part of a larger Public Safety Training Academy which includes the Montgomery County Police Training Academy.
In-Service Training Coordinator Captain Jay Blake
A STATIC FACILITY THAT’S “DYNAMIC.” Jay gave us a thorough tour of the facility. It isn’t particularly new. But, Jay and other staffers keep programs fresh and relevant with some exceptionally innovative training concepts. And, on-site Technical Services Coordinator (“Ninjaneer”) Chris Hinkle (above, right) oversees the fabrication of some remarkable spaces and props to ensure that the intentions of the training programs are implemented in detail.
The academy site is a marvel of compact training innovation. Everywhere you look, around every corner, you find ingenious props developed to solve some of fire training’s most perplexing challenges. The “Buffalo Mayday Prop” (below, top left photo), for example, uses pneumatically controlled USAF bomb bay doors to simulate floor collapse, simultaneously challenging students to consider methods of extricating themselves from basements and other areas of structural entrapment. Other props give experience with hose loads and hose deployment (one example is the fire body in the upper right photo, below), rooftop ventilation involving roof surfaces of varying pitches (lower left) and gaining access via overhead garage-type doors (individual panels from replaced doors are donated for use in the “garage door prop, at right bottom, below).
Floor Collapse Simulator
Instructor Access & Controls
Fire Body for Hose Loading Prctice
Variable Pitch Roof Vent Prop
Garage Door Entry Prop
STRATEGIC COMMAND TRAINING. FRTA was an early pioneer in developing complex, real-time simulation of emergency situations. They developed one of the first facilities dedicated to this approach (see photos below). Inside it are several different spaces to simulate command from a staff vehicle-based command post, a multi-agency command center, and a live on-scene, multi-unit incident. The latter makes use of a gigantic scale model of a representative suburban cityscape, complete with road, rail, and air networks, residential, commercial and industrial developments, etc., etc. If participants run out of emergencies to handle, there is a near-by locker that’s full of additional and highly specialized response resources, lots of extra-alarm apparatus, and plenty of new simulated hazards.
CAMPUS LANDMARKS. The undisputed centers of attention at the academy are the command tower (at left in the background of the top photo) and the formidable burn building (at right). There is also a large technical rescue training site tucked in along one edge of the site, that includes an expansive array of constructions and debris piles for use in confined space, trench, high angle and other technical rescue subjects. The tower provides a panoramic view of the entire complex, allowing training coordinators to synchronize and optimize the simultaneous use of its resources by an army of recruits and active fire companies. The burn tower accommodates the smoke, laddering, ventilation essential to any effective recruit training program. But, it also undergoes regular internal revisions to accommodate constantly changing departmental in-service training needs.
The campus includes a full-scale fire station for use by recruits to perform simulated responses to varying types of emergencies. The training tower in the background is used to control training “traffic” on days where everything is happening at once.
Off in the perimeter is the academy’s rubble pile, used for training on structural collapse, high angle rescue, trench rescue and a variety of other technical rescue subjects.
The central building block of the most complex operational training is the burn building. Inside, the space is sub-divided into props for several special training projects. The Buffalo floor collapse prop is inside grade level overhead doors.
PEOPLE– CHIEF MIKE CLEMENS. As we walked toward the Burn Building, came across Chief Mike Clemons (pictured at left in the photo below). Chief Clemons, now retired (sorta’), was formerly Training Chief, in charge of FRTA. Though retired from the academy, he is far from out-of-work; he is currently coordinating plans for relocation of the academy to a new site, with its own new challenges. I had long known of him as a firefighter who designed and produced, among other things, specialized, vinyl coated medical and equipment bags (which were incredibly functional and durable). Over the years, I have used a number of Clemens trauma bags, ordering them directly from Clemens Industries, and had spoken with Mike by phone on several occasions. But, I had never met him in person and wasn’t aware of the breadth of his achievements in the career fire service. It was fun getting to meet and talk with him in person.
PEOPLE– CAPTAIN RICHARD CLEMENS. Another part of the fun of meeting Chief Clemens was that I had previously gotten to know his brother, Richie– also an active, well-known figure in the Maryland fire service– when he was a career Firefighter/Technician with the Prince Georges Fire Department. Richie retired in 2010, having been, among other things, Captain with PGFD, Assistant Fire Marshall for Baltimore Washington International Airport, and Chairman of the Maryland Fire Prevention Commission, on which he had served since 1998.
In the 1980s and 90s, I was spending a good deal of time at the Hyattsville Volunteer Fire Department (HVFD). During a portion of that period, Richie was serving there as part of the career daytime crew. I was able to spend a fair amount of time with him. He was always thinking, imagining ways of tweaking the performance of routine functions and especially the role of tools and equipment in achieving those ends. And, he was generous in sharing some of the trials and tribulations of developing translating his experiences into new products for the fire service.
TOOLS– THE CLEMENS HOOK & CLEMENS WRECKING TOOL II. Richie has had a strong influence on my long-time interest in fire hand tools and was the inspiration for designing tools, myself. At the time I met him, he was already well known for an overhaul tool he had developed– the Clemens Hook– a greatly improved alternative to the pike pole.
Of course, pike poles have long been a fire service staple for pulling apart building assemblies. Unfortunately, despite their proliferation, most are only marginally effective in contemporary use. When pulled, their narrow profiles tend to make thin incisions as they back out of common wall materials, rather than bringing down larger, productive sections of material. And, most types lack the effective prying edges that are an equally important part of overhaul. Few afford an efficient chopping capability.
With the Clemens Hook, Richie introduced a broad rear-facing surface that greatly improved work with sheetrock. It also has a bold transverse “blade” along the bottom of the pulling surface. This, coupled with the tool’s hefty weight, also make it a good chopping tool. I’d had flirtations with some pretty generic axes, while a member of the Ashford (CT) Volunteer Fire Department. But, the Clemens Hook’s attributes (plus non-stop promotion by Andy Levy), resulted in its being my first new, specific purpose fire tool purchase. I used it exclusively, and enthusiastically, for many years. And, its influence endures; my current Nevada department’s engines and truck each have a couple onboard, and my original version (and several others) still gets their share of attention in the classes we teach.
POSTSCRIPT. I visited MCFRTA in May of 2016. At the time we met, Captain Jay Blake was anticipating return to an operational role with Montgomery County. As for the academy itself, the new (even more impressive), replacement facility is well underway. At this date, Chief Clemens has posted an extensive series of photos on progress; very unique, very impressive.
A UNIQUE “TRUCK” HOUSE. Everybody’s got special interests in the fire service.” If your’s happens to focus on interesting “Enjine’s,” you’ve got pretty fertile territory; there’s likely to be an engine in virtually every fire station you pass– there’s got to be an interesting one every once in a while? But, those whose preferences stray a little farther afield– say, heavy rescues or squads, haz-mat units, trucks, etc.– have to be more patient, occasionally finding one mixed in with one of those ubiquitous pumpers. For me, though, the real finds are those scarce single piece fire stations that house only a single, special services unit.
In this regard, it’s hard to imagine a better example than Baltimore’s former Truck 15. I was introduced to the station by a then-member of the company, Firefighter Jerry Smith, Jr. 15’s was a long, single-bay, turn-of-the-century station, which was occupied by a single Seagrave tractor-drawn aerial– Truck 15. On arrival, you found a wide street, populated by fairly spartan row-houses, a Baltimore staple.
Inside the single door of the two-story station was an equally spare daytime environment. The truck was out when we first arrived. The front 2/3rds of the station which would normally be occupied by the truck, was flanked by an array of old and older call-taking equipment (on the driver’s side of the truck) and rows of red-doored lockers, some of them with paneled wood doors, others the more modern louvered steel locker-room type. Hanging on the outside of many of the locker’s were the user’s personal day-to-day hand tool(s).
Behind the truck, at the back of the bay was an informal, open-plan “day room” comprised of a mixed bag of lived in, “all-star” furniture. And, along another outside wall, at the base of a spiral stair to the second floor was a one-wall kitchen with a suspended Pompier ladder forming a very classy rack for pots and pans.
TOOL TIPS– JERRY SMITH & THE HAND MAUL. As we walked by the lockers, Jerry (at the far right in the photo below) mentioned that, on those occasions when he was riding as acting officer, he carried a 3 pound rock hammer (small, short hand maul or sledge) in his pocket. OK? Later, as we were about to leave, my curiosity got the best of me– “Why would anyone carry that tool?” The explanation made lots of sense; in Baltimore, truck officers customary perform forcible entry, by themselves. Rather than awkwardly trying to strike and drive the Halligan bar with an axe, Jerry (and others?) did so with the rock hammer.
Nice idea. I tried it out when I got back home. A car fire and a separate motor vehicle collision were all it took to convince me that the hand maul and Halligan are a great combination: a) driving the Halligan, alone, with the hand maul is far more efficient– through a combination of kinesthetics (“muscle memory?”) and the maul’s short handle, you can nail the Halligan virtually every time, even in zero viz; that’s more than most teams can say for the Halligan and flat head axe combination, b) the combination is much lighter than its more conventional “married set” alternative. It may not be superior to more conventional methods, but given the flathead/Halligan combo’s relative imprecision, on balance, I think its just as good.
You’ll want to do a little personal experimentation to determine the suitability of a short-handled striking tool as part of your set of irons. For example, when used with a Halligan that has squared off shoulders at the fork/claw end, the force of the hand maul’s more rounded head is likely to be applied off-center and deflected. For this application, I prefer the narrower proportions of a 3.5# – 4# flathead axe with a 12″ handle (as demonstrated by Frederick Co., MD, firefighters, above). The axe seems to work equally well for other purposes, as well.
Of course, most small, short-handled hammers, axes and mauls don’t exactly invite convenient nesting and/or carry with a Halligan. Some additional experimentation is likely to be needed for your particular tool of choice. Welding a steel stirrup on the end of the tool (as some producers do with their mauls and sledge hammers), is probably a pretty practical option [the example below is from Driver/Operator Chad Berg from Snohomish County, Washington Ladder Co. 72, who submitted it to the excellent vententersearch web site, http://www.vententersearch.com/tips.htm].
TOOL TIPS– BUILDING ON JERRY’S HAND MAUL CONCEPT.Another approach is to secure the striking tool with a spring-loaded, threaded bolt in the gap of the Halligan forks. A wingnut or knob-type nut is used to tighten the connection as needed. The spring provides a little tension in the system, to simplify joining and separating the tools (and to take up slack when the Halligan is removed, so you don’t sound as muck like a kindergarten rhythm band). If this method has any advantages over the stirrup (above), it is that it leaves a good deal of the gap in the Halligan forks exposed for nesting a third tool, as show in the photos.
The basic method: a rock hammer (in this case an Estwing 3 pounder (which I happen to think is one of the coolest looking tools on the market) has
Note that a “rubber band” of large diameter truck innertube is secured around the Halligan with a larks head knot. A quick wrap around the tool its nested to and a hook over one of its projections provides a secure union (a loop of paracord through the loose end of the rubber band allows easy connect/disconnect with bulky fire gloves.
TOOL TIPS– A BREACHING PICKHEAD AXE FOR ROOF WORK. Back at Truck 15’s, with the truck back in quarters, Jerry showed me a few tweaks the company had made on their rig. First, the tip of the 100′ stick was equipped with a very well-placed 500 Watt flood light, guaranteed to light up not only the contact area of the tip but also the entire roof area beyond. The crew had also machined out a rounded somewhat sharpened cut in the adze of their Halligan for lock-pulling chores– the obvious advantage of their approach was that it left a very robust leading edge on the adz, rather than the pointed “Devil’s ears” A-tools you commonly see that get peened over so quickly and aren’t aligned when you need them.
To me, the simplest, but neatest, tweak was the very rounded “breaking” edge that Truck 15 had formed on the blade of their pickhead axe. Although this visit substantially pre-dated the Iron Fox’s popularization of the rounded edge (or, at least, my awareness of it), they were clearly using the same play book.
POSTSCRIPT. I visited Truck 15 in February of 2012. At the time, it was the busiest truck in Baltimore. Nevertheless, as s budget saving measure, the city closed it and demobilized Truck 15, soon after my visit. The most popular explanation for closing that house was that, since it was surrounded by so many other trucks, it had the territory that could be most easily divided up among other companies. But the house wasn’t empty long. It was reopened in July of 2012 by Engine 33 (formerly housed with Truck 5).