The Case for Multi-Line Shutoffs
Vol. 20 No. 5
In industrial fire training, much of what we do isn't exactly always grounded in science. Rather, we have discovered techniques that work, and have adapted them to our industry. While property conservation and timely resolution of emergencies with minimal risk is the intent of any ERT response, it behooves all of us to consider how we can accomplish dangerous tasks in the safest manner possible. Without question, this notion is always subject to generous debate. From time to time, it is worthy to reflect on whether the techniques we are using require refinement or whether a whole new approach is required.
In this article we will examine various techniques currently utilized to achieve valve shutoffs and fuel isolation.
In recent years, there has been a trend away from using multiple hose lines when making valve shutoffs, supplanted by fire brigade members getting in close to accomplish valve shutoffs. We have observed this trend during training exercises conducted by various companies. What is being done is to use a single line to gain control of the fuel at its source, just as has been done in the past. A second line is located in the vicinity acting as a safety but is often engaged in controlling ground fires or other activities. The hose team is only brought in as close as needed to control the leak and then a single member is sent forward to close the valve. There are a variety of reasons given for using this technique. One is that it puts fewer personnel in proximity of the leaking fuel source. Another is that it allows the team to make quicker closures, there by doing more with fewer personnel. A third is that the newer personal protective clothing, including self contained breathing apparatus provides a higher level of safety for personnel closing the valve, reducing the need for the protection of the hose stream. Overall the driving factor is a lack of man-power and this technique allows departments to complete operations they would not be able to do otherwise. Herein lie the questions for debate. Is this really something we want our fire brigade to be doing? Just because we can do something, ( eg. send individual firefighters in to close a valve) does it mean we should be doing it?
The traditional method taught for many years was to use two hand lines and move into a position where all personnel are protected by these lines. In practice this technique can indeed put personnel in a very dangerous position. What we are advocating is multi-line shutoffs. This is based on the number of lines needed to control the fuel at its source not on some standard rule. Both single line and two line shut offs have the potential to put personnel in a situation where they fail to have adequate control of the leaking fuel and resulting fire. The first step is to determine the volume (gpm) of the hand lines that are available. Control should be attempted with the smallest volume line. If this first line does not control the fuel leak, then add additional lines till the leaking fuel is controlled. Once you have controlled the fuel at its source then add one-additional line to the ones controlling the fuel. This final line is actually your safety line, versus the safety line of the past operating some where in the vicinity. In this way if the unexpected happens and you lose any one line, you still have control of the fuel.
In addition to the lines operating to control the fuel and the safety line also on the leak, there should be a back-up line which is operating in the vicinity of the attack lines. This line's primary role is to protect the team members from ground fires. It can also be used as a replacement line in case of failure of any of the other lines involved. It should not be involved in the control of the fuel flow. The addition of this line also helps to meet 2 in 2 out requirements and having an immediate line available for personnel protection if the situation changes.
While the statements made about personal protective clothing in regards to single hand line shutoffs are true, they also make it safer to use the multi line method. In addition to the increased survivability of modern PPE, it also allows for increased movement and better dexterity.
There are two ways of gaining better control of fuel being released. The first of these is to use a tighter pattern. This is accomplished by closing the pattern down till it provides the best control of the fuel. If done from a distance any movement of the nozzle can easily move the pattern off the leak. Any movement of the nozzle is amplified over distance. A second way to gain better control of the fuel source is to move the nozzle closer to the leak. Both of these tasks can be accomplished easily when using multiple lines. Moving in close to the valve reduces the impact of wind and nozzle movement on the control of fuel. By having multiple lines, if any single line loses control or loses water, the remaining lines provide protection to all team members by controlling the fuel.
There are a number of challenges that are presented by using multiple hose lines. First they do require more manpower. You must develop a plan of attack and then staff the plan. To do other wise compromises the safety of all personnel. The approach of all teams must be coordinated to allow access for all team members. Separate lines may have to be moved individually in a stair step fashion. Each of these lines provides protection for the other as it is repositioned. Great care must be taken to ensure that egress routes are maintained. Personnel also have to have more training and practice in hose handling and nozzle finesse. Close proximity to a fuel leak, requires that personnel work as a coordinated team. This applies to both individual hose lines as well as the entire attack team.
Undoubtedly, your organization will make or has made difficult decisions on how best to configure an ERT to respond to various emergencies. Caution must be exercised when considering the use of team members to take on roles they may not be adequately trained to accomplish safely. As instructors or chief officers, it is noteworthy to reflect on our motivations. Many of us have said "we wouldn't ask our team members to do a job we ourselves wouldn't do". Consider this carefully, if you are sending in a team member to do a valve shut off.
Until next time, remember work SMARTER not HARDER!!
Comments? Questions? Is there an Industrial Fire Training topic you would like to see covered in this column? Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks to George Quick for his assistance in preparing this issues column.o
Attila Hertelendy, MHSM, CCEMT-P, NREMT-P, is an instructor with the University of Nevada, Reno Fire Science Academy.