I once again found myself at the Farrier Fire Fighting School. I’m up to thrice over a year plus a little. They’ve now tried to set me on fire twice, drown me once, and gas me once. I still have some anecdotes from my last trip through a few months back, when I took the locker leader course (key highlights: the Buttercup and the confidence chamber).

I’ve noticed a running theme the more I’m involved in DC. Damage control is a team effort.

Can we emphasize that a little? Everyone stand up and let’s say it together. Damage control is a team effort.

These days I’m pretty SWOtivated for a supply JO in that I really don’t mind (and sometimes actually enjoy) all this damage control stuff I’ve been doing lately, so why is it I always seem to come home from Farrier classes, well, irritated? *cough SWOtivated chop cough* I get the whole “team effort” concept. I know other people get it, because I’ve witnessed the majority of people, y’know, working as a team.

But there’s one (usually more) in every group…

Today’s adventure was general shipboard firefighting. Pretty straightforward. Review how fires burn, what kinds of fires we deal with, which agent to use when, equipment, PPE. After about two hours of classroom work, we donned our gear and headed out to the fire field. This was my first time inside the fire structure; my last round of firefighting at Farrier was the mock flight deck. We had four stations: burning cables (C), galley grease fire (B), berthing fire (A), and burning ordnance (was this supposed to be D? It was really just a large interior space with fire on the deck, sprayed with water. That’s not what I would do for your average D. I’d just chuck it over the side).

This is a story about the ordnance fire.

This was really just a practice in basic hose handling. The team lined up on the hose, and once the fire started the fire party shuffled up along the hose relieving the nozzleman so everyone spent some time up at the front. When relieved, the nozzleman would change the water pattern from a narrow-angle V to a wide-angle V, providing more protection from heat for the fire party and relieving some of the pressure on the nozzleman. The new nozzleman would change back to a narrow V to continue fighting the fire. To change the angle, the nozzleman holds the nozzle pistol grip in one hand and reaches forward with the other to rotate the end of the nozzle. The nozzle is held out away from the body (I like to brace my elbow against my hip) to keep the nozzle from pushing the nozzleman around.

I’m only 5’2″; a wild firefighting hose could do me some serious damage, but if it’s under positive control? Easy day. I’m certainly capable of maintaining control over a hose and a brass nozzle. I don’t just mean I can stand there and keep the hose from going wild; I can relieve a nozzleman, move the nozzle in a pattern, change the spray angle, and pass off the nozzle while in a full firefighting ensemble. Even more, I clearly demonstrated today that I can do all of the above using my non-dominant hand to maintain positive control.

But the above only holds true when the hose is handled properly by the rest of the team.

The #1 hoseman’s job is to support the nozzleman. S/he braces one boot against the nozzleman’s back foot, presses the forward forearm against the nozzleman’s back, and supports the hose (push it forward to relieve pressure against the nozzle, respond when the nozzleman requests more hose). If the #1 hoseman is doing his/her job, s/he will tire out. If the #1 hoseman is just chilling, something is wrong.

Which brings me to my story.

We were doing our second walkthrough of the structure, this time with live flames. We had already done the entire exercise once with charged hoses, and I had no issues whatsoever. When I took the nozzle, I immediately noticed something was wrong. I almost lost the nozzle just trying to change the spray angle, and once I managed that I couldn’t lift the nozzle towards the fire. Every muscle was straining to move it, but it just didn’t work.

My hose team had pulled the hose backwards while I was first setting my grip, pulling the nozzle towards my hip and twisting my arm so the weight of the nozzle was born entirely in my fingers, rather than allowing me to line up my wrist, elbow, and hip for maximum support. Speaking of support, where the #$%^ was my #1 hoseman?

First things first. “More hose!” I shouted.

The hose inched back even further, wrenching the nozzle and my wrist again. The instructor saw the spray pattern suddenly jerk and immediately came over, fearing I was about to lose the nozzle (as did I). Instead he found me bent over with effort, trying to support a nozzle that just didn’t want to play nicely. “I need more hose!” I shouted at him. I heard him start railing against my team. Not only had they taken all of my extra hose, but they had also let the hose fall slack and start to curve in some places. This was a non-collapseable fire hose; when it starts to curve and twist, the nozzle wants to go with it. At last he got the hose team straightened out, and I suddenly felt some (but not all) the pressure ease, enough that I was able to get the nozzle out in front of me with proper form and start spraying a figure-8 at the base of the blaze. I was still straining; something was still wrong.

At last the instructors told my #1 hoseman to relieve me. I slid my hand forward to change the spray pattern–

–and nothing.

I couldn’t turn the end of the nozzle. My left arm was so beat up from supporting the flailing nozzle that my right hand turning the end of the nozzle was actually overpowering my left, trying to turn the entire nozzle instead of just the rotating piece at the end. Still, I should have been able to do it, except my #1 hoseman still wasn’t giving my any kind of physical support.

I performed the same actions both times through the structure: take control of the nozzle, change the spray pattern, fight the fire, change the spray pattern again, pass off the nozzle. So why was it so easy the first time and so hard the second?

Because damage control is a team effort.

My first time through the structure, my #1 hoseman was actively working with me, and my fire party kept the hose supported. They took over all the heavy lifting, so all I had to do was work the nozzle. The second time through, I had nothing from my fire party. I was alone with both the hose and the nozzle. The full water pressure was working against me, and I didn’t even have enough hose available in front of me to manage it. By the end (when the fire party was solved but the #1 hoseman wasn’t) I was too banged around to be effective. Had the second exercise been an actual casualty, I would not have been able to sustain the fight for more than a moment or two; it’s infuriating because I’m capable of bring much more than that to the table. The trouble is that, in hose handling, if the fire party doesn’t actively do their job they are actually working against the nozzleman. It would wear down anyone.

I’ve since determined the same thing happened when I did aviation firefighting over a year ago. We ran through the entire hose team twice; one time on the nozzle was easy, but the other was hard. The difference was that physical support from the rest of the team.

When it comes to damage control, I’m good (and ever so humble). I have the knowledge, and I can demonstrate the skills.

But to work effectively, I need everyone else to step up to the plate. I don’t necessarily need rock stars; I’ll settle for basic competence if I must. Once that team effort is compromised, I’m compromised. I can’t fight a main space fire from my locker; as locker leader, my job is to maintain the bigger picture, know who needs to go where to do what, and provide direction. For me to do that effectively, I have to trust the rest of my team to be able to function. If they can’t function (if my hose team can’t give me support), my job is at best degraded. At worst, I can’t function. (I had a drill towards the end of deployment that perfectly demonstrates how today’s issue with my hose team can happen anywhere and completely cripple a locker, but that deserves it’s own post. It’s quite the tale.)

So…..

Let’s review, shall we? Together, on three. One….two……three………

Damage control is a team effort.

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