Firefighting Q & A

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“Why are Fire Trucks RED?”

Although many new color schemes have become available for fire trucks (yellow, white, green, etc.), RED is still the color most widely used for painting fire trucks. The most widely accepted reason is that back in the 1800s, there was a lot of competition between the fire brigades of neighboring cities and towns. The firefighters, too, had great pride in the condition of their pumper. Each brigade wanted THEIR pump to be the cleanest and the most polished, with the most brass and the most regal colors. At the time, RED was the most expensive color – and that is what colors most crews chose to paint their pumper.

“Why has the Damlation become a symbol of fire departments?”

Use of a Dalmation dates back to a time when fire departments used HORSE-DRAWN ENGINES. Dalmations were trained to escort the horses on the way to the fire scene to prevent stray dogs from interfering in their response. The spotted Dalmations were easy for horses to distinguish from other dogs. Once at the fire scene, the Dalmation would continue to protect the horses from other animals.

“Why is a Maltese Cross used in many fire department logos? What does it mean?”

The story and history of the Maltese Cross is hundreds of years old, when a courageous band of crusaders, known as the “Knights of St. John”, fought the Saracens for possession of the holy land. The Saracens used FIRE as their primary weapon, throwing flammable liquid onto the Knights of St. John . . . then throwing torches onto the men. SOME of the the knights began risking their lives to put out the flames and tried to save their brothers-in-arms from burning to death. Thus, these men became our first FIREMEN. Their heroic efforts were recognized by fellow crusaders who awarded each a badge of honor – similar to the cross firemen wear today. Since the Knights of St. John lived on a little island in the Mediterranean Sea named MALTA . . . the cross became known as the “Maltese Cross”.

“Where did fire departments start?”

The history of organized firefighting actually dates back to Ancient Egypt, where hand-operated pumps may have been employed to extinguish fires. Firefighting in the United States dates back to 1648 in New Amsterdam, when 8 prominent citizens were assigned to the “Rattle Watch”. These men volunteered to patrol the streets at night carrying large wooden rattles. If a fire was seen, the men spun the rattles, then directed the responding citizens to form bucket brigades. On January 27, 1678 the first engine company went into service. The first organized volunteer fire department began in Philadelphia in 1736, and was started by Benjamin Franklin. Another famous firefigher? George Washington belonged to the Alexandira, Virginia fire department!

“How do firefighters know where they are going when you are in a building that is full of smoke?”

Firefighters use a variety of tools to get around inside a building to either find someone inside, or to fight the fire. The first tool we use is called a Thermal Imaging Camera. This camera senses HEAT, and creates an image on the screen (pictured to the right). This helps firefighters see anyone that might be in a room filled with smoke, and ALSO helps to find fire in the walls or anywhere else that we may not be able to see. The camera can also send that picture to a monitor outside or in a fire truck! Another way firefighters find their way through smoke is just by using their senses. When searching for a victim in a fire, an interior fire crew will hold on to each other and “sweep” the floor with their hands or feet to FEEL for someone that might be lying on the floor. Another sense that firefighters use in fighting fires is LISTENING. Even small fires can fill a room or building with smoke. Many times, Firefighters will simply hold their breath for a few seconds and can actually HEAR where the fire is burning. Finally, PREPARATION is a key to Firefighters knowing where they are going in a building. Many Fire Departments do “Pre Plans” on certain buildings, in which the members walk through and actually PLAN how they would fight a fire if one were to happen there. During these Pre-Plans, firefighters note Emergency Exits, Hazardous Materials, Sprinklers, Fire Extinguishers and more.

“What difficulties are faced by firemen when using communication radios while donning a breathing apparatus?”

Although it is EXTREMELY important that all firefighters are trained to know exactly what to do when on a fire ground, it is still important to be able to communicate with fire command when on a fire ground or inside a burning structure. Talking when wearing a breathing apparatus has some inherant problems . . . however the technology of today’s equiptment has made radio communication much easier. The SCBA (Self Contained Breathing Apparatus) systems that are used today feature a “speaking diaphram” located on the front of the mask (area with vertical lines shown on the mask to the left – click picture to enlarge). This diaphram naturally enhances the firefighter’s voice for communicating with other firefighters on the fire ground and via radio communication. In addition to the diaphram, firefighters can also add an electronic amplifier and microphone to their diaphram piece that dramatically increases their voice volume to help in radio communications. In recent years, units like the “Clear Command Helmet System” (pictured to the right) have dramatically helped fireground radio communication. It is a device that consists of a helmet-mounted microphone and ear speaker that allows firefighters to communicate via radio, without all the ambient noise from the fire ground. To see a great interactive demo of an SCBA system similar to what we use, CLICK HERE.