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Glossary of firefighting terms

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Firefighting jargon includes a diverse lexicon of both common and idiosyncratic terms. One problem that exists in trying to create a list such as this is that much of the terminology used by a particular department is specifically defined in their particular SOPs, such that two departments may have completely different terms for the same thing. For example, depending on who you ask, a safety team may be referred to as a standby, a RIT or RIG or RIC (rapid intervention team/group/crew), or a FAST (firefighter assist and search team). Furthermore, a department may change a definition within its SOP, such that one year it may be RIT, and the next RIG or RIC.

The variability of firefighter jargon should not be taken as a rule; some terms are fairly universal (e.g. stand-pipe, hydrant, chief). But keep in mind that any term defined here may be department, or region, specific, or at least more idiosyncratic than you may realize.

A [ top ]

Above-ground storage tank: Storage tank that is not buried. Compare Underground storage tank. Unburied tanks are more prone to physical damage, and leaks are released to the air or ground, rather than the soil surrounding a buried tank.

Accelerant: flammable fuel (often liquid) used by some arsonists to increase size or intensity of fire. May also be accidentally introduced when HAZMAT becomes involved in fire.

Accountability: The process of emergency responders (fire, police, SAR, emergency medical, etc...) checking into and making themselves announced as being on-scene during an incident to an incident commander or accountability officer. Through the accountability system, each person is tracked throughout the incident until released from the scene by the incident commander or accountability officer. This is becoming a standard in the emergency services arena primarily for the safety of emergency personnel. This system may implement a name tag system or personal locator device (tracking device used by each individual that is linked to a computer).

AFA: Automatic Fire Alarm/Actuating Fire Alarm

Alarm: (1) system for detecting and reporting unusual conditions, such as smoke, fire, flood, loss of air, HAZMAT release, etc; (2) a specific assignment of multiple fire companies and/or units to a particular incident, usually of fire in nature; (3) centralized dispatch center for interpreting alarms and dispatching resources. See fire alarm control panel.

All companies working: Status report at fire scene indicating that available manpower is busy, and more resources may become necessary if incident is not controlled soon.

Ammonium nitrate: component of ANFO; contents of two ships that exploded in Texas City Disaster, killing over 500 people, including all 28 volunteer firefighters at the scene.

ANFO: Ammonium Nitrate Fuel Oil combination making a high explosive.

Apparatus: A term usually used by firefighters describing a piece of equipment, usually a company vehicle.

Arson: the crime of maliciously (or perhaps recklessly) setting fire to property, especially a dwelling. Punishable in various degrees, depending upon the circumstances. Occasionally occurs as a psychotic act of a mentally ill firefighter.

Authority Having Jurisdiction (or AHJ): organization or agency with legal authority over a given type of incident (e.g, fire, EMS, SAR, arson, HAZMAT); may change or overlap as incident changes, as where fire becomes arson investigation once danger is over, or Motor Vehicle Accident becomes police business after vehicle extrication, fire, and HAZMAT issues are complete.

Autoextended fire: structure fire that has gone out a window or other opening on one floor and ignited materials above, on another floor or other space (attic, cockloft).

Available flow: total amount of water that can be put on a fire, depending upon water supply, pump size, hoses, and distance to the fire. IC must assess available flow to determine whether additional apparatus or streams are required. See Fire flow requirement.

B [ top ]

BA Set: Breathing Apparatus Set comprising of a face-mask and oxygen cylinder

Backdraft: A fire phenomenon caused when heat and heavy smoke (unburned fuel particles) accumulate inside a compartment, depleting the available air, and then oxygen/air is re-introduced, completing the fire triangle and causing rapid combustion.

Backfiring: A tactic used in wildland firefighting associated with indirect attack, by intentionally setting fire to fuels inside the control line. Most often used to contain a rapidly spreading fire, placing control lines at places where the fire can be fought on the firefighter's terms.

Back burning: Australian term, for Backfiring, above.

Backflow preventer: Automatic valve used in hose accessories to ensure water flows only in one direction. Used in permanent fire department connections (FDC) to sprinklers and dry standpipes, as well as portable devices used in firefighting.

Bank down: What the smoke does as it fills a room, banks down to the floor, creating several layers of heat and smoke at different temperatures -- the coolest at the bottom.

Boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion (BLEVE): Explosion of a pressure tank containing an overheated material when the vapor expansion rate exceeds the pressure relief capacity (e.g., steam boiler or LPG tank). If the contents are flammable, the rapidly released vapor may react in a secondary fuel-air explosion.

Box (Alarm): A mailslot or other file system containing a notecard with a planned response to an incident type. For example, a reported structure fire on Some Road would be tagged with Box 6; the notecard in Box 6 would contain the list of apparatus from various fire stations that should be dispatched to that incident. Assigning Boxes to areas (or even specific structures) significantly facilitated the process of getting the right tools to the right place on the initial dispatch, and helped eliminate the guesswork of "which department has what" on the fire scene. Boxes later evolved to contain escalation procedures - on the "2nd alarm", the Box would contain the next group of apparatus from various fire stations, etc. Modern CAD systems now abstract the Box Alarm concept, and allow box definitions to be triggered based on arbitrary geographic area, time of day, incident type, weather, and any other planned situation. For a given hydranted area, the "Summer" box will contain the usual response of Engine, Truck, and Rescue companies. In the winter, however, the box may be modified (automatically, or manually) to include Water Tankers on the initial dispatch, to handle the case of frozen hydrants. The term "Box" comes from the fire alarm pull boxes that were commonplace in major cities for well over fifty years. This was a telegraph system that involved bells to ring out the box number. This system was in place from the 1920's (or earlier) to well into the 1960s and 1970s in some cities. Boston was one of the first (if not THE first) major U.S. Cities to have a telegraph alarm system. They installed it in 1852. The Boston Fire Department still uses this system of paper rolls and bells. The modern use of "box cards" based upon an imaginary box location for dispatch or move up is often known as the "Phantom Box System".

Bus* another term for ambulance,

Bushfire: Australian term, for Wildfire, below.

C [ top ]

Call Firefighter: Call firefighters respond as needed on a part time basis to all types of emergencies. Call firefighters train with their local engine companies in their districts. Call firefighters are utilized in three different ways. “First Responder" call firefighter units, are those units that are staffed entirely by paid call firefighters. These firefighters respond to all emergency incidents within their jurisdictional areas and are supported by full-time companies from adjoining jurisdictions. "Supplemental" call firefighter units are those units that staff a second engine company from a station that is also staffed by a full-time company. These units respond to all multi-unit responses in their district, and cover the station when the career companies are committed. "Augmentation" call firefighters are assigned to an existing career company and respond directly to the scene to augment that company's staffing.

Career Firefighter: A person whose primary employment is as a firefighter for a municipality or other agency or company and who derives the majority of his earned income working in the fire service.

Charge a hose: To make water pressure available on a hose in final preparation for its use. This is done on the scene after the hose is deployed.

Charged hose: A hose that is filled with water and pressurized; ready to use. This is done after the hose is deployed.

Chauffeur: See Engineer.

Chimney fire: Fast and intense fire in a chimney flue in which accumulated creosote and other combustion byproducts ignite.

Class A: A fire involving combustibles such as wood, paper, and other natural materials. See Fire Classes.

Class B: A fire involving hydrocarbons. See Fire Classes.

Class C: An electrical fire. See Fire Classes.

Class D: A fire involving metals, such as sodium, titanium, magnesium, potasium, uranium, lithium, plutonium and calcium. See Fire Classes.

Class E (Europe/Australia): A composite Class A/Class B fire that is not also a Class C fire.

Class F (Europe/Australia): See Class K.

Class K: A fire involving cooking oils. Technically, this is a subclass of Class B. See Fire Classes.

Cockloft: structural space above ceiling and below rafters, often connecting adjacent occupancies and permitting fire to spread laterally, often unseen.

Collapse zone: The area around a structure that would contain debris if the building were to collapse.

Combustion:Company: two or more firefighters organized as a team, led by a fire officer, and equipped to perform certain operational functions. Compare with platoon and unit.

Company officer - A fire officer, typically a lieutenant or captain, who leads a team of two or more firefighters in a company.

Compartment Fire: An "Isolated" fire, or a fire which is "boxed in" or "closed off" from the rest of the structure. An example of this is a fire in a room where all the windows and doors are closed preventing the fire from spreading to other rooms.

Confined space:Conflagration: a large, typically urban, fire involving numerous structures; loosely defined as enveloping an area equivalent to one or more square blocks. Compare with firestorm.

Crash Tender: a pump capable of spraying foam used at airports.

Crew Resource Management (CRM) - Training developed by NASA based on the concept that the primary cause of the majority of aviation accidents is human error and problems with interpersonal communication in particular. The training has been adapted for the fire service and teaches firefighters the correct way to question orders on an emergency scene. It also helps supervisors understand that the questioning of an order should not be interpreted as a threat to their authority.

Cross lay: Arrangement of hose on a pumper such that it can be quickly unloaded from either side of the apparatus; often pre-connected to a pump outlet and equipped with a suitable nozzle. Also know as Mattydale Lay.

D [ top ]

Dalmatian: "Firehouse dog."Dead lay: A load of hose on a pumper, but not connected to a pump outlet. Often used for larger supply lines.

Deflagration: An explosion with a propagation front traveling at subsonic speeds, as compared to supersonic detonation.

Direct attack: "Putting the wet stuff on the red stuff." A form of fire attack in which hoses are advanced to the fire inside a structure and hose streams directed at the burning materials.

Discharge flow: The amount of water flowing from a fire hydrant when it is opened; compare to static flow and residual flow.

Determinate A code given by dispatch(Alpha -Echo)showing the sevrity of a call and how you should respond.

Dispatch: Refers to person or place designated for handling a call for help by alerting the specific resources necessary.

Draft: The process of pumping water from a static source below the pump.

Drills: training during which an emergency is simulated and the trainees go through the steps of responding as if it were a real emergency.

E [ top ]

Electrical fire: A fire in which the primary source of heat is electricity, resulting in combustion of adjacent insulation and other materials; may be hazardous to attempt to extinguish using water.

EMS: Emergency medical service(s).

Engine: A fire suppression vehicle that has a water pump and, typically, is designed to carry firehose and a limited supply of water.

Engineer: A firefighter responsible for driving the engine to the scene of the call and operation of the pumps on an engine, to provide sufficient water to the firefighters on the hose. The term may be either a position title or a rank; usage varies among departments.

Engine Company: A group of firefighters assigned to an apparatus with a water pump and equipped with firehose and other tools related to fire extinguishment.

Engine house: [archaic] A firehouse housing an engine company.

Engine pressure: The pressure in a fire hose measured at the outlet of the pump.

Enhanced 9-1-1: Electronic system for automatic correllation of physical telephone lines with information about the location of the caller -- a useful tool for dispatchers when the caller has an emergency but cannot speak.

Evacuation: Removal of personnel from a dangerous area, in particular, a HAZMAT incident, burning building, or other emergency. Also refers to act of removing firefighters from a structure in danger of collapsing.Evolution: Uniform sequence of practiced steps by squad carrying out common tasks such as selection and placement of ladders, stowing hoses in hose bed, putting hoses and tools into service in particular patterns; intended to result in predictability during emergencies.

Exothermic reaction: Chemical reaction giving off heat in the process, such as combustion.

Explorer: a young adult who's age is between 14 and 21 who learns the basics of firefighting.

Exposure: Property near fire that may become involved by transfer of heat or burning material from main fire, typically by convection or radiation. May range from 40 feet to several miles, depending on size and type of fire or explosion.

Extrication: removal of a trapped victim such as a vehicle extrication, confined space rescue, or trench rescue; sometimes using hydraulic spreader, Jaws of Life, or other technical equipment.

ETOH: the chemical symbol for alcohol, also used to describe someone believed to be intoxicated.

F [ top ]

FAST (or F.A.S.T.): Firefighter Assist and Search Team (also called Rapid Entry Team or Rapid Intervention Team/Crew) — firefighters assigned to stand by for rescue of other firefighters inside a structure; an implementation to support the Two-in, two-out rule; may have specialized training, experience and tools. While all of these versions of the name for a firefighter rescue crew either have been used or continue to be used in several areas, the National Incident Management System (NIMS) has determined that Rapid Intervention Crew, ("RIC") will be the national term. Current U.S. federally mandated training programs are in the process of standardizing this and other terms under DHS and FEMA.

FDC (Fire Department Connection): Location in which pumping apparatus hooks to a buildings standpipe and or sprinkler system. Usually a 3" female connection.

Fire Break: Especially in hilly or mountainous areas, roads or paths cut through brush with a tractor, bulldozer or other construction equipment. The purpose of these is to have an area with no brush, and thus, no fuel, so that a fire will hopefully burn out rather than jumping to another area with brush. Also to ensure vehicular access to brush areas.Fire code ( Fire safety code): regulations for fire prevention and safety involving flammables, explosives and other dangerous operations and occupancies.

Fire engineering: Scientific design of materials, structures and processes for fire safety

Fire escape: A building structure arranged outside to assist in safe evacuation of occupants during an emergency; may connect horizontally beyond a fire wall or verically to a roof or (preferably) to the ground, perhaps with a counter-weighted span to deny access to intruders.

Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program (FFFIPP) - Program administered by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), a department of the Center for Disease Control (CDC). It performs independent investigations of firefighter fatalities in the United States, also referred to as line of duty deaths (LODD). The programs goals are: 1.) to better define the characteristics of line of duty deaths among firefighters, 2.) to develop recommendations for the prevention of deaths and injuries, and 3.) to disseminate prevention strategies to the fire service.

Firefighter: People who respond to fire alarms and other emergencies for fire suppression, rescue, and related duties.

Firefighter Assist and Search Team: See FAST.Fire flow: The amount of water being pumped onto a fire, or required to extinguish a hypothetical fire. A critical calculation in light of the axiom that an ordinary fire will not be extinguished unless there is sufficient water to remove the heat of the fire.

Fireground: The operational area at the scene of a fire; area in which incident commander is in control. Also used as name of radio frequency to be used by units operating in the fireground, as in “Responding units switch to fireground”.

Fire hazard: Materials, structures or processes that may result in creating a fire, permitting a fire to grow undetected, or preventing people from escaping a fire.

Firehouse: Another term for Fire station. Where fire apparatus is stored and where full-time firefighters work.

Fire hydraulics: The study of pumps, hoses, pipes, accessories and tools for moving water or other extinguishing agents from a water supply to a fire.

Fire inspector: A person responsible for issuing permits and enforcing the fire code, including any necessary premises inspection, as before allowing (or during) a large indoor gathering.

Fire line: A boundary of a fire scene established for public safety and to identify the area in which firefighters may be working.

Fire load (Btu/sq ft): An estimate of the amount of heat that will be given off during ordinary combustion of all the fuel in a given space; e.g., a bedroom or a lumberyard.

Fire marshal: Administrative and investigative office for fire prevention and arson investigation.

Fire officer - See Company officer

Fire point: temperature at which materials give off flammable gases that will sustain fire, typically higher than flash point. Temperature at flashover.

Fire Police: Special constables attached to a fire department, tasked with ensuring the safety and security of emergency scenes as well as general assistance to the fire department and other agencies.

Fire prevention: Fire safety; standards for minimizing fire hazards.

Fire-resistant: Materials designed or treated to have an increased fire point.

Firestorm: A conflagration of great enough proportions to noticeably create its own wind conditions.

Fire tetrahedron: The fire tetrahedron is based on the components of igniting or extinguishing a fire. Each component represents a property necessary to sustain fire: fuel, oxygen, heat, and chemical chain reaction. Extinguishment is based upon removing or hindering any one of these properties.

Fire triangle: Model for understanding the major components necessary for fire: heat, fuel and oxygen. See also fire tetrahedron for a more comprehensive model.

Fire wall: Building structure designed to delay horizontal spread of a fire from one area of a building to another; often regulated by fire code and required to have self-closing doors, and fireproof construction.

Fire warden:Fire watch: Fixed or mobile patrols that watch for signs of fire or fire hazards so that any necessary alarm can be quickly raised or preventive steps taken.

Fit test: Periodic test of how well the facepiece of an SCBA fits a particular firefighter.

Flameover: Also known as rollover. The ignition of heated fire gasses at the ceiling level only. While dangerous to firefighters, this is not as deadly as Flashover.

Flammable range, limits: The percentage mixture of fumes with air that will sustain fire; outside the limits the mixture is either too lean or too rich to burn.

Flash point: Lowest temperature at which a material will emit vapor combustible in air mixture. Higher than Flame point of same material.

Flashover: simultaneous ignition of combustible materials in a closed space, as when materials simultaneously reach their fire point; may also result in rollover.

Foam- Extinguishing agent formed by mixing foam concentrate with water and aerating the solution for expansion.

Foam Concentrate- Raw foam liquid as it rests in it storage container before the introduction of water and air.

Forcible entry: gaining entry to an area using force to disable or bypass security devices, typically using force tools, sometimes using tools specialized for entry (e.g., Halligan, K-tool).

Forward lay: Procedure of stringing water supply hose from a water source toward a fire scene; compare with reverse lay.

Freelancing: dangerous situation at an incident where an individual carries out tasks alone or without being assigned; violation of personnel accountability procedures.

Friction loss: Reduction of flow in a firehose caused by friction between the water and the lining of the hose. Depends primarily upon diameter, type and length of hose, and amount of water (GPM) flowing through.

Frontage: The size of a building facing a street.

Fully involved: Term of size-up meaning fire, heat and smoke in a structure are so widespread that internal access must wait until fire streams can be applied.

G [ top ]

GPM: Gallons Per Minute or how many gallons are being pumped out of a piece of equipment every minute

GPM method ("gallons per minute"): Calculation of how much water, in GPM, will be necessary to extinguish a given volume of fire, under the circumstances (e.g., fuel class, containment, exposures, etc.).

Grease fire: A fire involving any manner of cooking oil or other flammable cooking or lubricating materials. Also known as a Class B, F or K fire.

Goer: An incident with persons reported.

H [ top ]

Hazard: a source of danger of personal injury or property damage; fire hazard refers to conditions that may result in fire or explosion, or may increase spread of an accidental fire, or prevent escape from fire. Under worker safety and health regulations, employers have a general duty to provide a workplace free of hazards. See also fire prevention, and HAZMAT.

Hard Line: A smaller hose about one inch in diameter used by firefighters to clean apparatus.

HAZMAT: Hazardous materials, including solids, liquids, or gasses that may cause injury, death, or damage if released or triggered.

Head pressure: How the pressure of a water stream is mesured. By mesuring the 'breakover' point, the point where the water stream breaks apart and begins to fall back to the ground, of a stream of water aimed vertically into the air. This is typically done with a one inch diameter hose and a fixed nozzle. Therefore, if a water stream breaks over at 50ft, then it is said the pump has 50 feet of head pressure. Current measurements of pumping capacity are now in GPM, Gallons Per Minute.

High-pressure system: A supplemental pump system used to pressurize the water supply, sometimes used during a large fire, or whenever more than one hydrant is being used.

High-rise building: Any building taller than three or four stories, depending upon local usage, requiring firefighters to climb stairs or aerial ladders for access to upper floors.

High-rise pack: A shoulder load of hose with a nozzle and other tools necessary to connect the hose to a standpipe.

Hotshot crew: An extensively trained group of approximately twenty people which specializes in wildfire suppression with little or no outside logistical support.

Hot zone: contaminated area of HAZMAT incident that must be isolated; requires suitable protective equipment to enter and decontamination upon exit; minimum hot zone distance from unknown material with unknown release is 330 feet (United Nations Emergency Response Guidebook); surrounded by "warm zone" where decontamination takes place.

I [ top ]

IDLH: Any situation deemed Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health. More narrowly defined by OSHA. See main IDLH article. An area of maximum danger to firefighters.

Incident Commander: The officer in charge of all activities at an incident. See Incident Command System.

Incident Safety Officer: The officer in charge of scene safety at an incident. See Incident Command System.

Indirect attack: Method of firefighting in which water is pumped onto materials above or near the fire so that the splash rains onto the fire, often used where a structure is unsafe to enter.

Initial attack: First point of attack on a fire where hose lines or fuel separation are used to prevent further extension of the fire.

Interface zone (also wildland/structural interface or urban/wildland interface): The zone where wildfires threaten structures or structural fires threaten wildlands, such as in residential areas adjacent to forests. This requires both wildland firefighting and structural firefighting in the same location, which involve very different tactics and equipment.

ISO Rating: (Insurance Services Office Public Protection Classification Rating) This is a rating published by the Insurance Services Office. Insurance companies, in many states, use this number to determine homeowner insurance premiums. Recently some insurance companies, including State Farm, have now adopted a per-zip-code, actual loss, based system in several states and no longer use the ISO (PPC) system.

Irons: The flathead axe mated with the halligan bar. Firefighters often refer to these as the Crossed Irons, or Married Irons, because the Halligan Bar can fit to the Axe head.

L [ top ]

Ladder company: A group of fire fighters, officers and engineers that staff a ladder truck.

Level I, II, III Incident: A HAZMAT term denoting the severity of the incident and the type of response that may be necessary, where Level III is the largest or most dangerous.

Life safety code: NFPA publication.

Life line: A trademark for a wireless emergency call unit that triggers a telephone call to an emergency dispatcher when a button is pressed.

Line loss: See friction loss.

Live line: A fire hose under pressure from a pump. Also, an energized electrical line that may cause a hazard to firefighters.

Loaded stream: An obsolete fire extinguisher stream that has had a chemical fire suppression agent added and is discharged by compressed gas or by inverting the tank to mix chemicals to produce gas pressure. Now outlawed by OSHA regulation 1910.157(c)(5). [Not to be confused with air pressurized water extinguishers with a Class A foam generating concentrate added at one-half of 1% by volume. Class A foam formed when mixed with air upon discharge produces surfactant-containing tiny bubbles which break surface tension to quickly penetrate and extinguish wood, paper, cloth and other common materials.]

M [ top ]

Make Pumps: To raise the number of pumps at an incident E.G. Make Pumps 10

Maltese Cross: The emblem of the fire service is often referred to as a “Maltese Cross”. But the actual origin of the current or common emblem in the U.S. remains uncertain. While it is true that the Knights Hospitalers of Jerusalem (AKA Knights of St. John) did wear a cross emblem and a version of that cross has been used as a fire service icon, it bears little resemblance to the current form in use in much of the United States. It is possible to accept that the current design is just a stylized artistic embellishment of the original form. The current design may have also been influenced by the design of the cross of Saint Florian.

Mass casualty incident (MCI): Any incident that produces a large number of injured persons requiring emergency medical treatment and transportation to a medical facility. The exact number of patients that makes an incident "mass casualty" is defined by departmental procedures and may vary from area to area.

Master box: A primary fire alarm relay box connected to a building alarm system which monitors fire alarm pull stations and detectors throughout the building and automatically relays any in-building alarm to the local municipal fire department. Usually accompanied by an Annunciator Panel which records by indcator lights or other devices exactly where the pull station or detector that has been activated is located within the building. Common in multi-story office and apartment buildings equipped with sprinkler systems or smoke and heat detectors.

Master stream: A large nozzle, either portable or fixed to a pumper, capable of throwing large amounts of water relatively long distances.

Means of egress: The way out of a building during an emergency; may be by door, window, hallway, or exterior fire escape; local fire codes will often dictate the size. location and type according to the number of occupants and the type of occupancy.

Multiple alarms: A request by an incident commander for additional personnel and apparatus. Each department will vary on the number of apparatus and personnel on each additional alarm.

Mutual aid: An agreement between nearby fire companies to assist each other during emergencies by responding with available manpower and apparatus.

N [ top ]

National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System - Program developed by the IAFC that prevents injuries and saves the lives of fire fighters by collecting, sharing and analyzing near-miss experiences. It gives firefighters the opportunity to learn from each other through real life experiences, formulates strategies to reduce firefighter injuries and fatalities, and attempts to enhance the safety culture of the fire service.

NFPA: The National Fire Protection Association, a research group which sets a number of standards and best practices for *firefighting, equipment, and fire protection in the United States, and also adopted in many other countries. Also, slang for "No Free Publications Available"; used to reference any "must-have" documents that are prohibitively expensive.

NIOSH: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. A U.S. agency responsible for investigation of workplace deaths, including firefighters.

NIMS: The National Incident Management System. A federally mandated program for the standardizing of command terminology and procedures. This standardizes communications between fire departments and other agencies. It is based upon simple terms that will be used nationwide. Currently, U.S. federally required training programs, from DHS and FEMA, are in the process of standardizing many terms and procedures under NIMS.

O [ top ]

Occupancy: Zoning and safety code term used to determine how a structure is permitted to be used and occupied, which in turn dictates the necessary safety structures and procedures.

Occupancy class: General categories of structures for purpose of safety planning, such as for hospital, assembly, industrial, single-family dwelling, apartment building, commercial, etc. Further broken down by types of hazards associated with particular occupancies, such as gas stations.

Occupant use hose: Light-weight firehose coupled to standpipe for emergency use by building occupants prior to arrival of firefighters. Often accessible by breaking glass to unlock secure enclosure.

Offensive attack: Method of firefighting in which water or other extinguisher is taken directly to the seat of the fire, as opposed to being pumped in that general direction from a safe distance.

On-call: Personnel who can be summoned (and paid) when necessary to respond to an incident; a type of "volunteer" fire department.

On The Green: Pump Only Shout

OSHA: U.S. government agency concerned with regulating employee safety, particularly in hazardous occupations such as firefighting.

Outside fire: Urban fire not inside a building or vehicle, often found to be burning trash which could extend to nearby structures or vehicles if not dealt with properly. A suburban, interface, or rural outside fire could also be a wildland fire.

Overhauling: Late stage in fire-suppression process during which the burned area is carefully examined for remaining sources of heat that may re-kindle the fire. Often coincides with salvage operations to prevent further loss to structure or its contents, as well as fire-cause determination and preservation of evidence.

Oxidizer: A hazardous material containing oxygen that can combine with adjacent fuel to start or feed a fire.

P [ top ]

Penciling: The penciling technique is created by adjusting the nozzle to a straight stream pattern and using series of short bursts of water directed at burning materials. This helps reduce the production of flammable gases by cooling the burning walls and ceiling below their ignition point.

Personal alert safety system: See PASS device in Glossary of firefighting equipment.

Personnel Accountability Report ("PAR"): End-result of personnel accountability system. Best report is all hands, AOK, worse is squad missing. You will often hear command ask for a "PAR" when something has changed on the fireground. Often the reply will be something like, "Engine 4, PAR." or "Engine 4 has PAR.

"Personnel accountability system: Tag, 'passport', or other system for identification and tracking of personnel at an incident, especially those entering and leaving an IDLH area; intended to permit rapid determination of who may be at risk or lost during sudden changes at the scene.

Platoon: a subdivision of a fire company, led a fire officer of either the rank of captain or lieutenant, such that one of several platoons is assigned to duty for a specified period. Also called a "watch". In many areas the word "platoon" is used to describe the different shifts in the fire department. For example, A, B or C Platoon.

Plug: Slang term for a fire hydrant. This survives from the days when water mains actually had holes in the tops that were plugged. Many firefighters would like to keep this word while many others think it should be replaced with the accurate term, "hydrant".

Positive pressure: Pressure at higher than atmospheric; used in SCBA facepieces and in smoke-proof stairwells to reduce entry of smoke or fumes through small openings. High volume, portable Positive Pressure Ventilation fans are now carried by fire departments and used to pressurize the fire building during interior attack to control smoke and heat ventilation at desired points.

Pre-arrival instructions: Directions given by a dispatcher to a caller until emergency units can arrive.

Pre-fire, pre-incident planning: Information collected by fire prevention officers to assist in identifying hazards and the equipment, supplies, personnel, skills, and procedures needed to deal with a potential incident.

Pre-planning: Fire protection strategy involving visits to potentially hazardous occupancies for inspection, followup analysis and recommendations for actions to be taken in case of specific incidents. Not to be confused with post-planning.

"Probie:" (also rookie) new firefighter on employment probation (a period of time during which his or her skills are improved, honed, tested, and evaluated)

"Professional Firefighter:" All firefighters are classified as "professionals" by both the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) and the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF trade union). All firefighters are required by most state laws and general practice to meet the same training and equipment standards, take the same examinations for promotion and perform the same work under the same hazards. There are two accepted categories of Professional Firefighters--Volunteer Firefighters who may or may not receive pay for services and Career Firefighters whose primary employment and source of earned income is in the fire service.

Public alarm: Means for public to report a fire, includes telephone, street-corner pull-boxes, building pull-stations, and manual bells or sirens in rural areas.

Pumper: A fire truck with a water tank.

Pump operator, technician: (also a chauffeur): person responsible for operating the pumps on a pumper and typically for driving the pumper to an incident.

Pump Escape: Appliance carrying a wheeled ladder

Pumper company: Squad or company that mans a fire engine (pumper) and carries out duties involving getting water to the fire.

Pyrolysis: Process of converting a solid substance to combustible fumes by raising its temperature. See also vaporization of liquids.

R [ top ]

Radiant extension: fire that has transferred ignition heat to adjacent materials across open space. One reason some city fire codes prohibit windows facing each other in adjacent warehouses.

Rapid entry team: See FAST.

Rapid Intervention Crew/Group/Team (RIC, RIG, or RIT): This is a standby crew whose purpose is to go in for the rescue of firefighters in trouble. While all of these versions of the name for a firefighter rescue crew either have been used or continue to be used in several areas, the National Incident Management System (NIMS) has adopted the term Rapid Intervention Crew/Company, ("RIC") to be the standard in the Incident Command System (ICS). Currently, U.S. federally required training programs, from DHS and FEMA, are in the process of standardizing many terms and procedures under NIMS. See: FAST

Ready team: A company of firefighters waiting to be relieve another company.

Recovery: Location and removal of deceased victims. Also, the time needed for a firefighter to spend in rehab before being considered ready to continue working the incident.

Reflash, re-kindle: A situation in which a fire, thought to be extinguished, resumes burning.

Reflash Watch: A person assigned to observe and monitor an extinguished fire, to ensure that it does not reflash or re-kindle.

Rehab, Rehabilitation sector: An area for physical and mental recuperation at a fire scene, usually equipped with beverages, and chairs, isolated from environmental extremes (cold, heat, noise, smoke). This rest area enables firefighters to relax, cool off (or warm up) and regain hydration by way of preventing injury. An EMT may be assigned to monitor firefighter vitals when they enter and leave rehab. See: Fire department rehab

Rescue: Physical removal of a live person or animal from danger to a place of comfort.

Rescue company: Squad of firefighters trained and equipped to enter adverse conditions and rescue victims of an incident. Often delegated to a truck company.

Residential sprinkler system: A sprinkler system arranged for fire suppression in a dwelling.

Residual pressure: The amount of pressure in a hydrant system when a hydrant is fully open, such as during a fire; should be engineered to provide domestic supply of water to homes and businesses during a large fire in the district.

Reverse lay: The process of stringing hose from a fire toward a source of water, i.e., a fire hydrant.

Rollover: See flameover, above.

Run card system: A system of pre-planning for fire protection in which information about specific detectors, hazards, or other emergency response plans is indexed by location, for rapid reference during an alarm.

Running Call A call 'Shout' with persons reported

S [ top ]

SAR: See Search and rescue.

Salvage, salvage cover: Heavy-duty tarpaulins folded or rolled for quick deployment to cover personal property subjected to possible water or other damage during firefighting.

Scene safety: Steps taken at or near an emergency scene to reduce hazards and prevent further injuries to workers, victims or bystanders.

SCBA Self Contained Breathing Apparatus witch you have your oxygen tank and mask, keeps you from breathing in smoke or hazardous gases. Part of your PPE.

Scuttle hatch: Ready-made opening in roof that can be opened for vertical ventilation.

Search and rescue (or SAR): Entering a fire building or collapse zone for an orderly search for victims and removal of live victims. Becomes "recovery" if victims are not likely to be found alive.

Secondary containment: A system to contain a hazardous material should the primary means of containment (container) fail, e.g. by leakage. The secondary container is required to hold 110% of the capacity of the primary container.

Sector: A physical or operational division of an incident; an area supervised as a branch in the Incident Command System. A typical system for structure fires names the "front" of the building "sector A", and continues clockwise around the building (B, C, D), with interior sectors denoted by the floor number (1, 2, 3, etc.). A "rehab" sector is one example of an operational division at an incident, where personnel are assigned after strenuous work in another sector.

Shoulder load: The amount of hose a single firefighter can pull off a hose wagon or pumper truck and carry toward the fire.

Sides A, B, C, and D: Terms used by firefighters labeling the multiple sides of a building starting with side A or Alpha being the front of the structure and working its way around the outside of the structure in a clockwise direction. This labels the front side A or Alpha, the left side B or Bravo, the rear side C or Charlie, and the right side D or Delta.

Size-up: initial evaluation of an incident, in particular a determination of immediate hazards to responders, other lives and property, and what additional resources may be needed. Example: "Two-story brick taxpayer with heavy smoke showing from rear wooden porches and children reported trapped."

Smoke explosion: See backdraft.

Smoke-proof stairwell: Building structure which isolates escape stairwells with relatively fireproof walls, self-closing doors, and positive pressure ventilation, to prevent smoke or fumes from entering the stairwell during evacuation of occupants during a fire or other emergency.

Solid stream: fire stream from round orifice of nozzle. Compare straight stream.

Staging: sector of incident command where responding resources arrive for assignment to another sector. Often an essential element in personnel accountability program.

Standard operating procedure, guideline (SOP or SOG): Rules for the operation of a fire department, such as how to respond to various types of emergencies, training requirements, use of protective equipment, radio procedures; often include local interpretations of regulations and standards. In general, "procedures" are specific, whereas "guidelines" are less detailed.

Static pressure: The pressure in a water system when the water is not flowing.

Straight stream: Round, hollow stream formed as water passes a round baffle through a round orifice (e.g., on an adjustable nozzle.) Compare solid stream.

Stretch: command to lay out (and connect) firehose and nozzle.

Strike Team: a grouping of fire apparatus with a focused goal in a large fire situation. The term is commonly used for structure protection teams during wildland fire operations.

Structure fire (or "structural fire"): A fire in a residential or commercial building. Urban fire departments are primarily geared toward structural firefighting. The term is often used to distinguish them from wildland fire or other outside fire, and may also refer to the type of training and equipment (e.g., "structure PPE").

T [ top ]

Tailboard: Portion at rear of fire engine where firefighters could stand and ride (now considered overly dangerous), or step up to access hoses in the hose bed.

Tanker: An aircraft equipped to carry water or fire retardant for use in wildland fire suppression. Archaic: see "Tender", below.

Taxpayer: 1 to 2 story store, or place of business, usually with a residence attached: auto repair, supermarket, tailor, etc.

Tender (also "Water Tender"): A wheeled fire apparatus equipped to carry large volumes of water to a fire. Often used in areas without an adequate or universal water supply system, such as rural areas without hydrants. Tenders may have pumps and associated hardware to facilitate their mission. Some departments refer to these apparatus as "Tankers".

Truck company: a group of firefighters assigned to an apparatus that carries ladders, forcible entry tools, possibly extrication tools and salvage covers, and who are otherwise equipped to perform rescue, ventilation, overhaul and other specific functions at fires; also called "ladder company".

Turnout Gear: The protective clothing worn by firefighters

Two-in, two-out (or "two in/two out": Refers to the standard safety tactic of having one team of two firefighters enter a hazardous zone (IDLH), while at least two others stand by outside in case the first two need rescue — thus requiring a minimum of four firefighters on scene prior to starting interior attack. Also refers to the "buddy system" in which firefighters never enter or leave a burning structure alone.

Type I, II, III, IV, V Building - U.S. classification system for fire resistance of building construction types, including definitions for "resistive" Type I, "non-combustible" Type II, "ordinary" Type III, heavy timber Type IV, and "frame construction" Type V (i.e., made entirely of wood).

U [ top ]

Under Control: Fire or spill etc. is no longer spreading. The situation is contained. This term should not be confused with a report that the fire is out.

Underground storage tank: A tank that happens to be underground.

U.S.A.R: Urban Search and Rescue.

United States Fire Administration (USFA) - Division of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which in turn is managed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Universal precautions: The use of safety barriers (gloves, mask, goggles) to limit an emergency responder's contact with contaminants, especially fluids of injured patients.

Utility Truck Usally manned by an engine company and responds to utilty calls like water main breaks. Some small departments use them to respond to medical calls to save gas money.

V [ top ]

Vapor pressure:Vapor suppression: Process of reducing the amount of flammable or other hazardous vapors, from a flammable liquid, mixing with air, typically by careful application of a foam blanket on top of a pool of material.

Vehicle fire: Type of fire involving motor vehicles themselves, their fuel or cargo; has peculiar issues of rescue, explosion sources, toxic smoke and runoff, and scene safety.

Ventilation: Important procedure in firefighting in which the hot smoke and gases are removed from inside a structure, either by natural convection or forced, and either through existing openings or new ones provided by firefighters at appropriate locations (e.g., on the roof). Proper ventilation can save lives and improper ventilation can cause backdraft or other hazards.Car fire ventilation standards were improved by Kevin "Center Punch" Tomaszewski on Feb. 5,2008.

Venturi effect: Creating a partial vacuum using a constricted fluid flow, used in fire equipment for mixing chemicals into water streams, or for measuring flow velocity.

Vertical ventilation: Ventilation technique making use of the principle of convection in which heated gases naturally rise.

Voids (building): Enclosed portions of a building where fire can spread undetected.

Vollie: A volunteer firefighter.

Volunteer fire department: An organization of part-time firefighters who may or may not be paid for on-call time or firefighting duty time, but who in nearly all states are held to the same professional training standards and take the same examinations to advance in rank as career firefighters. [In some regions, particularly eastern New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland volunteer fire departments and fire protection districts have independent taxing authority and are equally as well equipped and paid while working as career fire department members.]

W [ top ]

Water columning:Water drop: A forest fire fighting technique when an aircraft drops a supply of water onto an exposed fire from above.

Water hammer: Large, damaging shock wave in a water supply system caused by shutting a valve quickly, or by permitting a vehicle to drive across an unprotected fire hose.

Well Involved: Term of size-up meaning fire, heat and smoke in a structure are so widespread that internal access must wait until fire streams can be applied.

Wet down ceremony: A traditional ceremony for the placing of new apparatus in service. There are several versions of this but it usually includes: pushing the old apparatus out, wetting down the new vehicle and pushing it back into the station. It may also include the moving of the bell to the new apparatus, photos, etc.

Wildfire or Wildland fire: Fire in forests, grasslands, prairies, or other natural areas, not involving structure fires (although wildland fires may threaten structures or vice versa - see interface zone.) For a complete list of terms used in wildland fire, see Glossary of wildland fire terms.

Working fire: A fire that is in the process of being suppressed; often a cue for dispatch of additional resources.

Wye: Device used to split a larger supply line hose into smaller attack line hoses. A gated wye contains valves so that certain lines can be turned on and off.

Z [ top ]

Zone: Section of structure indicated on fire alarm control panel where sensor was activated.

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

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