Two-and-a-half minutes after getting a report about a house fire in the 2100 block of Louis Road on Friday morning, Palo Alto fire engines were pulling up next to the burning building.
With initial reports indicating that the occupant was trapped inside the single-story, midcentury-modern home, firefighters wasted no time in connecting and employing a pair 2.5-inch hoses and attacking the flames that had spread through the kitchen and the living room, Acting Battalion Chief Bill Dale told the Weekly. About 90 seconds later, before the flames had a chance to spread to the bedrooms in the back of the home or to neighboring homes, the fire was knocked down.
Though the entire building wasn't declared fully contained until about 30 minutes later, the actual battle against flames took about 6 minutes -- beating even the department's standard of arriving at a fire within 8 minutes 90 percent of the time, Dale said.
As it turned out, the resident had left the building and was safe. But had he been trapped in the bedroom, he still would have survived because of the speed with which the two-alarm fire was extinguished, fire officials said.
In explaining their quick response to the 5 a.m. blaze, firefighters credited an aggressive new technique the department adopted last year as part of a partnership with several other fire departments, including ones in Seattle and in Colorado. Known as "nozzle forward," the technique departs from traditional hoses, nozzles and firefighting techniques and allows firefighters to deploy the hoses faster and to deliver roughly twice as much water as in the past with the same amount of firefighters.
Many firefighting techniques, Dale said, have been passed on from generation to generation, without being questioned. In 2015, Palo Alto firefighters and those in other jurisdictions started thinking about a better way to do it, said Dale, who was among the responders to the second-alarm fire on Louis Road.
“We wanted to find an aggressive, quick way to pull hose and get more water faster into a building so that we can preserve more property and save more lives,” Dale said.
One part of the new technique is the hose itself, Dale itself. Unlike in the past, the hose is not pre-connected when it's loaded into the truck. This allows firefighters to determine upon arriving at the scene how long of a hose is needed.
"If it's short, we don't pull that much, if long, we can pull more. That made it more flexible," Dale said.
The hose itself is of a model that was custom-built for Palo Alto, Dale said. Two Palo Alto firefighters, Captain Brian Baggott and Jesse Wooten, worked with the manufacturer to design a light-weight hose that kinks less.
Another key part of the "nozzle forward" technique is a switch from a "fog" nozzle (which breaks the stream of water into smaller streams) to a higher pressure "straight-stream" nozzle, which allows more water to flow.
The 2.5-inch hose that the department used on Friday delivered about 300 gallons per minute (up from the traditional of 165 gallons per minute for a traditional hose), Dale said.
With two firefighters on one hose line and two more on the other, the Louis Road fire was swiftly knocked down.
Fire Chief Eric Nickel lauded the firefighters' work in helping the develop and deploy the "nozzle forward" technique on Louis Road. In a statement, Nickel said that innovation and efficiency "are not limited to Stanford or our Silicon Valley industries."
"One of the Fire Department's guiding values in innovation," Nickel said. "Our fire crews took on the challenge of finding a way to deliver more water faster, and using the same number of firefighters. Their ingenuity and efficiency absolutely kept the fire from spreading this morning."
Wooten noted in a statement that the extra water-power "has enhanced the fire crew's ability to protect survivable areas and potential victims, solidifying the department's commitment to efficiency and improvement."
Investigators are working to determine the cause of the fire, Dale said.