Firefighters use new techniques to douse Palo Alto blaze

'Nozzle forward' methods credited for speeding up response to two-alarm fire Friday morning

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.


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7 people like this
Posted by Elizabeth
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 30, 2016 at 6:16 pm

Now if only Palo Alto would allow more construction of new buildings that adhere to modern fire codes, we'd be set. Those Eichlers are fire traps!

26 people like this
Posted by Tim
a resident of Los Altos
on Dec 30, 2016 at 10:34 pm

BS! Fire departments having been using 2.5 inch attack hose lines for years. We had 2.5 inch attack lines when I hired (34 year career) by a well known bay area fire department in the 70's. All surrounding fire departments used them too. Maybe the only thing that is different is the light weigh hose and this is because new materials are now being used for hose construction that were not available back then.

5 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 30, 2016 at 10:54 pm

I think the article is stating that the innovation is the nozzle and the lighter, less kinking hose, not the fact that it has a 2.5-inch diameter.

4 people like this
Posted by Lisa
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 31, 2016 at 1:57 am

Elizabeth, the city isn't preventing any new residential construction -- unless you're upset about Zuckerberg's compound?

14 people like this
Posted by Vado Canis Vado
a resident of another community
on Dec 31, 2016 at 6:02 am

The Nozzle Forward program was created by a Seattle Fire Department FF Aaron Fields and has been taught across the country to thousands of FF. Chief should give credit where credit is due.

1 person likes this
Posted by Train Neighbor
a resident of Ventura
on Dec 31, 2016 at 11:45 am

Train Neighbor is a registered user.

Glad to hear no one was hurt and that damage to neighboring homes was minimized.

How are Eichler homes more dangerous during a fire?
Is it the more open floor plan?
Are the home insurance premiums higher than for non-Eichler homes of the same vintage?

Have many owners retrofitted with fire sprinklers?

10 people like this
Posted by Gypsum
a resident of Palo Verde School
on Dec 31, 2016 at 2:01 pm

The issue with older Eichlers is that the entire interior was either redwood or mahogany plywood. After 50 years or so...these materials have dried and provide quick fuel for a fire.

Most families retrofit their Eichlers with gypsum wall board to make them more fire-resistant and quieter.

Eichler was a visionary using new materials in new ways. Lets not throw the baby out with the bathwater. All that is needed is some sensible renovation and Eichlers will remain a jewel in our community for many years to come.

The biggest threat to Eichlers is CPA's unwillingness to maintain the nature of our neighborhoods.

I would take ten more Eichler homes before I would want one of those SoCal inspired pink palace built near me. Replace a 2 bedroom Eichler with a 2 car garage with a 6 bedroom home, built to the absolute buildable envelope with a micro garage....this is foolishness.

Great work PAFD!

2 people like this
Posted by flame
a resident of Mayfield
on Dec 31, 2016 at 4:47 pm

what started the fire?

12 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 3, 2017 at 11:06 am

Did some research on the nozzle forward, and it was interesting. Welcome to the 1970's everybody. Tactics used for a very long time throughout the fire service. Also looked up Aaron Fields and his website in Seattle, I sure hope that our department is not modeling itself after this individual and his style. Not someone that I would want my tax dollars going to, he doesn't seem to be a person that represents his department well. Not professional in my opinion. I am happy that our FD was able to get control of the situation quickly and safely and for that I say Good Job.

4 people like this
Posted by PIO
a resident of another community
on Jan 3, 2017 at 8:09 pm

To the Resident with negative comments regarding Aaron Fields. You mock what you do not understand. It seems more than 10,000 firefighters and 200 fire departments would disagree with your assessment of Aaron and his program. Perhaps you should take his class. Then comment on his person.

6 people like this
Posted by Aaron Fields
a resident of another community
on Jan 3, 2017 at 9:08 pm

I am glad the fire attack went well and the comments have been overall well-known received. I hope the residents in question get back on their feet quickly. To the resident who doesn't get my sense of humor. My intent is not to be unprofessional, it is in fact to simply have a bit of a sense of humor, rather the usual. Feel free to contact me through the website and I will be happy to send you my number and walk you through what it is we actually do and why. In addition, to the methodology of skill acquisitiom we use. If you read the bibliography I am sure we have some of the same mentors. If you searched the internet you also likely found the reviews of what I do and who I am, are usually positive. I will save you a place in any class I do so you can see it first hand. I will be in Modesto and Chico in February. In the meantime time remember that manners are the oil that lubricate society. Best Regards Aaron Fields

13 people like this
Posted by Firefighter
a resident of another community
on Jan 5, 2017 at 12:43 pm

2.5" attack hose has been used in the fire service for over 40 years. They have just updated the hose and nozzle and given it a "cool" name. Small fire- small hose, big fire- big hose, bigger fire- bigger hose. Done.

Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of Ohlone School
on Jan 8, 2017 at 2:36 pm

Grew up in an Eichler on lower Amarillo in the '50's, during which two houses in the neighborhood burned down in minutes. As I recall the fire department attributed their rapid combustion to the naphtha solvent in a 'Philippine fish glue' that was used in the manufacture of the interior and exterior plywood sheathing.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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