Industrial Fire Familiarization: You’re only as good as your Kinker.
We all remember our first live fire training. Perhaps our peers tried to hype it up by telling us what we were to expect, or what we needed to focus on, but once it came time to pick up that hose, we were assigned our first-ever hose position. For most of us, it probably wasn’t the nozzle, but another position on the line where we could only assume there’d be no glory. But as we eventually learned over time, these positions behind the nozzleman are possibly some of the most critical, and success-altering positions on the line. In particular, the Kinker.
Growing up, my father, and brother, were both municipal volunteer firefighters. Inevitably, when I was old enough, it was my turn to trail behind them as we dashed out of the house, and responded to the station just down the road. I was never pressured into participating, but I always knew then when I was older, it would be my duty to join. I still remember both of them preparing me for my first live burn at our local training center. The training center in our parish may be a little different than your home town facility. Being on the Louisiana Gulf Coast, our economy is fueled by the oil and petrochemical refining industry. Because of that, our training center had many large industrial fire props. My first live burn would not be a typical flashover prop, or hay burn inside of a trailer. No, it would be a large flammable liquid/LPG mock unit. Having never seen anything like this before, my father assigned me to the “Kinker” position. Puzzled, I had to get a brief run down on this duty. The Kinker, was the last person on the hose line, furthest away from the fire. My job was to help the team in front of me by pulling hose to them, and making sure that the hose itself did not kink in this process. I thought to myself, “This is simple. I can handle this.” With bunker gear and SCBA donned, I got to see the magic for the first time. Many gallons of diesel fuel were ignited in front of me, and the flames were then beautifully accented by brilliant whites and oranges from the screaming propane gas of a leaking flange. As the line leaders began to yell “Forward! Sweep!” over the roar of the fire, I felt the heat begin to radiate through my facemask as we marched closer, even though I was bringing up the rear. I kept up the best I could, and for it only being my first time, I felt like I did fairly well. However, once all of the valves were isolated, and the spill fires extinguished, I got my first live fire critique, and it was clear that the sufficient first-time performance I thought I’d given did not even meet the team’s expectations. A job that seemed so simple –that I even thought was easy – earned me many dirty looks, and a few fussings from my line mates, and I learned that day, that the glory achieved by the entire hose team is only as high as the level of greatness of its Kinker.
Now, as a once aspiring Kinker, and after years of instructing and line leading, I’ve compiled the best tips I know for the newest Kinkers on your response teams.
Put the hose DOWN
One common mistake that I see Kinkers struggling with is not dropping back far enough while moving. This can be devastating to a team on the move, causing the hosemen to fight against each other and ending up with one really upset front man with a nozzle caught in his armpit. With the mechanical addition of a charged attack line, a misguided Kinker can easily pull the entire team in undesired directions with one hand. This situation can be easily diffused by allowing the hose to drag the ground between the Kinker and the next hoseman in line. I have developed the habit of telling Kinkers to drop back 15, even 20 feet behind the last person so there is plenty of room to allow the hose to drag the ground. If you are not directly behind the person in front of you, there is no reason to have any unclaimed space on that hose line. It only leads to a power struggle that progressively gets worse as your team moves.
Be ready for a move up
As industrial responders we are well aware of the fact that the duration of an event can range from 15 minutes, to two days or longer. Inevitably, hose team members get tired. For whatever the reason, members may start peeling off from their positions as fatigue sets in. As these members retreat to the back of the line, prepare for a move up in their place. It’s not uncommon to watch an entire team swap positions more than once during long-winded events. Don’t get caught not paying attention; be ready for that move up.
Actively inspect for kinks
Maybe you are surprised by this one, but it needs to be said. It is everyone’s responsibility to ensure the equipment is laid out properly and that we are ready to make a hit, but it is especially your responsibility when it’s in your title. Most of these situations can be corrected after initial charge of the line. Make a quick walkthrough or two, and your team will appreciate it. Otherwise, you might discover a restriction in the line when you’re locked into a leak point and have life hanging in the team’s hands.
While communication requires practice and is integral to every position, the movements executed by the Kinker put an extra emphasis on good communication skills. When it’s time to drop back, it’s time to let it be known to all of your line mates that you are doing so. If you have to scream it, scream it. Whether you are dropping back, see a safety concern, or need to stop movements to make an adjustment, make sure everyone hears you. Be a beacon for good communication; it will pay dividends.
Making it all possible
As a Kinker, you may not be the person pointing the nozzle, but at the end of the day, the job you perform is absolutely vital to the success of the operation. I’ve often told my guys that the news cameras won’t ever be at the station at 2:30 AM in icy weather, filming us wash hose after a run; however, this work makes everything else possible. And while aspiring Kinkers may not feel the blaze burn as hot on their faces, having good kinking skills sets the foundation for an amazing hose team.