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Trusty Old Salvage Cover


One of the most basic roles of the fire service is salvage.  I really did work with a firefighter who began his fire career working for insurance companies with a crew that went to fire scenes and performed salvage work to minimize the loss that insurance had to pay.  Once firefighters started doing salvage, we didn’t need those insurance patrols.

There are a lot of things we do that fall into the salvage category, and a lot of them involve using a salvage cover.  The most logical thing to do with one of these salvage covers is to cover things up.  We don’t really need much training to put cover on a piece of furniture to keep the water off it, but there are a lot more things we have learned to do with those covers.

All of the salvage covers we used to use were made of canvas and smelled like the old time tents. About 15 years ago we started to use plastic covers.  The plastic covers have some benefits over the old canvas covers, most important is the cost.  We used to clean and re-use the plastic covers but a lot of departments have decided to replace the covers instead of clean them.  Canvas salvage covers cost a lot more so we invest a lot more effort into re-using them.  After use, a canvas cover is washed and hung in the station to dry.  There are usually pulley systems set up to hold these covers while they dry.  In the fire service, we also have a special system of folding the tarps so that we always start with the tarp in the same form.

To cover a simple sofa, we just unfold the cover and lay it over. If we are covering a large piece of furniture or something like a clothes storage rack, we use a technique called ballooning. Two firefighters each grab a corner of the tarp, we fold it like an accordion and then swing it around a couple times to grab a bunch of air in it, then float it over whatever we are trying to cover.  It is fun to watch a seasoned crew use this option, but it is even more fun watching a couple new guys trying to figure it out.

We also use these covers to get water out of a building.  The easiest way to remove water is to make a chute on a stairway and let gravity take the water out a doorway.  We have a special folding and rolling procedure to put this together and place it in a stairway, also an impressive use of a couple pieces of canvas.

If we can’t use gravity to send the water out of the building, we collect it in a “catch-all” and use an electric pump to send it out of the building.  You guessed it, we have a special procedure to make either a shallow catch all to collect water dripping through a large area, or a deep catch all to catch a larger volume of water coming from a smaller dripping area.  While the water is collecting in this little pool, we use an electric pump and a length of fire hose to pump the water out of the building.

A cheap and simple technique has been perfected by firefighters and has kept a lot of things from being ruined by water.   It is just one example of how a bunch of firefighters can make a big deal out of something simple.

By John Morse

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