I've approached two critical puzzle pieces to a well organized fire attack in the past few articles: ventilation and hose/nozzle selection. Both were utilized as a reminder that advanced skills are difficult to apply if you haven't established a strong foundation in learning and remembering how to apply the fundamental basics.
Photo Tod Parker/Phototac.com
Indianapolis firefighters work at the scene of a fatal house fire in May.
These are the foundation to build a good, coordinated fireground operation. A coordinated fire attack is critical to the success of any fireground operation. Such an attack takes into consideration the impacts on firefighters and victims while protecting exposures and confinement of the fire and when ventilating where appropriate during the operation. Not all tactics are required at every fire, but they should always be considered. Each of these tactics can be delivered singularly or at the same time as others based on resource availability and priority of completion to mitigate fireground impacts.
Fire attack tactics are selected and based on tried and true fireground objectives — such as rescue, exposures, confinement and extinguishment of the fire, overhaul, ventilation and salvage. All firefighters should know a RECEO VS (Rescue, Exposure, Confine, Extinguish, Overhaul and Ventilate, Salvage) acronym or derivative of the same to assist with making tactical decisions. Based on size-up findings and the call presentation, we prioritize the delivery of these tactics to put out the fire, ensure it stays out and conserve as much property as the complexity and fire size allows us to do.
Need for rescue
The rescue of civilians is our main purpose. The decision to prioritize the initial phases of fireground tactics to perform rescue is based on presenting evidence during size-up or information gained from an RP or witness interview. We consistently teach new recruits this fireground decision foundation, but sometimes forget to advise them that a rescue tactic without a coordinated fire attack is an extremely risky venture and should only be performed in extreme cases.
Hose lines give us the ability to assist with rescues by placing protection between victims and fire. They also give interior crews a priceless tool for self preservation should interior fire dynamics deteriorate quickly. These hose lines allow for keeping fire from victims, control interior stairwells and corridors for FF egress or hose line advancement, and protection for FFs operating on the floor above the fire floor.
Protection of an exposure
Exposures consist of interior and exterior sources, and knowledge of fire placement and movement will drive our need to get ahead of a fire. Exposure lines allow us to ensure we stay ahead of rapid fire progress and contain fires to the smallest size container possible, i.e. room of origin, floor of origin, building of origin and block of origin. Fire will extend in all directions by direct flame contact, radiated heat, convection, embers and more regularly heat contained in smoke.
Having sat through a few of Dave Dodson's classes, "The Art of Reading Smoke," I am convinced that we don't give smoke the importance it deserves when considering the rapid movement of fire within a structure. Knowing where smoke originates and how soon it will cause a flashover should dictate fireground tactics and keep us from placing FFs in situations that are predictable in the near future. Exposure protection can be better projected if we understand where the fire is going, how fast it is going and then anticipating how much time hose line deployment takes. Well-calculated deployment times will allow us to place exposure lines in the path of a fire instead of getting behind it.
Confinement of fire
This is the next tactical decision in the standard evolution of fireground tactics. It requires a sufficient amount of knowledge regarding fuel load to anticipate what volume of water may be necessary to ensure the fire remains in the smallest box possible. This consists of residential or commercial, interior operations, type of and quantity of fuel. Coupled with the amount of fire on arrival, it should guide the initial company officer to select a hose line that will effectively deal with the amount of fire present on arrival and the estimate of fire spread in the time it takes to deploy the initial attack line. My previous articles speak of the necessity of selecting the proper hose line based on fire size and amount of gallons the attack line can deliver.
I believe that we all would agree that current building methods and manufacturing materials have significantly increased the severity of fires being fought today compared to the fires fought by our fathers. As Dave Dodson puts it, "We are facing explosive fires in disposable buildings." I agree. With the amount of plastics and hydrocarbon-based items now found in homes and businesses, coupled with truss systems and laminated wood products, consideration of our initial attack lines should force us to more frequently select a 2 or 2 ½" attack line when faced with a fire greater than a single room and its contents.
It's better to have more flow capability with you to rapidly extinguish the fire. Remember that multiple rooms with in a structure have special hazards of their own. Fire attack on a basement fire or an attic requires slightly different tactics for confinement. Consider use of all openings to gain an advantage over the extinguishment of a fire. Remember that coordination during the confinement phase of a fire is critical. Opposing hand lines and ventilation without consideration of fire growth or path of heat can cause heat and fire to flashover, causing significant impacts to interior crews and their safety.
This should be accomplished by applying fire stream operations in the most safe and effective manner. Set your nozzle pattern, bleed your line and flow water long enough for your engineer to effectively set the line pressure at the panel prior to entering the structure. Stay low on entering the fire area to allow for heat and gazes to vent before moving in. Ensure all FFs are positioned on the same side of the entrance before opening a door. If heat is encountered while advancing into a structure, open the hose line to reduce the temperature at the ceiling in the area.
Heat moving through smoke has the ability to ignite fuel vapors contained within the smoke. If you are waiting until you see rollover, you are risking a flashover on your team. Use the water for the reason we have always chosen it — to cool things down! If things are hot enough to be forcing your team to the floor, the amount of damage you will cause to the structure is insignificant. If you are worried about steam burns, they hurt somewhat less than being caught in a flashover. If you state visibility will be reduced, it will! But thermal cameras will still allow for visibility.
Don't hesitate to use your hose stream to cool burning debris on the floor or hot surfaces in front of your team when they may be advancing over them. Once the fire is located and knocked, shut down your hose line to allow for the area to vent. If you enter an area that is very hot but find no fire, get out and check the area below you. If large, intense fires are found, it may be necessary to have an exterior crew knock the fire using a solid stream nozzle before making an interior attack.
Always have back-up lines in place when possible. These can be used when initial attack lines are not able to quickly suppress the fire. If it is quickly obvious that the initial attack line is insufficient for the job, bring in the back-up line and then stretch another back-up line, preferably a 2 ½" if there are already two 1 ¾" lines interior. Back-up lines should be charged, ready for use and positioned close to the initial attack lines.
This is the systematic look at the fire scene to make sure there are no further traces of fire. This entails searching for hidden fires to ensure we leave the structure in as safe a condition as possible. The overhaul process should be weighed against the need for a fire investigation to complete their tasks. All personnel performing overhaul should be in SCBA. Recent evidence is showing that even when carbon monoxide levels are safe within a structure, if the area is still hot and products are off-gassing, hydrogen cyanide levels may be present at acute or fatal levels. Hidden fires should be extinguished to prevent growing larger, but if possible postpone as much damage to the fire area as you can to allow your investigator the best evidence possible when performing their job. Keep a hose line charged and in place when the investigation is on-going in case the fire flares up.
This specific item is not listed in order of implementation, but can be considered when required to facilitate the completion of the items listed above. Ventilation is a great tool to assist with the following activities:
1. Reduces danger to trapped occupants and allows for an increased rescue profile.
2. Increases visibility for interior crews, which enhances their safety and efficiency.
3. Assists with rapid search and hose line advancement.
4. Increases the speed at which the seat of the fire is located.
5. Reduces the time required to find fire spread.
6. Reduces the chances of flashover and/or backdraft.
7. When properly performed, ventilation increases effectiveness of most operations
8. Positive pressure ventilation has potential of moving fire and fire gases
Positive pressure ventilation is only effective on structures when doors and windows maintained. It's vital to remember that ventilation be coordinated with interior attack teams and incident command. Indiscriminate "window assault" should be discouraged unless command has ordered this to occur. While vertical ventilation has been receiving a bum rap lately, I am still a strong proponent of this tactic when dealing with "Black Fire" or when conditions are causing severe FF beatings or impairing their ability to efficiently get their assignments completed. Remember, when selecting a method of ventilation, be aware of the consequences of that decision, including when to initiate or terminate the process.
The second of the "sliding tactical assignments" is salvage. While salvage is predominantly assigned when all other tactical processes have been completed, I am a strong proponent for performing salvage as soon as resources and other priorities allow. Chances exist that any significant fire in a residential structure will cause a displacement of a family for some amount of time. The structure will probably be rebuilt in the near future and they will be somewhat content with this. But when irreplaceable personal effects such as pictures, computers, personal papers or even home movies are saved, the families are usually very grateful. Protection of the "priceless" items has much more significant personal value.
The homeowners will remember your fire department for taking the effort to save their memories more than if you save their newly remodeled kitchen. Salvage has more ability to increase your community equity and positive opinions than almost any other service program.
Initial tactical decisions made in the first five to 10 minutes will dictate the direction of the remainder of the call. Good tactical decisions made to benefit the safety of ourselves and our customers are the basis of our first decisions. These are learned by utilizing the acronym we opened with at the start of the article. In addition, we can also discover the proper tactical options based on mistakes made in the past.
Find those learning tools out there that will assist you in making the safest, most efficient decisions possible. Fireground scenarios go a long way in giving us the "unconscious competence" we should all be striving for. Frequently visit the numerous firefighting-based Web sites — such as FireRescue1 — that offer training and get out and participate in the networking conferences that exist to learn different ways to do the same job. Performing effectively, safely and to the standard our customers expect, is one of the hallmarks of a professional.