Tuesday, November 29, 2011

New UL Study Reinforces Sound Old Fire Tactics

I can be a pretty skeptical guy when it comes to new studies and ideas in the fire service.  That's because it seems that lately our profession tries to solve "hands-on problems" with fancy new catch-phrases rather than firefighting skill.  So when I read and watched the recently released "Impact of Ventilation on Fire Behavior in Legacy and Contemporary Residential Construction" released by Underwriter's Laboratories I was on watch for what "zany solution" they were going to have for our "modern fire problem".  I was pleasantly surprised.

The study was released in December 2010 and I've heard quite a bit about it in the background of the fire service.  This study has been referenced in a lot of circles recently.  One "fire chief" tried to even use it to say we shouldn't fight fires interior anymore (he must've not read the same piece I read).  Not wanting to remain uninformed, I took a look...  For all those who don't like reading 400 page reports, I suffered for you.  And here's the FIREMAN's version:

Summary:

The study compared a series of residential fires in a 50's-60's construction style 1-story house of 1,200 square feet with a "modern" 3,200 square foot 2 story house.   These are those new houses we hear about being so different in "today's fires", referenced by many who advocate we completely change our approach to firefighting.

Now I was not one of the scientists on the study, but I did look at it fairly closely and here are my take home thoughts on what it means for fighting fires in "today's fires":

  1. Coordinate ventilation with hoseline advancement, including forcing doors that feed the fire area.
  2. Get a hoseline on the seat of the fire quick.
  3. VES is a great technique.
  4. Closing interior doors saves civilians and firefighters.
  5. No smoke showing means NOTHING.
That's it?  Yeah - pretty much, at least from my perspective.  Now there's a lot of "why" that supports those conclusions.  But what shocked me there is - did you hear anything NEW?  I didn't.  No new safety vests, no blitz-fires, no buzz terms.  Coordinate engine & truck work, get a line in place fast, and use good techniques to isolate and rescue.  Sounds like the same things the "old school" fire service has preached for decades!

So what's the problem?

The problem is the same thing I started this article with:  these days we'd rather get a new colored vest, or practice taking blood pressures, or use some fancy multi-syllable phrase than do what this study supports:  GET GOOD AT OFFENSIVE FIREFIGHTING.  What do I mean?  Here are some buzz-words I think we ought to be practicing, and this fancy 400-page study supports:

-  "Running Hoselines" - that's a geographical term in my area for stretching and operating interior attack lines.  How often to your firefighters pull lines?  I'd bet you many firefighters haven't pulled a line off in a "non-parking-lot" scenario in the past year.  THAT'S A BREAD & BUTTER SKILL!  Do they just know the crossly or can they extend and adapt to various scenarios with the precision of a offensive football line under the 2-minute warning?  What is your fire department's benchmark time for:  from arrival having to firefighters stretch a 1.75" line to the front door and be masked up and ready to enter the fire area?  Based on a survey of YouTube I don't think many departments have ANY such benchmark.  This study says you have between 100 and 200 seconds to get water on the fire after ventilation occurs.  That means you ventilating, or the fire ventilating the windows for you.  How good are your back up firefighters?  How well do you chase kinks?  Poor performance with either of those will drastically delay your fire attack and your flow.

You have 100-200 seconds after ventilation to put the fire out or suffer rapid fire growth.
-  "Coordinated Ventilation" - a concept that many departments struggle with.  This was a no-brainer "back in the day".  We need to spend more time training on coordinating the location and timing of ventilation.  This study clearly showed the impact of ventilating in the wrong time or in the wrong place.  Ventilation should be timed with the knowledge that you only have 100-200 seconds after to get water on the fire before the fire will rapidly grow.  The best way we can do this is "run scenarios".  Look at fire pictures with your crew.  Where would you ventilate? When? What would be the challenges?  How about coordinating with the line?  You can just wait and see what happens when you get a fire, or you can take a few minutes to TALK FIRE and PREPARE so you'll KNOW what's going to happen.

- "Vent, Enter, Search" - this study also clearly showed that these fires were survivable for civilians who were laying on the floor in just about every room of the house except for the fire room.  Closing the door made things even better.  Keeping this in mind, along with the rapid growth of fire if water is not supplied, further supports the efficiency of Vent, Enter, Search technique in rescuing civilians. Particularly where a larger square foot home delays searches done with the conventional "left right" patterns.  Some advocate it should be "Vent, Enter, Isolate, Search" - maybe, but when I first learned VES, and every time I've taught it, closing the door has ALWAYS been the first action after you enter.  Maybe some people were just teaching it wrong...


-  "Isolate and flow water" - In trouble?  Either get out, isolate yourself (close a door), or flow water.  This study supports the tenability of firefighters when we knock down fire with a hoseline or isolate ourselves from the fire until the fire is knocked or we can obtain an exit.  

- "Nothing Showing Means Nothing" - Among others, I've said it for years.  Three of the worst fires of my career started out as "nothing showing".  That's when everyone let's their guard down, doesn't want to lay lines, leaves their tools behind, and moves slow.  When you have fire showing - you know its a fire.  When you have nothing showing - THE FIRE WILL CATCH YOU OFF GUARD.  This study reinforces that with our modern construction, it is quite likely that a good fire will show nothing to the outside until it is ventilated.  KEEP YOUR GUARD UP - IT'S THE FIRE OF YOUR CAREER UNTIL PROVEN OTHERWISE.

In Conclusion:

There's a lot more to it than that, and if you've got about an hour the video on it is worth watching.  But the take home here is NOT that we need to re-invent the fire service.  It seems to me that often we'd rather float lofty ideas in the air conditioning then get out there and WORK at improving our bread & butter firefighting skills.  Not running much fire?  The need is even greater.  We need to go back to practicing the tried & true skills of coordinated engine/truck work, rapid hoseline advancement, and targeted search.  Stop creating fancy buzz terms and get out their and train.  Think fire, talk fire, run through scenarios.  Stay sharp.  Stay COMBAT READY.

Referenced Study information:




2 comments:

  1. Nick, I have been watching and studying this UL project over the last couple of months. I agree totally with what you said. My take aways were similar to yours. It is amazing how little time we have to get to the seat of the fire. To me, this also reinforces adequate staffing to MOVE THE LINE! Get firefighters on the line and move it! The back up line will be of no good if the first line doesn't get to the fire, they'll be cooked!

    Just my thoughts.

    Nice post.

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  2. Nick Very good article. As an old retired firefighter, some of the old methods were right on. If you vent in the proper area, the heat will follow and make the advance of firefighters easier. I have seen fire where firefighters take out every window which not only helps to feed the fire but puts firefighters in some hairy situations.
    Practice is something that can't be overlooked. I wotked in a small two station department in the 70's and the two stations would compete in drills, that included stretching hoselines, laying out, being fully bunkered and flowing water to name a few. Our layout guys could have water heading to the engine in a verr short time and meant the driver better be ready to clamp the line. One of the most important skills is properly advancing a preconnect. By practicing various hose loads, you can see which provides the quickest advanced line with few if any kinks. When you drop the whole preconnect line beside an engine you've just lost a lot of time.
    I think another area that a lot of firefighters don't understand is how the buildings are constructed. How a building is constructed can tell you a lot, where the fire can travel, how long floor structures may last, and what may make it fall down on you!

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