Fire Engineering Training Community

Where firefighters come to talk training

Do you teach your firefighters how to read heat? If so, how?

Back in the 'old days' (before my time) firefighters without hoods would be able to tell if they were too far in. Now, in no way am I advocating not using hoods. However, those salty firemen were able to read heat conditions and knew when to get down and when to get out!

So I put this question to the mob. How do you read heat and smoke conditions? Do you teach probationary firefighters? Or, is this skill mainly for fire officers?

Thank you in advance for your responses.

Views: 2509

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion


You bring up a good point about not looking again/rushing into smoke.
Been there, done it, seen it.

We can teach and/or learn about smoke, heat and what it's telling you. But more importantly, we need to learn beforehand to take a minute to look at the surroundings and conditions.

Slow down a bit, look, see what's happening, calm down. How to think and reason better coupled with smoke/heat/fire instruction.

Teach more about the effects of heat. The previously mentioned wet vs. dry is a good way.

The starting post mentions knowing when to get out. Good thing to remind others about.

Edward Hartin and Paul Grimwood have some good articles about buildings and air tracts at FH and .

Air Tract
I agree that TIC's are extremely useful tools. However, at this point only our furthest away engines, truck companies and safety chiefs carry them. Plus, when technology fails us it is imparetive that they have good situational awareness and training to fall back on. I've seen as I'm sure you have, many firefighters with their faces glued to the TIC running into walls or crawling in circles.

Another way we teach situational awareness is we use the acronym SAV yourself. I know, I know you're shocked that we use acronyms.

S stands for Size Up. Making a verbal and mental picture of the structure.

A is assess. Once you open that door or get into the stairwell, does the picture inside still correlate with your size up? Did you pull the right line, will it reach ect. what is the ventilation plan for this type of event?

V stands for Verify. Verify that the smoke or fire conditions in the room match up with the picture from the outside.

This gets them thinking early on about reading smoke from the outside and checking their heat levels throughout the duration of the event.

Thanks for the input. Sometimes I forget that mot everyone has access to the TIC. Your SAV is a good way to remember. You're right I'm shocked since NO ONE ever uses acronyms LOL

I have learned to use my years of experience to keep from where I and my crew do not belong. I know the S$%t can hit the fan at any time, but thats where size up comes in,"MY SIZE UP" along with the IC. With my flaps up it keeps me from getting to deep into a fire were most end up getting into trouble. My instincts come first and technology is secondary. When the radiant heat is felt through my hood enough to bother me its time to leave. With the flaps down I could be another 15 to 20' in were I do not belong and thats usually when it lights up. TIC's are a great tool but do not always give you the information you are looking for and have failed at times. If I pull my glove back and stick it up in the air to see if it is to hot and remembering thermal ballance why would I put it there. And if I do it at floor level and its painfull I should not be there. With my flaps up I would be long gone. I have also learned with new construction when you arrive on location with fire already out the windows the decision on where you will be has already been made. The greatest thing we have is what we have learned from experience. I have beeh in some bad situations over my time and my ears(early days) and hood with flaps up ( today) have allowed me and my crew to walk away. Technology should never replace instinct. Every fire tells a story, read it, learn from it, and pass it on.

STAY SAFE !! Dennis
Yes. I think it is very important to teach both old and new firefighters how to read heat. In todays fires there are a lot of plastics burning in lightweight structures which translates in higher temps and faster collapse. Although heat conditions are an important factor, it is only a small peice of a bigger picture. Stiuational awareness should be a big emphasis on todays firefighters. I feel that the big push for RIT, bail out bags, rescue filters, ect have given some firefighters a false sence of security.
Please dont get me wrong. All of these are extremely important and should be taught and used. However I have heard numerous times "if things go wrong I can bail out the window" or "If I get stuck we have a rit company". If your department is like so many others one big concern is man power. A 2-4 man RIT company is not going to get my big a** out of a building on the first try and if I have to use my bail-out rope out a window I wont feel cool because I did.
Strong situational awareness can eliminate a lot of LODD injuries or deaths. Simple things are often forgot or not reinforced like reading smoke/ heat conditions upon entering vs exit, listening to all radio communications, knowing all your means of egress, knowing what the difference is between burn tower heat and residential fire heat, ect.
Personally I wear a hood without ear flaps and can peel back my hood if needed. But I feel that before the temp tells you its time to leave some strong situational awareness will tell you even sooner.
As far as teaching this to the men you need to stress the down and dirty basics along with using aquired structures and tower evolutions wisely to stress this awareness in a controled envoronment. Just have one evolution where you just read conditions and explain what the changes mean and when they happened. The best way to learn is to just get out there and do it.
Using the techniques of reading smoke taught by Dave Dodson can help you read a building in term of heat. When interior of a structure fire, turn you light box up into the smoke and look at the color, density and how fast it is moving. Also the use of a TIC with a temp reading on it to help judge the conditions within the building. I am in no way a proponet of using body parts to judge temp in a build. The idea of sending everyone home after their shift in the same mannor in which they showed up, must be the highest priority.
We try to teach everyone. Once a firefighter passes thier basic interior fire fighting class we try get them into the class taught by Gaston Fire College utilizing the "Flashover Simulator" ( not sure why it is called a simulator since it does flash over) The class has pretty good pictures and commentary of firefighters that have been caught in a flashover. It also teaches, as we do, that it may be necesarry to open the nozzle up for a quick burst at the ceiling over your head if visibility is low. If water falls down things are okay if nothing comes down beware the ceiling temperatures are above 212 deg.F. We also train them using videos of backdrafts and smoke explosions so they know what to look for. We are an agressive department and perform interior attacks anytime conditions allow. But I remind our members that I would much rather explain to some homeowner why his house is flooded than explain to thier families why they aren't coming home.
If you have access to a Flashover Simulator I highly suggest getting it for a training it is well worth the money.
Fire location is normally determined by a member on scene before the trucks arrive via a walk around or reports from neighbors/owners. Room layout is simple when the homeowner is frantic in the front yard screaming about their house I just calmly ask them how do you get to that room from inside, is it the 2nd or 3rd door down the hallway etc. Fortuanately in some of our newer neighbor hoods the houses are very similar in style and layout. So when we respond to the famous CO2 alarm I make it a point to "snoop" around the house I have the crew read every room with the gas monitor, this is an excellent oppurtunity to learn the layout and attic access and look for void areas behind knee walls and where they are accessed from. Calls like this to 3 or 4 different house styles you pretty much know the layout of every house in the neighborhood. Even the most pain in the a** call can be a training. And we get plenty of these, we actually carry spare batteries so we can replace the batteries in the detector while we are there, this is normally the reason we were called in the first place, occupant: ' Well, it has been beeping every few minutes since I got home from work I didn't know what to do so I waited until it woke me up at 2 am to call you to check it out."

While I like Daves class, my point was not how to read smoke outside the building. Or to read the smokes' direction or velocity inside the building. It takes our gear (new) about 5 minutes in 500 deg. heat to be saturated and non-protective. And with most of our young firefighters and probably us, we love to rush in and 'get some'. But teaching a firefighter to expose a little skin isn't going to kill them. We use the back of the hand because you can check different heat levels from floor to ceiling easily without getting your head in the bad stuff. I don't advocate pulling your glove fully off and jamming your hand into the overhead. We teach peeling back the glove so that a small patch of skin on the back of the hand is exposed and taking it from ground level where it is coolest to the overhead slowly. At first it isn't a fast process, but as the students progress you see them checking their environment quickly while advancing hoselines or doing searches. Of course, its not for everyone. I was just wondering what you guys did. Thanks for the comments, guys. Keep 'em comming.

I train my folks to watch the conditions as they enter the fire area. From the behavior of the smoke to the "off gassing" of the walls and ceilings as they enter. I start with the rookies and train them to be aware of their surroundings from the start. I use a helmet mounted camera in my training fires to use as a teaching tool after the burns to show them what the room is doing while they are in there. Afterward, we watch the video and see what the heat is doing in a fire. On the next training we do, which may be a few weeks apart, we use that knowledge and apply it inside the structure. With the ability to show what heat does in the building, I can get the firefighters prepared to read the smoke and heat prior to ever entering a burning building. Just another tool in the box!
Ok, just a thought here. Not a big fan of exposing ANY skin in a fire! Isn't that why we wear the gear to begin with? This is not a good idea to train the guys to do that! By exposing the skin, you are exposing them to the higher risk of burns on their wrist areas. It only takes one time with someone getting burned and the insurance folks asking if they had their gear on correctly. If they give the reply of how they were trained, this might cause some problem with coverage! Always wear the right gear and wear the right gear right!
Typicaly the new fireman on our dept. are drilled heavily on wearing their PPE correctly and at all times. It is not untill they have some seasoning and further education that we start discussing monitoring heat. As their education progresses we train on multiple aspects of monitoring heat and knowing what to expect from recognition of building and occupancy types. We recently hosted a reading smoke class which shed light on heat conditions for many of our younger fireman. Color, push, velocity, and level of smoke were all covered. As well as how different types of buildings retain heat.

Many of the more seasoned members of our dept. wear hoods with the flaps rolled up on their helmet. Once in a while you will hear someone prefer the flaps with no hood. I always tell them that with the hood and no flaps its a quick deployment to roll down your flaps and save your neck and ears. If all you have on is your flaps and its too hot, well your s**t out of luck and your gonna get burned. We also preech the use of a smooth bore nozzle aimed over the companies head to check for heat. With the smooth bore you don't risk the steam burn and upset of the thermal ballance of the room and you typically get a good return of H2O from overhead to tell you how hot it really is over your head. This is very usefull in commercial structures with higher than normal ceilings and some of todays taller entryways with 2 story high ceilings.

Reply to Discussion


Policy Page


The login above DOES NOT provide access to Fire Engineering magazine archives. Please go here for our archives.


Our contributors' posts are not vetted by the Fire Engineering technical board, and reflect the views and opinions of the individual authors. Anyone is welcome to participate.

For vetted content, please go to

We are excited to have you participate in our discussions and interactive forums. Before you begin posting, please take a moment to read our community policy page.  

Be Alert for Spam
We actively monitor the community for spam, however some does slip through. Please use common sense and caution when clicking links. If you suspect you've been hit by spam, e-mail

FE Podcasts

Check out the most recent episode and schedule of

© 2024   Created by fireeng.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service