Fire Engineering Training Community

Where firefighters come to talk training

I will admit it right it off; I may be splitting hairs or simply consumed in the symantics of it but as a naturally aggressive firefighter the term that "we are going defensive" just gets under my skin in most cases.

Let me explain my position on why I feel this term is used incorrectly many times which I think may hamper operations at the truely "defensive" operations.  The term defensive in my mind is just that, we are not attempting to score (put the fire out), we have agreed to lose ( and I hate to lose),

I have responded to fires that were reported with heavy involvement and "defensive" as the operational mode.  The actual operations that were taken on the scene however were exterior offensive operations.  We were actively working to extinguish the fire but due to questionable structural integrity we were forced to do from the exterior until conditions improved enough to make entry for overhaul and final extinguishment. (Some people are now refering to this as a "transitional attack" as though it is brand new idea.  Most departments I know of my in area which are mostly all volunteer have been employing  this tactic for many, many years.  This was normally just doing what you could with what you had at the time.  Often the Engine would arrive with minimal staffing of 1-3 people and they would initiate an exterior attack, especially if the driver was the only one on the truck; until more help arrived, usually by POV.)  But this is hardly a "defensive" attack.  On the other hand I have also responded to fires that were truely defensive.  Responding to a vacant structure or in one case a commercial building that was scheduled for demolition.  These fires were truely and completely defensive in the truest sense of the word with the main objectives being to protect exposures more so then extinguish the fire.  Although I noticed at a couple of these incidents that firefighters would still want to "fight the fire" more so than protect the exposures which ended up wasting time, manpower and water.  Of course these firefighters were directed to return to the original operation of protecting exposures.

The reason this comes to mind again is a recent mill fire in my state that according to the pictures was an obvious defensive operation, I think anything short relocating Niagra Falls to the scene would have been useless.  The departments that responded appeared to have handled the incident quite well.  But I wondered as a I looked at one picture of a homeowner spraying his house with a garden hose and heavy steam coming from the house, if they had a difficult time keeping people on task of protecting exposures instead of focusing on the fire.


I look forward to hearing some your thoughts on the matter.

Views: 3740

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

Stephen, agree 100%!

If you have gone defensive and have knockdown, someone has to check for structural stability before anyone re-enters. I know, I'm no structural engineer, so I can't say for sure if it will collapse or not. If you have any question about it, don't go in. In our area we can call for a building inspector and get one fairly quickly to make the determination. For anyone to get hurt or killed after the fire is inexcusable.

This is a very effective tactic.  I have used an exterior attack to cool the fire down, set up PPV and then make the interior attack.  This has greatly improved interior condition for my attack teams.  I do like the term offensive-exterior attack.

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