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Mark J. Cotter's Blog (82)

Extrapolations: Beyond single family dwellings

As much is I appreciate the lifesaving contributions of fire dynamics researchers to the firefighting craft, I am continuously frustrated by the slow pace of the experimental process. Given that a limited number of projects, in particular the UL Ventilation and NIST/UL Governors Island tests (…


Added by Mark J. Cotter on March 9, 2020 at 8:00am — No Comments

Changing Directions II - Basements and Exteriors

Firefighters have been provided with new extinguishment strategies that offer better speed, effectiveness, and safety. A triple win! Continuing on the theme introduced with my last post ( regarding the new fire attack vectors recommended by fire dynamics research, first addressing Attic fires, now we will…


Added by Mark J. Cotter on October 21, 2019 at 8:30am — No Comments

Changing Directions - Attic, basement, and exterior fires

Much of the energy expended in promoting, discussing, and opposing Modern Fire Attack (MFA) methods regards the use of exterior streams for controlling fires in structures, an understandable focus given the rather revolutionary, and therefore controversial, nature of the research findings.  (In a nutshell, applying water from the outside was found to be a whole lot more useful, and a whole lot less harmful, than we had believed.)…


Added by Mark J. Cotter on October 7, 2019 at 7:00am — No Comments

The Other Half - Implementing MFA Techniques

With the debate regarding the benefits of exterior streams and ventilation control having been settled in favor of at least adopting the option to perform these potentially faster, safer, and more effective approaches for controlling fires in structures, many fire service leaders and instructors are asking: “How can our department implement these valuable practices?” Fortunately, the most significant efforts toward making these changes have already been expended by…


Added by Mark J. Cotter on September 23, 2019 at 5:55am — No Comments

Half Ready - Limiting our options

Excellent firefighters are easy to spot: they’re usually doing something that will enhance their skills and knowledge. Though individual abilities will differ due to such variables as time in service, experience, and level of training, the consistent traits of the best firefighters are that they tirelessly study the trade, practice skills, and critique responses in order to better assist the citizens they are sworn to serve. This quality is readily apparent in their focus, attitude, and…


Added by Mark J. Cotter on September 9, 2019 at 6:21am — 3 Comments

Experiments vs. Experience: How a handful of test fires beats tons of real fires.

A frequent criticism of Modern Fire Attack (MFA) methods, often phrased as a warning against their adoption, is that the actual number of experimental fires upon which they are based totals only a few hundred, while Traditional (TFA?) tactics have been "proven" effective many thousands of times.  To be exact, I counted just 106 test fires performed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Underwriters Laboratories (UL)…


Added by Mark J. Cotter on August 26, 2019 at 10:28am — 1 Comment

Addressing Public Expectations - Meet or change?

Duty to the citizens we serve is frequently held up as our most basic and sacred responsibility as firefighters, and I couldn't agree more. It motivates us to perfect our skills for the benefit of others, face dangers known and unknown, and even to leave a warm bed to assist a stranger. In short, it inspires selflessness. Still, though that obligation is powerful, it is unfocused; it serves as a compass, not a map. My point in making this distinction is to counter the frequent citation of…


Added by Mark J. Cotter on March 31, 2019 at 4:17pm — No Comments

Interior Search - Flipping the Survivability Question

The practice of estimating the likelihood of finding living persons inside a burning building, and basing a large part of our risk determination on this calculation - more specifically, the decision whether to enter the building to perform a search - has spawned fervent discussions in the fire service, to say the least.  One side cites the lack of justification for risking firefighters’ lives if it is unlikely there is anyone alive to rescue,…


Added by Mark J. Cotter on February 4, 2019 at 9:55am — No Comments

Inching Closer to Agreement

I'm going to end 2018/start 2019 with a positive assessment of the past year's progress spreading the new fire dynamics knowledge and integrating it into our tactics. To be sure, this may be an overly optimistic view, as sometimes there seems to be more than enough distance between the two sides to take an entire fire service career before they meet somewhere near the center. Still, I have been seeing and hearing more and more evidence of the spread of our evolving understanding of…


Added by Mark J. Cotter on January 14, 2019 at 8:13am — No Comments

Priorities and Tactics - Apples and Oranges

When engaged in an activity where seconds count, lives hang in the balance, and there is little margin for error, choosing the correct initial action is critical.  As firefighters, we must "get it right" the first time, and there are no “do overs”.  To be most successful in protecting lives and property, our selection of methods and their execution must be flawless.…


Added by Mark J. Cotter on December 24, 2018 at 7:00am — No Comments

Fastest Water Wins

Everybody knows you need water to control fire. (And, by “everybody”, I mean firefighters, scientists, politicians, civilians, immigrants, elementary school children, your spouse and kids. Everybody.) That’s why fire apparatus are primarily designed around the need to quickly transport water to the location of a fire, engineered as they are with the capacity to carry a booster tank, hose, pump, appliances, and the personnel needed to put it all to work. It didn’t take a series of high-tech…


Added by Mark J. Cotter on November 5, 2018 at 10:20am — No Comments

You Can't Scare Firefighters

Fear is a lousy motivator for persons who have joined an organization that routinely confronts danger, especially when, for some, that danger was itself a motivator to join. Now, I am not suggesting that firefighters care less about themselves than your average citizen; just that they generally put the wellbeing of others ahead of themselves. This helps them face hazards that, without such a focus, would cause your average human to turn - if not run - away. Of course, we are also trained and…


Added by Mark J. Cotter on October 31, 2018 at 10:30pm — No Comments

“I” is for Ventilation - Using all available tools for controlling combustion

Contrary to the action-oriented, fix-it, can-do attitude of firefighters that make us so effective in most fire suppression and rescue situations, sometimes the best thing we can do to protect the lives and property of those we are sworn to serve is let some things alone. What makes this “hands-off” approach even more difficult is that the tactic I am here addressing - Ventilation - is one that we had been taught and believed was not only helpful and necessary, but a priority for…


Added by Mark J. Cotter on October 1, 2018 at 8:30am — No Comments

Water Rules: Summary of the recent UL Studies Part 4: Full Scale Experiments - Tactical Recommendations

Concluding my series of commentaries on the findings of the “Impact of Fire Attack Utilizing Interior and Exterior Streams on Firefighter Safety and Occupant Survival” collection of UL experiments, this installment will cover the 18 "Tactical Recommendations" from the "Full Scale Experiments" ( Inspired by the findings from this study, but…


Added by Mark J. Cotter on September 17, 2018 at 7:37am — No Comments

Water Rules: Summary of the recent UL Studies Part 3: Full Scale Experiments - Findings

We have come to the point in this series that we will be looking at the results of the type of experiments the fire service has been clamoring for since UL and NIST first began releasing findings from their fire dynamics research that challenged longstanding practices. (To be fair, only some members of the fire service wanted these additional studies, in large part to address the concerns of other members who didn’t think the previous tests…


Added by Mark J. Cotter on August 13, 2018 at 8:56am — No Comments

Water Rules - Summaries of the recent UL studies Part 2 - Air Entrainment

Continuing this series of reviews of the UL’s Impact of Fire Attack Utilizing Interior and Exterior Streams on Firefighter Safety and Occupant Survival, having previously reviewed the results of Water Mapping (, this installment will cover Air Entrainment (…


Added by Mark J. Cotter on April 4, 2018 at 3:02pm — No Comments

Water Rules - Summaries of the recent UL studies Part 1 - Water Mapping

The nozzle is the fire service’s iconic and essential tool, like the rifle to the soldier, the hammer to the carpenter, or the knife to the chef. While we have many other tools, and vital roles that don’t even involve water, when on the fireground most of them support or depend upon use of this appliance. Forcible entry clears its way, and ventilation clears its results. The protection of life and property relies on its expert use, and salvage protects the building and contents from the…


Added by Mark J. Cotter on March 28, 2018 at 6:49am — No Comments

Vertical Ventilation Video - What do your eyes tell you?

The following video clip was sent to me by a reader who was responding to my last post regarding vertical ventilation:

In it, you will see two firefighters vigorously cutting a roof as fire burns below. The provider of this link pointed out the immediate improvement in interior conditions as evidenced by the lift in the smoke layer that occurred as the fire vented. Taking a contrary position, I would point out…


Added by Mark J. Cotter on March 12, 2018 at 5:53am — 12 Comments

Cutting Roofs - Our beloved, dangerous waste of effort

I generated a bit of discussion a few years ago when I posted a blog expressing my viewpoint that vertical ventilation, except in the presence of pre-made openings (rooftop scuttles or bulkhead doors) was a tactic that had little utility on the modern fireground ( This was based on our then-new knowledge…


Added by Mark J. Cotter on March 5, 2018 at 9:00am — 4 Comments

Inciting Bravery - The realities of promoting risk-taking; Part 4: Summary

My inspirations for starting this series investigating the feasibility of increasing firefighters' danger tolerance included the suggestion that the modern fire attack (MFA) technique of exterior streams was evidence of cowardice, as well as recent rants regarding firefighters “not doing their jobs”, at least as defined by the person posting the rant, which generally involve the perceived hesitation of other firefighters to perform interior operations. To me, the idea that we all merely need…


Added by Mark J. Cotter on February 19, 2018 at 9:00am — No Comments

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