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Mark J. Cotter's Blog (82)

MFA Tools and Rules - Introduction

Note: With the dawn of a new year, I'm determined to become a better blogger.  The Modern Fire Attack series has been running as a self-posted blog for about a year and a half now, and I have simultaneously, though less often, been submitting more general fire service articles under the title of my old column "From the Jumpseat".  Other than the topics, the size of the two (and the effort I put in to them) are roughly the same.  Having long ago begun writing for emergency…


Added by Mark J. Cotter on January 10, 2017 at 12:02pm — No Comments

MFA #37: Thinking Firefighters - Intelligent choices

We are learning that the fireground is more complex than we had previously understood, and we probably still don’t know the half of it.  While the recommendations for tactical changes that have arisen from ongoing fire dynamics research have spawned the most discussion amongst members of our profession, the raw information alone was revolutionary in its own right, even absent the practical applications that followed.  Flow paths, smoke as fuel, and the (actual) effects of hose…


Added by Mark J. Cotter on December 12, 2016 at 6:08am — No Comments

MFA #36: Fight Fire With Water - Correctly

From my perspective - that being someone who entered the fire service just as the era of "surround and drown" was being replaced by the "get in and hit it up close" approach - the most immediate and practical operational change inspired by fire dynamics research is the early application of water.  While the recommendation to delay ventilation also has significant benefits - and loud critics - “opening up”, especially vertically, was a tactic that many of us who worked in small departments…


Added by Mark J. Cotter on November 7, 2016 at 6:30am — No Comments

MFA #35: Small Times - An ideal strategy for the minimally staffed

It can be demoralizing to learn that something to which you had dedicated a lot of time and effort studying, practicing, and promoting has been rendered irrelevant, or at least less relevant, and I speak from personal experience.  The tactical modifications inspired by fire dynamics research that have incited the most rancor are those regarding initial water application targets and ventilation timing, with the proponents of still bypassing showing fire in favor of immediate entry, and of…


Added by Mark J. Cotter on September 13, 2016 at 11:39am — No Comments

MFA #34: Life Safety or Life Saving? - Compatible goals

In an example of how far the arguments against the MFA approach have devolved, we now find ourselves facing critics within the fire service who complain that our tactics have become too safe!  More specifically, they contend that the focus has been taken away from rescuing victims and protecting property to instead maintaining our own safety.  Having been an outspoken advocate of these principles for over…


Added by Mark J. Cotter on August 15, 2016 at 7:05am — 2 Comments

MFA #33: Ventilation Justification - More new excuses for old habits

Continuing my theme of rebutting the new reasons traditionalists are coming up with to avoid changing their approach to firefighting, given that many of its original justifications have been effectively disproven, this post will focus on the air flow component of the "How to Control Combustion" equation, commonly referred to as tactical ventilation.  I addressed the resistance to the use of exterior hose streams in MFA #32: Changing the Rules - New excuses for old habits (at…


Added by Mark J. Cotter on July 18, 2016 at 6:50am — No Comments

MFA #32: Changing the Rules - New excuses for old habits

There has been a steady increase in the fire service’s acknowledgment of the validity of the information provided by recent fire dynamics research, with references to the new understanding now appearing in articles, training materials, and after-case reports (not to mention the occasional blog).  Flow paths, smoke as fuel, wind effects, the inability to push fire with straight streams, and the rapid increase in combustion that results from ventilation are all concepts that have been…


Added by Mark J. Cotter on July 5, 2016 at 11:22am — 2 Comments

MFA #31: The ABCs of AIA* - Modern techniques for interior firefighting

*Aggressive Interior Attack

At every structure fire that is not declared a defensive situation, and after we get past the currently controversial intervention choices (vent, flow water, both, or neither), firefighters of all tactical persuasions will then need to enter the building in order to complete the tasks that remain (search, extinguishment, ventilation, overhaul, salvage).  It is at that point that the traditional and modern fire attack (MFA) methods converge,…


Added by Mark J. Cotter on June 30, 2016 at 6:49am — No Comments

MFA #30: Tactical Disorder - The root of our disagreement

In the ongoing debate over structural firefighting tactics in the era of fire dynamics enlightenment, the topic inspiring particularly passionate sentiment does not so much regard tactics themselves, but the sequence in which they are performed.  Regardless if your belief is that almost all firefighting should be performed indoors and that the only valuable exterior action is ventilation, or if you have embraced all or some of the fire behavior research findings that…


Added by Mark J. Cotter on June 15, 2016 at 6:41am — No Comments

MFA #29: Moving Products - Effective ventilation techniques

Winding up my treatise on ventilation in the modern era, this fifth and final (for now) blog on the topic will focus on the practical changes we need to make for controlling the air flow to a fire, as inspired by our new knowledge of its effects.  Links to sources for additional information on specific techniques will be provided at the conclusion of this installment.  Previous postings have discussed how fire dynamics research findings have required us to re-visit our use of this tactic,…


Added by Mark J. Cotter on May 23, 2016 at 5:43am — No Comments

MFA #28: Balancing Act - Controlling ventilation

This is the fourth installment in a series exploring the impact of our new understanding of the effects of ventilation on compartment fires, and suggesting modifications to that tactic that incorporate that knowledge.  Rather than fill this space with links, any reader wishing to catch up by binge-reading my prior posts on this topic should start at…


Added by Mark J. Cotter on May 10, 2016 at 6:34pm — No Comments

MFA #27: Intended Consequences - The two facets of Tactical Ventilation

Previous postings on this subject addressed the need to reassess our approach to ventilation as a fire control tactic in light of our newfound awareness of the significant increase in heat production it can cause ( and then provided an alternative basis for categorizing the different circumstances in…


Added by Mark J. Cotter on April 27, 2016 at 7:14am — No Comments

MFA #26: Tactical Ventilation Redefined - Putting theory into practice

The new information produced by recent fire science research demands a significant reassessment of the role of ventilation for fire suppression.  MFA #25 The Ventilation Revolution - New information brings new understanding ( provided the introduction…


Added by Mark J. Cotter on April 19, 2016 at 7:32am — No Comments

MFA #25: The Ventilation Revolution - New information brings new understanding

(Author’s Note: As I was writing this series of posts, there appeared here on the Fire Engineering Training Community another blog on this same subject by Nicholas Papa [].  Obviously, I decided to publish mine anyway, as there are enough facets to this discussion…


Added by Mark J. Cotter on April 14, 2016 at 7:30am — 1 Comment

MFA #24: With All Due Respect - Newer methods can save more and injure less

Good manners can be deadly, as in taking the time to excuse yourself before grabbing someone as they are about to step off a curb into the path of a moving car.  In the ongoing debates regarding firefighting tactics, there is a tendency to avoid offending and alienating fellow firefighters by describing those based on the recent research as “another tool in the toolbox”, and “something to think about”.  While not inaccurate descriptions, these new “tools” render many of the others obsolete,…


Added by Mark J. Cotter on March 15, 2016 at 6:50am — No Comments

MFA #23: Protecting Egress - And other hoseline placement myths

Coming to terms with the significant changes to firefighting tactics wrought by fire behavior researchers and the innovative implementors of their findings is an ongoing process, and there are repeated instances when the new information that has filtered into our understanding again changes our perspective.  This enlightenment is also cumulative, and even exponential, as the same knowledge is applied to other aspects of our craft, and it becomes steadily clearer that much of what we…


Added by Mark J. Cotter on February 23, 2016 at 7:00am — No Comments

MFA #22: Death Prevention - The life safety benefits of compartmentation

A riddle: What feature does almost every dwelling already have, can prevent death despite a raging fire, occupants often neglect to put into service, but which firefighters can utilize to improve conditions?  

Answer: A door.  

Recent fire dynamics research has lead to recommendations for dramatic changes in our approach to structure fires, with debates and arguments…


Added by Mark J. Cotter on February 10, 2016 at 6:55am — No Comments

MFA #21: ACRONYMITY: Tripping over letters

We in the fire service are fond of initials.  They are used both as abbreviated identifiers (e.g., BC, LT, EMS, FADO, AFA, MVC) and/or shortened versions of unwieldy terms (e.g., IDLH, BLEVE, SCBA), forming the type of private, insider language common of all professions.  They have also proven to be valuable memory aids, helping us to learn and recall the components and steps of complex processes.  For instance, the myriad and extensive considerations that should be included in…


Added by Mark J. Cotter on January 19, 2016 at 9:00am — No Comments

MFA #20: The New Standard? - The risks of ignoring the science

So, now that the fire service has a synchronized approach to controlling structure fires (SLICE-RS), based on scientific research (e.g., UL, NIST, NYU), supported and promoted by respected fire service organizations (e.g., NFPA, IAFC, IAFF, ISFSI), and with the promise of improved efficiency and decreased risk (easier, faster, safer), are there now risks (e.g., charges of liability, malfeasance, or incompetence) associated with not adopting this strategy?  Probably not...yet. …


Added by Mark J. Cotter on January 7, 2016 at 8:22am — No Comments

Modern Fire Attack - What's been said, and what's left to say

The end of the calendar year brings with it a natural tendency to look back on what has been accomplished, and ahead to what still needs to be done.  I’ve been commenting for the past half year on the significant shift in fire dynamics understanding and resulting tactical modifications that the North American fire service is undergoing, and I would like to share a few reflections and predictions on that broad and controversial topic. 

Despite my demonstrated interest in the…


Added by Mark J. Cotter on January 4, 2016 at 8:30am — No Comments

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