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The new four letter words and phrases in the fire service

There are a few new, four letter words in today's fire service to many. The words and phrases that include "new tactics", "UL", "NIST", "attack from the burned side", "transitional attack" and a few others seem to get under the skin of many. Immediately many will respond "just because it's new doesn't make it right". We have all heard and probably at one point had similar thoughts.

Today, I am not going to preach new tactics or techniques. I am simply going to start the conversation on the tactics utilized in the video which is included in the below link. 

I am looking for your opinion and your thoughts on what you would do. There is no right or wrong answer. It's your opinion!

But, here is the catch. I want you to critique the tactical decisions as a firefighter without knowledge of flow path and the impact of the vertical ventilation study. Then I want you to watch the video again and consider flow paths and consider if vertical ventilation was or was not necessary. Again, there is no right or wrong answer!

A few points to consider. On your size up look at the building construction, smoke volume, velocity, color and density, look for the flow paths, look for volume of fire before ventilation and volume of fire after ventilation. 

Now as a firefighter with knowledge of flow path and knowledge of the impact of vertical ventilation study will you still deploy the same tactics? Again, there is no right or wrong answer. We are all students of the fire service and can learn from each other through good spirited, positive debates.

Here is the link that contains the video.

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Comment by Dave Collins on December 17, 2013 at 9:51pm

Hey PJ, First of all the way that building was buttoned up, I would have to be thinking about survivability of occupants first. From the limited video of this presumed ranch style home, there appears to be major fire from the A to C side. My opinion may not be popular in the urban firefighting community, but this fire looked to me from my vantage point to be a unsurvivable defensive fire. Horizontally vent the boards from front to back and hit it from the exterior as you go, avoiding the electrical hazard. Not sure if an aerial was on scene, but once the roof goes, let the ladder pipe handle the attic and keep the members off the roof. 

Comment by Michael Dombroski on December 17, 2013 at 6:14pm


I feel vertical ventilation made it worse in this case.  When the gases ignite there is a huge increase in thermal output, which may increase the weakening of the structure (earlier collapse), increase further structural fire involvement (thermal radiation) and perhaps place the staff on the roof in a more dangerous situation .  Venting the roof (in this situation) has caused gas ignition and sustained fire at the roof, and probably beneath.  My thoughts are that this was caused more specifically by and increase in volume and velocity of the air flow path. 

By venting horizontally on the other side of the fire from the fire attack team, the hose line follows the air flow path and the fire out the window.  To me it's sort of like having the fire in front of you and pushing it out as opposed to having it above you (and then possibly behind you).  Again, I'm speaking from a perspective where we don't routinely carry out vertical ventilation (residential fires) for a variety of reasons.  I'm sure that there are times when we may have had a better outcome if we had, but generally speaking I think not doing it has caused less problems and certainly less risk.  I'm pretty convinced that well placed horizontal ventilation in residential structures achieves the same positive results for interior conditions, without the risk and the negative impacts of vertical ventilation.  As always, and as you wisely point out, there will be many opinions about this and I am sure that those with much more experience than I could point out some flaws in my opinion.  I have the read the UL testing report (haven't really studied it though).  I found it interesting from the point that it fits with how we do things (generally), probably by accident.

Thanks for the post.  It's a great video for discussion on this topic.

Mike D

Comment by P.J. Norwood on December 17, 2013 at 10:25am
Mike, thank you for taking the time to read, analyze and comment! As I said there is no right or wrong it's your opinion. I am looking for what you would do or not do and it if the knowledge of the UL testing influences your decision making process. Is this video do you feel once the roof ventilation was completed it made the situation better or worse?
Comment by Michael Dombroski on December 14, 2013 at 3:29am


Here's my opinion based on tactics that would commonly be used down under.  The house is well involved with several horizontal ventilation openings (c and d side).  The windows are boarded up suggesting (but not conclusively) that it is un-occupied.  It also indicates the hazards of interior crews not having easy secondary escape routes and a lack of ventilation.  The wind doesn't appear to be too much of a factor and given that the house is so well involved in fire I think the choice of entry through the front door was as good any.

It looked like there was an exposure; the garage at the rear, but it was not immediately threatened and probably dealt with by getting a good knock on the fire and maybe a covering line.

A charged line should be ready and manned prior to door entry.  It was no secret that there was a significant fire behind that door and I felt that the team making entry there compromised their safety.  My thoughts are a cautious interior attack from the front using a couple of lines flowing at least 470 l/m (125 gpm) or more is even better.  As for ventilation, well this is where we may differ in opinion (if we haven't already).  We would not do vertical ventilation in that situation.  Once enough water gets on the fire in the building that size it will get knocked down pretty quick.  I would then systematically carry out horizontal ventilation by opening the windows opposite our fire attack direction.  So by making entry on the a side, start ventilation on the c side then, looking at this, on the d side.  I would only do this after an initial interior knock down.  I think that this would ensure the air track/flow path was running in the same direction as the fire attack.  I don't see any need for vertical ventilation.  I consider the risk too high and benefit too low.  Maybe after the fire is controlled and during overhaul I might consider opening the roof, but it would be more for checking for hot spots etc in the roof and ceiling as opposed to ventilation.  We have different roof construction in NZ, making vertical ventilation very difficult so we have got by without doing it.  I'm sure that in many instances it would have made life easier and safer for us, but I'm also sure that not doing it has saved our bacon many times as well.

Great video and post.

Mike D


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