Our views must be balanced to include what may happen, what is obviously happening and why it is happening
The video of a house fire in Dunmore, Pennsylvania last week became popular as it was viewed on the various blogs and Facebook pages. The theme of discussion among some of those was the fire’s behavior, notably the flashover. Here is what the UL Firefighter Safety Research Institute had to say on Facebook,
“Ventilate (create a flow path from where the fire is to a lower pressure outside) and don't apply water and the result is not new. Once the windows are opened conditions right inside those windows may improve briefly but as heat moves toward the windows conditions deteriorate quickly. In this video, from ventilation until flashover is around 3 minutes. Without another view and an understanding of the interior we don't know how far the fire traveled. One thing we do know is that additional openings would allow for faster fire spread.”
It is important that we continue to learn as much as we can about fire behavior in today’s structures and that we support those who are investing in making lessons out of the research in this subject. One thing that we do not want to lose sight of is that while the latest findings may (or may not) be a catalyst for change in your department’s tactics, the knowledge of fire behavior is not a substitute for some of the simple basics such as bringing a hand tool to work.
In an earlier post Jim McCormack shared his personal idea that similar advances in knowledge could be made if 20 percent of the money spent in research were directed towards practical firefighter training . Some readers interpreted Jim’s post as a call for all research to be discontinued or that the fire service should continue to operate as it has done decades ago. In contrast, Jim’s post actually raises the issue that efforts spent in research and the probable change in strategy and tactics should be matched by reinforcing the basics in firefighting that for the most part are not challenged by the latest research. An example of this is the Dunmore video.
While we can discuss the fire dynamics being witnessed and point out that the ventilation of the windows leads to the pyrolysis at those windows, what isn’t being challenged is that there are five firefighters operating with some visual intent to make entry and only one among them has a hand tool. Add to this that at one window where we can identify an upcoming flashover we see a dry hoseline being advanced through said window. We could also throw in the unfastened SCBA waist strap as well since we are discussing some basics.
Science tells us this is hot, but what does our behavior tell us?
The point is not to pit research against training of the basics but to marry the two in a balanced way so that the basics are not put aside while everyone discusses how to change their tactics to match the latest research. Before anyone rushes to comment, we are not saying that those who are doing the valuable research are pushing aside the basics. What we are saying is that readers and those who use such videos to discuss fire behavior should also make it a point to identify where there are problems in foundational basics (and remember that there is no such thing as the perfect fire; we all make mistakes). We may well begin fighting fires as they do in Europe but that doesn’t mean that we should neglect simple lessons such as using a tool for ventilation instead of your hands; wearing your SCBA properly; and meeting the area of flashover with a charged hoseline.
A soldier can receive the latest "in-country" training and intelligence on his enemy, but if he walks point with his rifle slung over his shoulder like he's taking a stroll through the mall, he'll be killed fast. Firefighters are no different.
Bill Carey is the online public safety news and blog manager with PennWell Public Safety, or more specifically FireRescue Magazine/FirefighterNation.com, JEMS.com, LawOfficer.com and FireEMSBlogs.com.