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Response to ISFSI Firefighter Safety Call to Action, Scott Corrigan

This is the letter that I submitted to several people regarding some recent topics and recommendations.  This is not an issue about cowboys and cowards.  It needs to be about educated, honest fire service leaders who understand that we do not have a duty to die, but we absolutely have a duty to act.  This is not a flash in the pan reaction, but a written response that was formulated over several months of painstaking self analysis to ensure that I was not reacting to something that simply pushed one of my buttons.  I am not an author, circuit instructor, renowned blogger nor do I have a desire to be.  I am simply an Engine Company Officer who believes the public has entrusted us with their lives and property.  I am trying to do the honorable thing.  I mean no disrespect to anyone involved and I have reached out and sent this letter to many of them.  I have had some great interactions with some great people.  I am thankful for their passion.  I pray that you read thru any grammatical errors, local dialect or the fact that I do not have a master degree. 

November 9, 2013

 

Scott Corrigan                                                   

Email: send2scott@comcast.net

Cell: 253-227-3344253-227-3344

 

RE: ISFSI Firefighter Safety Call to Action concerns.

 

First thank you so much for your time and considerations as you read through my writings.

 

I am concerned that a section of the document is incorrect and over-simplifies the decision making of attack line placement.  Below is the section that I am referencing, most specifically subsection (b).

 

Update departmental fire ground policies and procedures, deliver training programs and conduct in-service updates to reflect fire dynamic research findings.

·        Water does not push fire or threaten trapped occupants.

a.      Water should be applied to a fire as soon as possible and from the safest location because research has proven it reduces thermal temperatures.

b.      Simply put: if you see fire, put water on it immediately. This greatly increases civilian and firefighter survivability as well as property conservation.

 

 In a time when education and learning is absolutely becoming more accepted and desired this section can cause users to view fire attack as a very simplified process and not seek depth of knowledge on part of the most complex event at a fire.  That is the coordination between fire attack and tactical ventilation.  The document emphasizes many areas but simplifies fire attack line placement.  There is a hierarchy of decision making when it comes to attack line placement with many variables.  There is a reason for an interior attack line.  There is reason for an exterior attack line.  We should encourage others to seek the knowledge to know "why" behind the what.  The document does not make reference to the difference between occupied and not occupied.  So does the above listed information change if there is entrapment or is the recommendation to follow the above listed information?  This should absolutely be clarified in the document and discussions.  Without clarification it still seems unclear on what crews should do if they arrive to entrapment at a dwelling fire.  Adding air to a ventilation controlled fire without controlling the heat is what is killing firefighters.  That translates to not flowing or simply putting down the nozzle while inside the fire.  Changing that should be a huge focus as opposed to exterior attack.  We need to cool smoke and control the heat with the use of the water.

 

 

My concerns come from my own experiences.  I have watched departments that have a long history of doing what this document is recommending regarding line placement.  The" plan A" is the exterior attack and then move interior.  This plan will fall apart when there is a rescue unless the agency has made it clear that even under a rescue you will still knock the fire down.  When proposing change we must recognize and evaluate what we are potentially losing while gaining elsewhere.  There are some key things that will be lost when you switch to this model.  It is often hard to predict these things while seeing the value in the change you are making.  If you move to the above listed model then what you lose over a very short time frame is any experience of what an interior attack line can do and when it should be used.  You will not have firefighters or company officers that can assess, evaluate and determine when an interior attack is more appropriate than an exterior attack.  You will lose focus that a majority of fire victims are found in the path of egress and that assessing that path of egress is important. 

 

I currently work for a great department.  I have a good Chief and Operations Chief.  To ensure we have operations that are effective, efficient and safe we formed the Tactical Operations Committee.  All three Battalion Chiefs, one Company Officer and Firefighter from each of the three shifts are on it.  Our goal: Develop Best Practices at Fires.  We are one of the only agencies in our state that has it and TRULY uses it like advertized.  Other agencies have it, but it is just a rubber stamp committee of vague/vanilla information.  We agreed early on to provide our Operations Division with the best product to meet the three desires every employee has. 1- What is expected of me? 2- Tools and Training to do what is expected of me. 3- Feedback good and bad on how I am doing.  

 

To get our committee on the right path we felt that we needed to break our operations into two categories: 1- Confinement Operations. 2- Extinguishment Operations.  We felt this was important and NIOSH and Near Misses show that agencies who treat all fires the same end up having near misses or LODDS.  It also showed clearly that agencies that did not plan for RESCUES and arrived to find RESCUES changed their primary plan experienced extreme dysfunction and things fell apart to include Near Misses and LODD's.  This was not and is still not okay with me.  I see clearly the operational link between actions and outcomes.  I see the importance of not attaching emotions to decisions.  So we asked some questions.

 

First we asked some clarifying questions to the committee.  These are the same questions each fire department should ask as they adjust their tactical deployment models.

 

1- Does our agency take the stance that single family dwellings are occupied or not?

Explanation: Do you educate, train and drill in a fashion that supports someone being inside when the first alarm arrives.  Do you provide that service?  Most agencies bill or tax for it, say that they do it, but actually their tactical deployment and staffing models do not support it.  To me, that is wrong.  Just tell the truth and let the public decide.  We as a committee agreed that yes, we believe that.  So we wrote it up and took it to the Chief.  He agreed and was actually surprised that it was not common knowledge that he expected this from us.  Now this DOES NOT put us in RESCUE mode, we still use 2 in 2 out, but it is a mindset for our formal education/training and drills.  It is known to all and expected.  It is the mindset when dispatched to a dwelling fire.  Expect fire.  Expect Rescues.

 

2-Does our agency take the stance that multi-family dwellings are occupied or not?  We followed the same process as above with the same results.  We are pretty sure that someone is in the building and most likely the fire unit.

 

3- Does our agency take the stance that non-dwelling fires are not occupied?  We agreed that we are not an urban department with the staffing and deployment model to approach these fires with the same mindset as dwelling fires.  We share a border with an urban department but we are not.  So at non-dwelling fires we needed to guarantee that our crews operated differently, with different priorities.

 

So we broke our fires into two categories:

Category OneDwelling Fires.  These are buildings that people live in and we expect them to be inside during an emergency.

Category Two: Non-dwelling Fires. These are buildings that people do not live in and we do not expect them to be inside during an emergency.

 

At non-dwelling fires we EXTINGUISH fire.  We will pull attack lines to closest possible opening to the building.  Our crews will pick a door over a window, because they understand intakes versus exhausts and know that their streams will always be more effective flowing into an intake.  They will pull and flow a larger attack line delivering higher GPM than if they were pulling an attack line for an interior attack.  If someone is reported inside we still operate in a fashion to control the fire, then remove the person.  We know that activating a mayday will certainly seal the fate of the victim. 

 

At dwelling fires we CONFINE.  We pick the front door for our starting point because that is where we find people who make it out of their bedrooms. We teach our officers if it looks like some place beside side A is the common egress to make that attack entry adjustment.  We know that the front door opens to the great room with open floor plan.  We assess the fire and determine if it is a compartment fire, a room with a door open or closed, or if it is a great room fire like a kitchen, dining, den, living room. We know these fires will have continuous fuels and will lead to the stairs and hallways.  The doors off the hallways are our goal. We will close them from the inside or via VEIS, we call it VES but we understand door control.  Our attack lines are focused on one job and that is to cool and completely dominate the fires.  We do not dual purpose or over task our crews.  We do not have the attack crew also to the primary search.  They control the heat because only one tool on the fireground can.  They do not put the nozzle down.  They may not even put the fire all out, but the line supports the hallways which supports the search and/or VES.  We may back out and shift to defensive, but that is our starting point.  We also focus on what an attack crew can and cannot do, what size attack line they will need, what nozzle tips etc.  We follow the formal process of education (books, videos, studies, SOP's), training (instructors showing how the tools and teams apply the knowledge from education to support a strategic mode) and drill (just short of 911 getting called we EXPECT to see everything, hear everything that would happen on the fireground.  We do not simulate what can be demonstrated with high fidelity).

 

The officer asks the question can WE operate in there, as opposed to "can somebody survive in there."  If WE can be in there, we go with 2 in 2 out in place, declaring offensive strategy and establish a working command.  If WE cannot be in there, we do not go, we make the building behave with exterior streams, heavy streams, tactical ventilation (anti-ventilation, horizontal after water application and vertical). We look for areas of refuge and opportunity to conduct VES. If that fails to create a condition we can be in, we declare defensive and behave.  We know that activating a mayday will certainly seal the fate of the victim. 

 

So we created the very long and descriptive House Fire SOP.  We also have a tool and job assignment for the first alarm.  Every member knows their job and what tools they will carry.  Our guys know it.  Our promotional process has it in a written test and the tactical portion.  We have a track record of it absolutely working as written and with slight changes in the front end by the first officer.

 

I say all of this because one of the hard discussions we had to have was "Do we see value in risk?"  We agreed that our guys needed the experience of taking lines interior to make judgment decisions in the future and when leading others if they promote.  To unify our Operations Division we agreed that it was worth the risk of conducting an interior attack to gain valuable experience to balance against their knowledge.  This experience would help with current and future decisions at fires. 

 

 Our guys know if there is a delay in launching an interior attack, they will get water on the fire.  They know that a fire left unchecked in a building will eventually kill and destroy everyone and everything in that building.  Our guys make adjustments as needed.  But their starting point is clear.  It is built for the rescue.  We could not have them getting stressed and making emotional decisions with no experience to base it on.

 

My concern as we move forward with more revelation from the UL studies and agencies making operational changes.  I see a distinct move toward the use exterior streams.  The fact is that NOBODY is making the clarification between occupied or not.  It has to be discussed and laid out.  Firefighters need to know that if they arrive and find a fire that does not allow them to go inside; simply someone being reported inside does NOT change the decision to control the fire first!  Our gear does not get better, decisions better, communication better, etc.  We will utilize VES and exterior streams as we move in.  Reported trapped is not an emergency for the fire department that is expecting it. 

 

 Some people have asked for a flow chart.  Here is the beginning of it:

 

1- Does your agency believe, educate, train, drill and staff for someone being inside of dwelling fires? 

YES- Follow the confinement plan.  Advertize to your citizens, mutual aid companies and your employees.  Make it clear.  Do what we have done.

NO- Follow the extinguishment plan of quick water, hard from the yard, even if you arrive and get a report that someone is inside.  If your plan A is to use exterior streams at fires because the (insert acronym here) study or report says so then stick to that plan.  Advertize to your citizens, mutual aid companies and your employees.  Make it clear. 

 

How we manage change is important.  The fire service is steeped with tradition.  One such tradition is knee jerk reactions, sometimes over reactions.  To make sweeping operational changes when we are clearly at the front end of the information timeline seems premature.  There are more studies coming.  There will be a study on interior fire streams.  We must manage the pendulum swing as we move forward.  I leave you with the thought that fire behavior and building construction will be universal in the American Fire Service (a kitchen fire in a row house is the same in Baltimore or Seattle) but operational links to expectations will be localized based on education, training, staffing and capabilities.

 

Thanks,

Scott Corrigan

Company Officer

People's Republic of Pierce County WA

 

 

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Comment by David Rhodes on February 20, 2014 at 7:10pm
Thanks for sharing. I concur with your approach and assesment. I think you have pinned the definition of what I would call "smart courage"
Comment by Mark Cummins on February 20, 2014 at 6:43pm

Good work Scott,  your comments need to be herd and understood. I, for one, have pushed for change most of my 40 years of fighting fires and teaching the use of a product that has been praised by many and criticized by others. I have seen how training can miss the most important basic information needed to do the best job possible.  An example; nozzle handling, it is not enough to teach the student to open the nozzle and squirt the water at the fire. The student needs to learn what and why the fire is doing what it is doing in order to know how to kill it the best way possible. Simply flowing water into a window or into a room may not work well if the water or foam is not applied in the best way to absorb the heat, create the most steam to create positive pressure (to keep the oxygen out), sweep the smoke (if you have foam) to  clear the air of toxic gases with foam, and hit the base of the fire to cool the material that is pyrolizing into the flammable gases.  I have even seen the brush fire fighters spraying water on the black (already burned) areas and wasting limited water.  I have seen fire fighters pass up fire to reach more fire and then have to back up or be burned up.  The UL and NIST information is the best thing I have seen in many years to understand fire and why "you can't push fire with water" and get water or foam on the fire as soon as possible to stop it from making more heat while we are making plans and trying to remember and follow acronyms.  

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