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Controlling the Flow Path and Door Control

Co-written by P.J. Norwood and Sean Gray

By this point we have not found anyone that does not debate the importance door control. Heck, we have been preaching door control during fire prevention talks for many years. We just never tied it into our tactical mind set outside of trying to keep fire in its compartment. Truck company firefighters have been practicing door control during search and VES for many years!

Understanding and realizing we need to control the door for many is the easy piece that has been missing. The hard part is applying it to the fireground. For some departments door control is not complicated as they have the staffing to position a firefighter at the door. But, there are many fire departments across the nation that do not have the necessary staffing. Some will argue that those departments should not be conducting interior operations. That is another conversation we will not address today.

How do we accomplish door control on the fireground? The easy answer is to have someone close the door behind the advancing company and maintain that position until the water is flowing. Then secure the door open and move to another assigned task.

How do we accomplish this if we do not have a firefighter we can assign to this position? Some have suggested a pro-active rapid intervention team (RIT) can position one of their members here. While we agree this would work we are also tentative. We are advocates of pro-active RIT and feel this is pro-active. However, if there is a smoke condition the door control firefighter needs to be on air. We do not want a RIT member using air during proactive assignments. Some have suggested just close the door and not station a firefighter at the door. This suggestion, we are troubled with. If interior companies need to rapidly withdraw we predict some trouble when they reach the door. If we are talking residential fires the entry door will be inward swinging. Therefore the companies who are rapidly exiting can end up piled up behind the door. The exact reason why commercial doors are outward swinging with panic bars. The other piece is the door will not be controlled. It will simply be closed onto the advancing hose line. This can interfere with the stretch therefore defeating the goal to get water on the fire.

The fire service manufacturers have looked to help us with this dilemma. Their answer adopted from the European fire service are door curtains or block aids as they are referred to in Germany. Door curtains may not be the answer either. However, they are definitely something that we should be considering! 

Recently the authors had the ability to teach a flow path management class and we incorporated the Tempest door curtains. In groups of two the instructors took students into the burn building. Upon entry the door was opened and the flow path was immediately visible. The students crawled down the hallway to the door of the burn room. Here we discussed the neutral plane and bi-directional flow. At this point a second crew placed a curtain at the entry door. The students were able to see a decrease in the flow path and after a brief period we witnessed a slight decrease in temperatures. The temperatures were not monitored with any remote equipment. The instructors utilized Thermal Imager Camera’s to monitor the temperatures. The students quickly visualized a decrease in the velocity and movement of the smoke and products of combustion.

Students were then brought into a room off the hallway and searching in the flow path was discussed. We focused on door control during search, walking the walls and numbering the walls to incorporate a search plan. When the search was completed firefighters moved back to the hallway where they immediately noticed a change in conditions. We saw decreased visibility from the blocking of smoke. The smoke did not have an outlet therefore there was no flow path. The crew then crawled down the hallway exiting through the curtain.

What did the students learn and what messages were reinforced? The students all had the opportunity to see observe how a flow path can be effected by door control. We also discussed some fire behavior observations such as neutral plane and bi-directional flow uni-directional flow path. This highlighted the necessity to close doors when searching ahead or above of a hose line until water is flowing.

The students and instructors were also able to see what happens to the interior environment when a curtain is put in place to control the flow path. These were both valuable lessons as we all look forward to adapting our ever changing firegrounds.

What is the future for door curtains? There is a positive future in the American Fire Service for a door curtain! Consider interior doors in the attack stairwell of a high rise fire. Consider smoke control in nursing homes, hospitals, and multifamily dwellings. Each can be a place to utilize a door curtain to stop smoke spread into remote areas.

Curtains also have a place on the fireground for minimal staffed departments who may not have the appropriate staffing to position a firefighter at the door. However, a door curtain should not be used in the place of a door control firefighter! Door control is more than just closing off the inlet. It is one of the most important jobs on the fireground and we need to be sure that our most experienced firefighters are controlling the flow path whether it’s with a door or a curtain.

This is an extremely exciting time in the fire service. Today we are being educated at an alarming rate. It is our job to learn from the scientific research. Then bring the science to the streets, adapt our tactics if and when necessary and share our experiences with each other so we can all learn from experiences both yours and ours.

Every tactic is not for every fire or every fire department. Every fire and fire department are different. You need to adapt when appropriate, evaluate the situation, resources, staffing, building etc. and take all of it into consideration. Then choose a plan that incorporates the science, your training and experiences into a tactical model that is the best for the citizens and the members of your department.

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