Note: This article is written from a suburban perspective for suburban firefighting.
Suppression culture. The most interesting and dynamic part of the fire service in recent years, that is becoming the most debated topic within the fire service. From the concept of "hit it hard from the yard" to "fires are extinguished from the inside out" both topics are streamlining fire service debate; and many firefighters and fire officers find themselves picking sides in battles without really getting down to the nitty-gritty (if I spelled that wrong my apologies, I'm more brawn than brain).
After a day of training at the local academy where I taught skills on ladder deployment, me and a young career firefighter that assisted me eventually got on the topic of suppression culture in our local area. His organization that he works for has run a significant amount of fire in the preceding 4 months to this blog and quite often my organization has come for mutual aid assistance to their fires due to our close proximity. I have noticed at these fires their first choice of line has often (if not always) been a blitz line that produces in the range of 350-500 gpm and we debated the pro's and con's of this strategy in a calm and professional manner. What follows is some of our topics and conclusions that we have reached:
Manpower: Both organizations that we work for are in a suburban/rural setting on the outskirts of greater Cincinnati. There are often long lays and delays for up to minutes prior to mutual aid companies arriving on scene at any fire. It is unrealistic to expect 30 people on a single or two alarm fire, a typical day may get us 15 firefighters on the first alarm (if we are lucky, 17-18 if we include white hats).
Softening the Target: With the travel times between stations on often winding country roads we may be behind the 8-ball, putting water on the fire from the outside may work until enough companies are on scene to go interior.The first line off with a typical 3 man company is often a blitz gun for his organization, a 2" (yes 2", not 2.5") line flowing up to 328 gpm is likely to be our organizations primary choice. The time that it takes to deploy a ground monitor on a decent room and contents extending to multiple room fire may be more extensive than a crosslay that can adequately put water on the fire until companies arrive and a 2-in:2-out can be established. If it is a big fire with a potential to have serious extension problems the blitz line works, but it should never be the "one stop shop" for first line off the apparatus. I will say that my approach nor theirs is perfect, they both have advantages, they both have disadvantages, but anything to bide time to amass companies is better than watching a building burn when actions can be taken.
Building Construction: Again, we are different from the Urban Core that faces a lot of older buildings that present their own unique challenges. We are often faced with homes that were built within the last 20 years that have insane fire spread potential and even worse collapse potential in short periods of time. Reading the fire conditions and knowing the first-due area is crucial, we do NOT have the time that many urban firefighters have inside a structure to fight, we must be cognizant in our area of what we are facing. I recently fought a fire in a home that was built within the last 10 years, I was performing overhaul in a room with what sounded to be a perfectly stable floor, only to realize when a company was inspecting below me that literally ALL structural support beneath me was gone due to engineered wooden I-beams that were burned through, I guess it was by the grace of God and the carpet holding the floor up that there was no collapse. While I am a firm believer of going interior whenever possible, no building that is destined to be a parking lot is worth my life when there is no life hazard and the property is doomed as is.
Safety-First Mindset: Some chief officers in the region are starting to demonstrate the safety oriented concept of keeping their members from danger. I believe that we are doing our taxpayers a disservice by perpetuating that mindset. Firefighting is inherently dangerous, if you don't believe me just read the NFPA 1971 tag on your turnout gear, it will tell you. It is of my opinion that if you believe that you can make a positive impact and save what you can, do it. I'm not advocating risking your life for a parking lot, but if you have a fair chance to save someones belongings, take that chance because some of those items salvageable may mean the world to your taxpayer. Abandoning your duties for the potential risk in a fair shot may be more damaging to public image than the risk it took to mitigate the incident.
One-Stop Shop Solutions: Ultimately there is no one-size-fits-all tactic in the fire service, especially in the suburban/rural core of firefighting. I'm not saying that every building fire MUST be an aggressive interior offensive firefight, nor do I advocate the concept of fighting the fire solely from the outside and only going inside to mop up. Both trains of thought are dangerous to their members in our demographic, potentially putting members inside dangerous buildings that are losses from the start of the firefight can kill firefighters and inversely not developing the skills necessary to perform an interior attack when it MUST be accomplished to save civilian lives can lead to ineffective firefighters and civilian losses. It takes fire officers with OPEN MINDS that are willing to learn the full spectrum of strategies, tactics, building construction and both their organizations capabilities as well as the capabilities of their mutual aid resources to effectively mitigate incidents.
Open Your Mind and Learn: There is a problem that many firefighters face, they believe the first thing that they are taught is gospel and any train of thought beyond that is heresy. Anything from preaching that the only acceptable climbing angle is 75 degrees or that smooth bore or combination nozzles are the only acceptable means of firefighting. What many firefighters fail to think through is that there are at least 2 ways to perform any firefighting operation. The fire service is evolving at an alarming rate, and many trains of thought that were taught as fact have been discarded and deemed as invalid by science or there is a faster and more efficient method. A firefighter must be willing to admit that everything he knows could be wrong, especially if science can prove it. I know that UL and NIST studies can get under many peoples skin, as they make many firefighters feel as if these studies diminish our capabilities to perform interior operations but they serve their place in our business, and can help us make more sound decisions when operating on the fire ground.By learning as many trains of thought, as many ways to perform any operation you can imagine, you will become the most versatile firefighter and fire officer that you could be. Do not let the boundaries that you perceive to exist limit your mind, innovation, creativity and training will help make you the best that you can be.
Ultimately, what I can say from the conversation that I had with my friend is that there is a broad amount of struggles that we are facing in our era and in our firefighting environment. I am a firm believer in interior firefighting, but I am aware that there are many variables that must be considered when fighting a fire in suburbia that would be different from the inner city. There are many instructors on both sides of the fence who have their dedicated beliefs who have excellent points to consider, but ultimately no side is completely wrong, nor is any side completely right. Remember, all operations must be well thought out, every decision must be calculated and every strategy employed for the good of the public, the department and the individual member to ensure that we not only meet the goals of property conservation and saving lives, but that the fire goes out and our brothers and sisters go home.
"Too many people see black or white in a business that is perfectly gray"
Train Hard and Keep the Faith