Our collective foundation has been shaken. Beliefs that have guided firefighters at countless incidents for many decades have been proven incorrect, and the actions based upon them potentially hazardous. Many of the teachings regarding structural firefighting tactics now require review and revision, and even venerable firefighting texts will need to be rewritten. Whether you agree or disagree with how the fire dynamics research findings are being implemented, and the final version has likely not yet taken form anyway, every firefighter and department has already been affected. And, I predict this revolution is nowhere near completion.
Now, I’ve never been shy about questioning even longstanding fire service practices if I felt their basis was unclear. Rather than mere cynicism, though, I was instead usually just trying to improve my understanding of a concept when I dug deeper into its origins and rationales. More than occasionally I discovered that was there was little or no justification for some of our habits, which were often based on tradition or lore. In some cases, while the reasons had once been clear and compelling, they were no longer applicable. Over time, I began to accumulate various examples of “Emergency Services Myths”, started a series of articles on the topic (http://www.fireengineering.com/articles/2008/11/emergency-service-m... and http://www.fireengineering.com/articles/2009/05/emergency-service-m...), and even gave a class some years ago at FDIC which included over 60 different common firefighting and EMS beliefs that were incorrect (e.g., you can breath air from a fog nozzle, water curtains protect exposures). So, it would be safe to say that I am a dedicated and studied doubter.
Still, despite my long record of skepticism, NONE of the recently debunked fire service principles were on my list of myths, nor was I even suspicious of their validity. The fire dynamics research findings surprised me as much as anyone in the fire service. Further, I did not fully appreciate the significance of the new information until Eddie Buchanan and his associates at Hanover (VA) Fire and EMS went to the trouble of modifying traditional fireground tactics to match them to our improved understanding of fire behavior, resulting in the SLICE-RS approach. This new tactical sequence, a marriage of theory and practice, provides a vivid demonstration of how we can adapt our operations to address the newly understood realities of structural fire behavior. In fact, it was the consideration of these changes, and how they will affect many more of our practices, that inspired me to write this series of blogs.
While I have repeatedly referred to the fire dynamics research findings, and will continue to mine that information for these posts, you would be mistaken if you thought I could explain it all, and I'm not even going to try. What you should expect from me are analyses and commentaries on the application of some of these findings on the art and craft of firefighting. Given my own questioning attitude, I also don't presume readers will take my interpretations as complete, or even necessarily accurate, at least not just because I said so. The significance of this new body of knowledge dictates that any serious firefighter must study the information him or herself, and thereby formulate a better understanding than any of my explanations could provide.
A good start on that education can be found on Underwriters Laboratories (UL)'s www.ulfirefightersafety.com and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)'s www.nist.gov/fire, each of which provides access to a variety of on-line training programs that can further your knowledge of these topics. A more varied collection of information can be accessed at www.modernfirebehavior.com, which is co-sponsored by UL and Firefighter Close Calls; and a web-based repository of research applicable to firefighting is being constructed at www.fstareasearch.org, a project sponsored by a FEMA Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) and managed by the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC). Regarding the application of these research findings, an overview of the SLICE-RS approach can be found on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X80yseC2fmQ. Training in this tactical sequence is provided through an 8-hour class presented by the International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI), which they will bring to your area free of charge, also courtesy of an AFG.
We all need to understand this research and its implications in order to be able to engage in reasonable debate, even if we have different interpretations of the information or approaches to implementing changes. What was once a “common ground” of firefighting principles has been permanently shattered, and we need to work together to piece its replacement back together.