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MFA #2 - STRUCTURAL FIREFIGHTING FOR DUMMIES: With apologies to Eddie Buchanan and the ISFSI

Despite the irreverent title of this blog entry, I'm a fan of SLICE-RS, the acronym for a step-wise approach to controlling structure fires (See MFA #1 - Unlearning).  This synthesis of fire dynamics research findings and tactics, developed through the efforts of dedicated scientists and innovative fire service professionals, has rendered the process of structural firefighting easier, safer, and more efficient.  And, If you're like most of the firefighters with whom I've discussed these new concepts, your initial reaction will be skepticism, with some even bordering on hostility.

My take is that in SLICE-RS, the fire service finally has a workable, logical, and easy-to-remember guideline for controlling structure fires.  The sequence is: S is for Size-up; L for Locate the fire; I for Identify flow path; C for Cool from a safe location; and E for Extinguish.  Not included in the sequence, but addressed as necessary, are R for Rescue, and S for Salvage.  While we have long had useful models for strategic operations (e.g., evaluate, develop plan, execute, re-evaluate), and tasks are typically organized according to functional assignment (e.g., Incident Commander performs size-up and supervision, Engine Companies perform tasks that relate to flowing water, and Truck crews do everything else), a methodical approach to the tactical portion - that is, the combination and timing of the tasks to accomplish the strategic objective - has been lacking.  

Not that we don’t have our routines.  The one most commonly practiced and taught involves combining the assigned and practiced skills of the traditional fireground players mentioned above (i.e., Incident Commander, Engine companies, and Truck companies) to overcome the challenges posed by a given fire.  This team effort is generally successful, but requires significant training and coordination in order to be able to accomplish incident control efficiently.  In addition, while the capabilities of a well-staffed and competent collection of officers, firefighters, apparatus, and equipment is usually more than adequate to manage the typical structure fire, the ideal sequence of their actions had never been specified, much less scientifically analyzed.  

On the contrary, with multiple companies on the scene of a fire, multiple tactics are typically put into play at once, including size-up, search, fire attack, and ventilation, to name but a few.  This can be a good thing, if the sequence is correct for the given situation, but a potentially very bad thing if the sequence is incorrect (e.g., searching without a hoseline if flashover occurs; ventilating before water is applied and causing increased fire intensity; or initiating fire attack before a proper size-up determines the fire location is below the floor where the line entered).  

The various teams on a fireground often bring a certain momentum to incident control that, when properly orchestrated, can be like a beautiful symphony.  And, when misdirected, or undirected, can result in chaos at best, and tragedy at worst.  Add to this uncertainty of effect the knowledge that fire dynamics research has demonstrated the ill effects of some of these “traditional” tactics, specifically ventilation, but also entry of a burning building without a charged - and periodically flowing - hoseline.  

At the most basic level, and the various available team members/companies aside, we often fall back on our first fireground priority - Life Safety - to guide our actions.  That motivation explains (actually, rationalizes) the insistence of many in the fire service to continue to provide an “aggressive interior attack” (to be referred to as AIA from here on by this blogger) as their default mode for structure fire control.  What the recent fire dynamics research showed, and SLICE-RS incorporated, was that application of water immediately improved conditions throughout a fire building, even if that water was applied from the exterior of the structure.  Therefore, the most efficient way to accomplish our first priority might be to flow water into a burning building, a tactic that can often be best performed before we even enter. 

SLICE-RS has given us a stepwise process for organizing our actions to safely and efficiently accomplish fire control.  In fact, except for the hesitancy on increasing ventilation and the recommendation of initial water application from a safe location, which can be topics for future postings, most firefighters should agree that it describes a reasonable way to approach a structure fire: Evaluate the incident (S), find the fire (L), assess where the products of combustion are going, or might go if we close or open ventilation points (I), and apply water to the fire (C, E).  As we all commonly do now, these steps are bypassed anytime circumstances dictate that victim location and removal (R) or property protection (S) can be accomplished quicker than just putting out the fire.

Incident control has always been best accomplished by well-trained and equipped firefighters, guided by appropriate SOPs and supervision, performing their respective roles.  SLICE-RS provides a script for all to follow in reaching that goal at a structure fire, and fulfills a long overdue need for tactical guidance.


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