Stop Asking for “The” Way by David Rhodes
As fire research continues to evolve and more dialogue continues about fire attack I have noticed that many of our younger firefighting generation ask me, “What is the right way to attack a fire?” It sounds like such a simple and seemingly innocent question but it’s like everything else we do, it’s very complex. As complex as should we vent, should we have 2-4 people outside standing by as RIT while 2 firefighters try to hump a hose by themselves upstairs to get to an attic fire, should we forward or reverse lay…… and it just keeps on going. I don’t recall my generation of firefighters ever being told “this is the way to do it.” We were taught the basics of forward, reverse, and split lays, we were taught vertical, horizontal, natural and hydraulic ventilation (PPV came much later), and we were expected to use which ever method was the best choice for us once we got to scene, we determined what we had, who we had and we went to work.
This is by no means intended to slight the newer generation but instead intended to point out a difference in approach to thinking which points out a need to address the communication and training about research as it is disseminated in various forms and becomes the fodder of talk groups. As our work pool enters the fire service less and less a byproduct of the trades (welders, masons, framers, electricians, pipe fitters, etc….) our members are coming in far less adaptable than previous generations. With these smarter technologically savvy new members there has always been a “way” for them to make the technology behave or react in a predictable manner. You can look in chat rooms and find the “way” to defeat the video game to get to the next level, usually in an almost synchronized step by step process. The new environments this generation is accustom to operating in are not truly dynamic but they have the outward appearance of being so. There are many Call of Duty video game hero's out there that share these gaming tips with their followers. The key to success in their world is to find “the trick” or the “secret” or the “way”. Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing it is just a different approach. This means we need to do a better job of "splainin' it." Just as the fuel load in a fire makes a difference in your approach so should your thought process about dynamic situations.
A fire scene is very dynamic and although there are cues that can help you make some predictions we rarely ever know the entire story until everything is over and we have had time to investigate, study and analyze the fire and our actions. But there is no secret, no way, no trick. The firefighter must have expert levels of knowledge in building construction, fire dynamics, fire behavior and understand the differences in the fuel loads. Many of these factors are best guesses once on the scene so the firefighter must Observe, Orient, Decide and Act (Boyd’s OODA Loop) based on the information, signs, previous experiences, education and training that the individual has right now in the moment (their true situational awareness not what it could be, should be or would be but what it is). Not next week after all the facts are in, the investigators have determined the cause, and the aerial photographs of truck placements have been studied. The course of action has to be determined right NOW with limited and unconfirmed intel.
So my advice to anyone that tells you that an interior attack is wrong or a transitional attack is wrong or a particular method is the only right way to do it…….all I can say is WRONG! You should be obsessed with learning the interior solid bore attack, the Bresnan Distributor through the roof or floor, the piercing nozzle through the ceiling or wall, the application of foam, closing the door to smother the fire, putting lid on the pot, transitional attack, high-rise nozzles and everything else that is out there. Learn how to do each the right way, understand the principles behind them, what the expected results are, what the advantages and disadvantages are and how to adjust the tactic with a change in information or conditions. When you have researched, studied, practiced, trained and experimented with them all and you have experienced deploying various tactics in multiple situations then you will be on your way as a well-rounded fire attack specialist.
Just as you press the button to switch or select your weapons as you play Call of Duty, you will have options to give you the biggest advantage against the building and the fire. If you limit yourself to believing that there is only one way to do it then you should be able to master all levels of your Call of Duty Black Ops 3 by selecting and only using the Sig Sauer P226 hand gun through all levels to the very end. No grenades, no shot guns, no AK’s, no M16’s, no rocket launchers just you and your Sig Sauer hand gun.
When you go to fire you don’t want a fair fight or the advantage going to be the fire or the building. Think like a special operations warrior and use a combination of brains and strength to get the job done. Don’t just charge the enemy through the front door every time with the same 1 ¾” handline. Your methods, tactics and actions have to be calculated in order to rescue the hostages (fire victims) without causing them more harm and eliminating as much risk for you and the other operators as possible (note I didn’t say eliminate all risk I said as “much as possible” while getting the job done). All while realizing there could be unknown conditions, hazards and threats just around the corner.
Develop your tactics and operational procedures based on your resources. If you are operating with an engine staffing level of 2 there is not much need in adopting the FDNY procedures and tactics because you wouldn’t be able to get the 1st line in place until you got 5-6 engines on the scene. Study and learn from them and understand why they do what they do so you can get the end result with your resources. Don’t try to be someone else. Be proud of your department, your community and do the best you can with what you have and fight for what you need. Please STOP asking what the right “way” is and understand it is all about adapting to the circumstances by having a big tool box to select from. Also don't fall into the trap of telling others they are doing it wrong because its not what your department does.
If this is all just to confusing to you and way to much to think about then just go with the only trick they taught us back in our day.....big fire, big water and wet stuff on red stuff. If you go with that you will probably experience success on the fire ground even if its accidental.