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Modern Fire Attack - What's been said, and what's left to say

The end of the calendar year brings with it a natural tendency to look back on what has been accomplished, and ahead to what still needs to be done.  I’ve been commenting for the past half year on the significant shift in fire dynamics understanding and resulting tactical modifications that the North American fire service is undergoing, and I would like to share a few reflections and predictions on that broad and controversial topic. 

Despite my demonstrated interest in the subject matter, I am a relative newcomer to the modern fire attack camp.  While I had followed the research, and had read and thought about the various findings that were contrary to conventional beliefs regarding fire behavior and control, it was not until I attended Steve Pegram's presentation on the Principles of Modern Fire Attack - SLICE-RS at the FDIC in April 2015 that I saw the data and its application come together.  A synthesis of science and practice, it all finally “clicked”.  So, for me, this past year is notable for having become a convert to the new firefighting doctrine.

That’s not to say I was in any way an overnight expert.  Each of my MFA postings required substantial review of the experimental findings, mostly in an effort to address my own questions and misgivings regarding particular concepts and their part in the overall fireground symphony.  In person, print, and practice I have been involved in many discussions and examples that challenged my comprehension of the underlying principles and their application, and through those interactions deepened my understanding, while also repeatedly being reminded of how new, controversial, and routinely ignored this information remains.  

The Modern Fire Attack (MFA) series began with “Unlearning: Coming to terms with the new firefighting paradigm” (http://community.fireengineering.com/profiles/blog/show?xg_source=activity&id=1219672%3ABlogPost%3A617734).  This was my “manifesto”, so to speak, written as it was with all the passion of someone who felt his eyes had just been opened, and who wished to share that new insight with others.  Twenty-some postings later, the principles and promise of MFA that I first espoused remain, to me, equally valid.  That said, my zeal has been tempered somewhat by the difficulties encountered when trying to integrate new knowledge and practices into the field-proven and established process of structural firefighting.  Furthermore, our craft is typically taught, in person and via media such as this, by persons with expertise in conventional theory and practice.  My challenge, then, has been to demonstrate and explain the need for change to methods that many see as effective, and which are still being promoted by persons with more experience than this writer could have accumulated in even several of my careers.

Some of my posts were very technical (The "Steaming Victims" Issue: How water flow makes everything better at a fire at http://community.fireengineering.com/profiles/blog/show?xg_source=a... ), and others overly simplistic (The New Rules: 1. Water Flow is Good 2. Air Flow is Bad at http://community.fireengineering.com/profiles/blog/show?xg_source=a...).  Sometimes I courted controversy (Vertical Vandalism: How much risk and damage is acceptable just to remove smoke? at http://community.fireengineering.com/profiles/blog/show?xg_source=a...), and other times I sought agreement (Common Goals: Different paths at http://community.fireengineering.com/profiles/blog/show?xg_source=a...).  In each piece, there was usually a specific concept or message I was trying to share though, truth be told, it was often not the same idea I had when I started on that particular column.  Overall, my purpose is to help all of us in the fire service come to terms with the new information; to better understand our new world.

 

The year ahead holds much in store, even without my keyboard contributions.  The University of Illinois Fire Service Institute (IFSI) plans to release this month its findings from the firefighter physiology and toxin exposure field tests they performed this past June, and UL's water application experiments, measuring the effects of interior hose streams, will begin early this year.  While predicting the results of these studies would be foolish, you can be sure they will be significant.  The IFSI experiments will provide much-needed enlightenment regarding invisible fireground hazards, with the potential for dramatic changes on the "back end" of firefighting activities (i.e., overhaul and beyond).  As for the UL experiments, designed as they are to evaluate fire dynamics in response to more “realistic” tactics than previously performed, they may merely confirm the fire behavior research that has already shown exterior streams to be just as effective, demonstrate benefits of interior hoselines that are as yet unproven, or send us in a new direction altogether.  More than likely, you can expect at least a little of each.  For my part, I will continue to mine the information already provided by the researchers, including such topics as smoke as fuel, real world performance of PPE, and the hazards of modern construction, while occasionally coloring outside the lines on such issues as ideal hoseline placement, the strict separation of duties between Engine and Truck crews, and the unavoidable discussions that will arise when city managers learn about the new "easy" fire attack strategy.

I am not a researcher, but merely a commentator.  When I approached Bobby Halton, Fire Engineering’s Editor-in-Chief, about my idea for a series on the topic of these new fire attack principles, he pointed me to the FE Community, and made me a blogger.  He reminded me to be polite and respectful in my communications, a standard made simpler to maintain due to the similar courtesy I have been repeatedly shown by even my critics.  I have attempted to describe the concepts, extrapolate their effects, and address skeptics.  Know that I am acutely aware of the rich and broad expanse of fire service knowledge and experience that the MFA message is being broadcast into, and that the feedback I receives serves to adjust and (hopefully) improve my efforts.  Please, keep in touch. 

MJC


The author can be reached at markjcotter@comcast.net

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