A new day has dawned for the American fire service. It did not happen instantly, but gradually. Over time, astute and aware fire service professionals have been monitoring the changes in building construction techniques and materials, the changes in how structures are furnished in terms of Btu...
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A new day has dawned for the American fire service. It did not happen instantly, but gradually. Over time, astute and aware fire service professionals have been monitoring the changes in building construction techniques and materials, the changes in how structures are furnished in terms of Btu content and heat release rates, and the similarities between fire events, especially tragic events. Over time these industry sages have been telling us what they have observed. In a November 2008 posting at www.firehouse.com, Ozzie Mirkhah and Sean DeCrane outlined numerous fires across the country where firefighters were killed as a result of the modern fire environment. In "Enter Through the Door, Fall Through the Floor," they described similar events where fire rapidly consumed lightweight construction members and firefighters fell to their deaths.
While these events are nothing new, as stated by Mirkhah and DeCrane, why do these tragic endings continue? Despite warnings from such fire service experts as Brannigan ("The building is your enemy!"), Brennan ("Make the building behave!") and Brunacini ("It's not OK to die at structure fires!"), it seems that the fire service has been slow to respond or, worse yet, slow to find solutions or alternatives to outdated strategies and tactics. What is needed, then, to overcome this apparent information jet lag that the fire service suffers from is a new paradigm.
The first part of this series (July 2009) discussed the problem that the American fire service now faces and that which was reviewed above. The second part (August 2009) discussed the need to know and understand fire behavior in order to quickly recognize the situation and then react appropriately. This final part of the series will outline changes that need to occur in order to respond to structure fires safely and to better affect the annual firefighter death and injury toll by connecting-the-dots and offering a better, safer way to fight fires.
John Norman, retired FDNY deputy assistant chief, wrote in his Fire Officer's Handbook of Tactics, "Modern firefighting is a continually evolving science." Similarly, while our basic strategies of protecting life, confining the fire and extinguishment have not changed, our tactics should, especially if we are students of the game. In our present circumstances, it behooves the fire service to look at all events critically and make the necessary adjustments. This analysis, then, must be constant and ongoing. In this new age, "adapt and overcome" must be our mindset if we are to affect and reverse current firefighter line-of-duty-death trends.
With everything that this series has brought to light, the following is offered as an up-to-date alternative, or a "new-school" approach, to fighting today's fires, especially those involving lightweight construction. With a big-picture view, our current "old-school" fire attack methods are simply not working. Be cautioned, though; there are no claims here that this prescription is the latest silver bullet, but merely a reasonable alternative to current practices. Nor does this new choreography recommend that interior structural firefighting cease, but rather we, as the American fire service, temper our approach with great caution in respect to high-risk situations that our current circumstances present. Smart and aggressive firefighting practices can co-exist on today's fireground, however, and the modern firefighter will know the difference!
Everything in our culture is built around speed of response, but we really need to transition to a more deliberate and cautious response in the name of safety. This approach will most importantly get us to the scene safely, but also better enable us to take in the information that is presented upon arrival. In several ways, speed kills because in our haste to react quickly we miss important clues that will enhance our safety on the fireground.