Different Tactics Called for with 'Throw Away Homes'

Firefighters are no longer working in structures that were built to last, like those buildings where you could simply scrape away the charring and move back in.


It's Time for New Tactics

New fire attack tactics must be embraced. A complete size-up, with a 360-degree look at a structure, is critical so that it can be determined if there is more then just a room involved and to see if that fire originated outside of the structure because this is important. When a fire starts on the exterior there is evidence that the first aggressive action should be to attack and knock down the fire in the exterior area of origin and its exposure path to begin to reduce the energy that can at times be fed into the structure like a blow torch. These exterior fires seem to literally pump energy in the form of heat and ready-to-burn gases into the structure and unless you stop it, it will destroy the structure and anything else in it's way, including firefighters. In the interim, the fires have shown the propensity to quickly block off the firefighters escape routes.

Blitz attack nozzles, pre-connected with a sufficient diameter and flow, can over power the fire and then an interior attack with a measure of caution is called for here. While this is counter intuitive to what had been the accepted doctrine of "attack from the unburned position" it is imperative to firefighter safety. Additionally, firefighters should use thermal imaging technology on the interior to determine if in fact that clear rooms have a hidden raging inferno behind the pristine sheet rock.

This potentially offers valuable seconds to pull back to a safe location and begin to cool the area in preparation of opening up the structure to gain access to confine the fire. There actually maybe fires so advanced in these structures that it is not possible to initially and safely make access.

The two fires in Northern Virginia are probably similar to fires elsewhere across the United States. We just have not begun to recognize the pattern. I believe that fires that get into the structure of combustible voids in the lightweight constructed homes are common but very dangerous fires. We should not treat them the same as a 1,200-square-foot brick or asbestos shingled rambler. They have already been shown to be uniquely dangerous structures to manage a fire in.

When the first arriving fire officer reviews the presented fire factors of lightweight construction, they should consider additional possibilities such as did the fire start outside, or has it extended to the structural members? Then establish a plan for how to manage the fire safely. Truck companies and others who often may go off to perform functions such as search and ventilation actions need to be extra aware of the danger.

The fire that killed Firefighter Kyle Wilson in Prince William County had no occupants in the house. They safely evacuated, but he was performing a primary search for victims. Due to the construction methods and materials and the way they so efficiently burn I have begun to call new homes "Throw Away Homes" because frequently there is nothing left. Let's not consider firefighters in the same sense and learn new ways of overcoming these challenges.


MIKE LOVE is a division chief with the Montgomery County, MD, Fire and Rescue Service and oversees all functions of life safety, community outreach and information, planning and recruiting and serves as the Montgomery County Fire Marshal. He is a graduate of the University of Maryland, the Executive Fire Officer Program and is a Certified Public Manager. Love is a member of the International Association of Fire Chiefs Fire and Life Safety Section Board, the International Code Council Code Technology Committee and the National Fire Protection Association North East Code Development Committee. Love also moderates two fire and life safety networks - one for educators called National Fire and Life Safety Educators (NFLSE) and a second called ePARADE for fire marshals and life safety professionals. Between the two forums there are over 800 members with the daily sharing of advice, news and real time life safety issues. Fire service and industry members who have an interest in either of these groups can contact Michael at michael.love@montgomerycountymd.gov.