If the strategy and tactics you depend on with your lives are as safe as you think they are, why then do so many traumatic fatalities continue at incidents where the same tactics were used?
A data analysis of 444 structural firefighter fatalities, occurring over a 16-year time span and provided by the U.S. Fire Data Center, uncovered one major underlying explanation for the trend. It was revealed that the safety offered by an offensive strategy, also known as a quick and aggressive interior attack, applied mostly to certain types of structures but not all of them. This newly recognized class of extremely dangerous structures in which a quick and aggressive interior attack does not always work has been identified. However, due to the very difficult task of reaching every firefighter, the vast majority of officers and firefighters today are totally unaware of them. Since firefighters are unknowingly relying on strategy and tactics that are potentially unsafe if used at enclosed structure fires, this issue represents a true fire service emergency in need of immediate attention.
As the name implies, enclosed structures have an enclosed design that lack readily penetrable means of egress through windows or doors for ventilation and emergency evacuation. They include basements, high rise hallways and stairwells. These specific structures and spaces can also be of any type of construction, occupancy, size or age. They can also be occupied, unoccupied or vacant during a fire.
Enclosed structures are extremely dangerous during a fire because they contain smoke and heat in a diminishing oxygen environment. This causes prolonged zero visibility conditions and extreme fire behavior to occur when air is introduced. This condition coupled with a firefighter's inability to quickly ventilate, to see and evacuate due to the structures' enclosed design, often causes exposure to life threatening hazards leading to firefighter disorientation and line of duty deaths.
Offensive Strategy Not Always Safe and Effective at Enclosed Structure Fires
The offensive strategy philosophy utilized by virtually every department in the nation, emphasizes that in order to create a safer environment and minimize loss at the scene of a structure fire, firefighters must quickly initiate ventilation and advance handlines into the structure from the unburned side, to locate, attack and extinguish the fire. As firefighters know, doing so will stop the fire from weakening the structure thereby reducing damage and danger to firefighters. This strategy also creates safer conditions for firefighters to quickly conduct a primary search, which is of course, the number one tactical priority.
Study of this widely used strategy, has found, that in fact, an offensive strategy is relatively sound and in the vast majority of cases works well in opened structures. Opened structures are structures of small to moderate size, built on concrete slab foundations, having an adequate number of readily penetrable windows and doors for prompt ventilation and emergency evacuation.
However, the analysis of 444 structural firefighter fatalities has confirmed earlier findings of the U.S. Firefighter Disorientation Study 1979-2001. (Mora 2003). The disorientation study found that in 100% of 17 cases examined, 23 firefighter fatalities, numerous injuries and narrow escapes were caused by disorientation following deteriorating conditions and aggressive interior attacks into enclosed structures.
The more recent report, Analysis of Structural Firefighter Fatality Database, (Mora 2007) arrived at a similar conclusion. The analysis showed that a fast and aggressive interior attack was not always safe and effective to use at the scene of enclosed structure fires.