Preventing Firefighter Disorientation In Large Enclosed Structure - Part 2

William R. Mora presents guidelines to prevent disorientation when dealing with a large enclosed structure.


Part 2 - Tactics and Guidelines Editor's note: The author is a Texas state advocate for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation's Everyone Goes Home Life Safety Initiatives Project. This article implements Initiative 3 - Focus greater attention on the integration of risk management with...


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Guidance and coordination, of course, are provided by a strong incident commander. Unlike the traditional offensive strategy that calls for a fast and aggressive blind interior attack to search for and extinguish the seat of the fire (and since these were the precise tactics implemented by firefighters who became disoriented in the past), firefighters today must take a different approach. The enclosed structure strategy is one that slows the action down and carefully and cautiously implements steps of an SOG that have been carefully programmed to avoid the risk associated with enclosed structure fires. In this way, a controlled and accountable number of firefighters are systematically allowed to enter the structure equipped with a thermal imaging camera, used within limitations. There, they conduct a safety-based interior assessment to determine which attack option is safest to initiate.

The results of the cautious interior assessment will determine whether an attack is made from the original point of entry, whether an attack will be made from a different side of the structure that is closer to the seat of the fire or whether a defensive attack will be initiated. Precisely, what the officer assesses on the interior are the hazards present. Is there a lot of clutter in the structure that may cause firefighters to trip and slow an emergency evacuation? Is the seat of the fire a reasonable distance from the point of entry or is it deep in the structure (which would make it difficult and hazardous to advance to the fire, attack it long enough to achieve knockdown and still have enough breathing air to exit at the point of entry)? Is the fire impinging on structural members, perhaps involving lightweight trusses supporting a roof that may collapse at any time? Or is heavy fire consuming a large amount of the contents or the structure making it impossible to control with multiple handlines? When these and other factors of concern are assessed, the officer will decide, with clearance from command, which type of attack would be safest and most effective to implement. The choices include: 1. An interior attack from the initial point of entry; 2. A short interior attack; and 3. A defensive attack.

Model Enclosed Structure SOG and Checklist

When executing the Enclosed Structure SOG, it should be implemented in the sequence of company or resource arrival. This allows the plan of action, understood by all responders, to unfold while simultaneously providing the incident commander with the opportunity to continue the size-up process, to consider the existence of other hazards such as the adverse effects of the wind or the need to call a greater alarm. This more structured and predictable operation also allows for an accurate accounting of firefighters who will be entering the structure and their locations in the structure, and lets command monitor and listen carefully to their radio transmissions.

All recognized national safety standards and practices and use of the Incident Command System (ICS) should be incorporated during implementation of the Enclosed Structure SOG. One key underlying risk-management policy, understood by all involved before and during the incident, is that firefighters will not needlessly risk their lives for any structure, especially enclosed structures or spaces of the type that have been taking the lives of firefighters for decades.

Fire Showing, Evaluate and Update

For safety and effectiveness, recommended actions to be taken during a certain possible enclosed structure scenario must be clarified. Classic enclosed structure fires typically present with only smoke showing. No fire will be visible on the exterior even with the aid of a thermal imaging camera. This historically, and in keeping with established procedures, was cause for firefighters to initiate a fast and aggressive interior attack in search of the seat of the fire or to conduct a primary search. However, during those enclosed structure fires where fire is actually showing along the perimeter, whether detected during the 360-degree walk-around or as companies arrived on the scene, and once firefighters have identified the structure as an enclosed structure having no life hazard involved, companies are to immediately and aggressively attack the visible fire from the exterior using solid streams while an attempt is made to cut off any fire from extending through the structure.