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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Students of strategy and tactics have probably noticed that this strategy runs counter to traditional teachings. However, it has become evident that traditional strategy and tactics seem to apply mainly to opened structure fires where life safety is an issue. In this scenario, firefighters are dealing with an enclosed structure fire having no life hazard. This tactic is also used since, historically, firefighters who conducted aggressive interior attacks into enclosed structure fires from the unburned side suffered from disorientation, which led to fatalities, serious injuries and narrow escapes 100% of the time, according to the U.S. Firefighter Disorientation Study 1979-2001, and we should no longer unnecessarily risk the lives of firefighters to save structures. As is customary in the fire service, following an enclosed structure operation, firefighters must evaluate the safety and effectiveness of the operation while implementing the guideline. When necessary, adjustments to the guideline must be made in the never-ending goal of achieving the safest and most effective enclosed structure operation possible.

Conclusion

Observing a structure fire from a new perspective, which includes a greater understanding of the hazards associated with opened and enclosed structures of all sizes, and by understanding that consistent safety and effectiveness is not provided by use of traditional tactics, firefighters can avoid the fatality linked to enclosed structures and spaces. In retrospect, although initiating a quick and aggressive interior attack from the unburned side is logical, traditional and often results in a relatively safe and effective operation, extensive research has shown that this is generally true for opened structure fires but not always true in the case of enclosed structure fires.

Additionally, in the past, in deciding when to pull interior forces out of a working structure fire, incident commanders often had to depend on gut instinct when all other size-up factors gave no indication of deteriorating conditions or tragic events to come. This was a very stressful and highly subjective method of risk and incident management for all concerned. However, times are changing.

With the sacrifices and valuable clues left behind by those who served before us, we now know how to identify the structures that are extremely dangerous before and during a fire, how to interpret the size-up factors at those structures and when to implement a different tactical approach to safely manage them. Hopefully, this will give current and future firefighters the tactical advantage needed to eliminate firefighter disorientation, one of the deadliest hazards of interior firefighting.

WILLIAM R. MORA retired as a captain after a 33-year career with the San Antonio, TX, Fire Department. He is a fire safety consultant concentrating in strategy and tactics and prevention of firefighter disorientation. He is the author of the United States Firefighter Disorientation Study 1979-2001 and Analysis of Structural Firefighter Fatality Database 2007. Mora can be reached at capmora@aol.com. Part 1 was published in the July 2008 issue.