Fireball!: Part 2 - Defining a Win, Tie and Loss to Track Fire Service Quality

Richard A. Mueller continues this series on how the fire service should continually measure the quality of performance, identifying what works, what doesn't, who is contributing and who is not - like a winning team.


If we are ever going to significantly increase the quality of our teams and decrease the death and injuries to our members, the fire service needs to emulate sports teams and keep track of quality indicators such as runs, hits and errors that ultimately define our wins, losses and ties. To do...


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If we are ever going to significantly increase the quality of our teams and decrease the death and injuries to our members, the fire service needs to emulate sports teams and keep track of quality indicators such as runs, hits and errors that ultimately define our wins, losses and ties. To do this, we must first come to an understanding and agreement of what defines a win, tie or loss.

Consider this definition: A win is obtaining the "under-control" benchmark time and/or the rescue of a customer within 10 minutes after arrival of the first fire company. Ties are incidents where the "under-control" benchmark is obtained in over the 10-minute time limit, under 30 minutes and/or a firefighter(s) or customer(s) is injured. It is a tie because both the customer and the fire department have sustained extended losses. Incidents where the "under-control" time is accomplished in more than 30 minutes and/or produce dead firefighter(s) or customer(s) are losses. These are "real" losses because people and property has been lost.

A Win

Wins are incidents where the under-control benchmark is achieved within 10 minutes of the arrival of the first fire department member. Any definition of a win must include a time frame. The time limit for a win is important because it measures our ability to mobilize our teams (get in the game) and execute our plays (score runs). Further investigation into play execution determines the value of the plays themselves and identifies practices and plays that may be outdated and ineffective.

Plays that take over 10 minutes to execute might have worked on the structures of the past, but in today's lightweight construction we don't find ourselves with this same time luxury. Neither do our customers. Customers who are unable to exit structures without assistance total well over 3,000 deaths annually. The fire behavior and toxicity of today's burning structures do not allow many of our customers who are unable to exit without assistance to survive even a 10-minute window. In fact, a burn experiment conducted by the National Institute of Standards and Testing (NIST) and the Phoenix, AZ, Fire Department documented unsurvivable carbon monoxide (CO) levels of over 30,000 ppm in only four minutes and a peak reading of 42,000 ppm in just six minutes from time of ignition. The only fuel used for this fire was wood pallets; no measurement of other gases, including cyanide, was done. (See The Phoenix Project 2004, Videotape 2, "Fire Behavior in Commercial Buildings.")

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1710 standard details the fire propagation curve with flashover occurring in less than 10 minutes after ignition. Flashovers produce unsurvivable atmospheres for anyone unfortunate enough to experience them.

A Tie

Ties are achieved for incidents that are brought in control within a 10- to 30-minute window after the arrival of the first in resource. This is because after 10 minutes, fires extend beyond their room of origin, resulting in substantially more damage and deaths (NFPA 1710 fire propagation curve A.5.2.2.2.1). A tie reflects the fact that both our customers and our members have sustained extended losses. Incidents that are not brought under control in a short time destroy the structure and most (if not all) of our customer's personal belongings. So, while almost all fires eventually go out, what difference does it make when at the end of the game there is little to nothing saved? Hardly a win from anyone's perspective. Additionally, every time a customer or a firefighter is injured, both of us sustain losses, demonstrating that we have only managed to match the incident resulting in a tie rating.

A Loss

A loss occurs when the "under-control" benchmark is not achieved within 30 minutes after the arrival of the first in fire resource. Based on the realities of today's lightweight construction, offensive fire operations that approach 30 minutes or more do not come close to any risk-vs.-benefit analysis or meet the definition of an immediately dangerous to life or health (IDLH) atmosphere (escape with your life in 30 minutes, the impetus for our two-in/two-out rule).

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