Introducing the Contemporary Fireground

Mark Emery discusses why it's time for the contemporary fire service to adapt strategically and tactically.Why It's Time For the Contemporary Fire Service to Adapt Strategically and Tactically

Mark Emery discusses why it's time for the contemporary fire service to adapt strategically and tactically. Why It's Time For the Contemporary Fire Service to Adapt Strategically and Tactically Characteristics of the structural fireground began to evolve 50 or 60 years ago. Collectively...

To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse. Already have an account? Login

Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network.


Complete the registration form.


There are many very nice low-pressure/high-flow nozzles, do some homework and make your own judgment. (All hose and all nozzles are not created equal. Test each nozzle using calibrated flow metering equipment and make sure you're using low-friction-loss hose.)

I'm sure you've heard the traditional maxim "do not pass fire." That caveat still holds water (no pun intended): If fire is venting out a window, do not pass the fire, blast the fire. (Tactical caveat: do this using a solid stream or straight stream; never do this with any degree of fog. Make sure the stream is bounced off the ceiling, shooting the water through the flames will provide no strategic benefit. The goal is stream conversion.)

This offensive benefit from a defensive position squirt can reliably turn-back the fire-growth clock, will often confine the fire and often extinguish the fire. If you've ever watched video of FDNY tower ladders blasting fire through windows, you know how effective this can be. Offensive benefit from a defensive position is a brilliant strategy that was employed 100 years ago - on the traditional fireground.

Final Thoughts

Just as a competent physician or paramedic must possess a knowledge foundation of human anatomy and physiology, a competent fire officer must possess a knowledge foundation of structural fireground anatomy and physiology: building construction. Building construction knowledge and a solid understanding of fire behavior are essential for a master craftsman fire officer to make informed fireground decisions and proactively manage fireground risk.

This article described how the traditional square-foot fireground has evolved - for the worse; my hope is that this information will serve as the catalyst for a spirited discussion about how we will adapt to this transformation strategically and tactically. It is not appropriate to continue doing business as usual in and around a fireground that has not been "usual" for decades.

Master craftsman fire officers must continuously seek contemporary tactical alternatives that will achieve traditional strategic benefits. (One example is positive-pressure ventilation.) I hope I'm around long enough to hear the traditional "we are an aggressive, interior fire department" (emphasis on tactics) replaced by the contemporary "we are a fire department that ensures our fireground operations are intelligent and safe as possible" (emphasis on strategy).

Finally, there is something that hasn't changed during the last 50 years: Great tactics have always been, and will always be, easier than good strategy.

Look for an upcoming series, "Building Construction: The Anatomy and Physiology of the Structural Fireground," by Mark Emery that will explore many of the words and concepts discussed within this article. The series will make the engineering principles of building construction easy to understand and applicable to pre-incident planning and the development of a three-in-the-morning fireground strategy.

MARK EMERY, EFO, is a shift battalion chief with the Woodinville, WA, Fire & Life Safety District. He is a graduate of the National Fire Academy's Executive Fire Officer program and an NFA instructor specialist. Emery received a bachelor of arts degree from California State University at Long Beach and is a partner with Fire Command Seattle LLC in King County, WA. He may be contacted at or access his website

- Conventional construction - Lightweight construction
  - Mass   - Math
  - Compression   - Tension
  - Few connections   - Exponential connections
- 8,000 Btu per pound fireload - 16,000 Btu per pound fireload
  - Wood, paper, wool, cotton, etc.   - Plastic, synthetics, etc.
  - More time before flashover   - Less time before flashover
- More time before structural failure - Less time before structural failure
- Threshold of pain limited advance - Encapsulation encourages advance
- Traditional strategic & tactical approach - Traditional strategic & tactical approach