Are Staffing, Training and Equipment the Answer?

A fire department can have more than adequate numbers of firefighters on the scene of a structure fire, but staffing in and of itself does not guarantee safety.

On the other hand, studies has shown that it takes the correct amount of staffing, the correct type of training and the correct equipment, used within limitations, to avoid the risk when safely managing the scene of extremely dangerous enclosed structure fires. This was the common thread involved in each of the cited fires. They involved enclosed structures in which a quick and aggressive interior attack from the unburned side was initiated when only light smoke was showing on arrival in many cases.

For safety, implementation of enclosed structure tactics is urgently needed in the fire service today. In general, these tactics run counter to teachings of the traditional offensive strategy in which firefighters have been taught to quickly, blindly and aggressively search for and extinguish the seat of the fire or to conduct a primary search. However, when examined nationally and historically, the traditional approach has on numerous occasions, resulted in fatal and serious injuries to many of the dedicated firefighters. An offensive strategy simply does not always work at an enclosed structure fire.

So when does it work? A fast and aggressive interior attack works at enclosed structure fires only when the seat of the fire is visible to the naked eye, near the point of entry. It has also worked when companies have advanced deeply into an enclosed structure, extinguished the fire, and safely and luckily exited, even though they were surrounded by life threatening hazards and dangerous distances, any of which could have easily caused fatality.

In the final analysis, firefighters today have two options. They can continue to use traditional tactics and hope they luckily encounter only enclosed structure fires in which the seat of the fire is visible from the point of entry. The second option is to permanently ensure the safety of their firefighters by adopting an Enclosed Structure Standard Operating Guideline (SOG) unique to the resources available to their department.

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WILLIAM R. MORA, a Contributing Editor, is a Captain in the firefighting division of the San Antonio, TX, Fire Department. William has done extensive research on the topic of firefighter disorientation including the analysis of 444 structural firefighter fatalities and is the author of the United States Firefighter Disorientation Study 1979-2001. To read William's complete biography and view his archived articles, click here. You can reach William by e-mail at