Entering an involved structure is one of the most basic aspects of fire suppression, and yet, each year firefighters are sacrificed needlessly to poorly planned and executed interior attacks. In Part 2 of this three part series on Interior Attack, we concentrated on the proper ways to choose and advance a hoseline on the fireground, as well as how to better evaluate interior conditions.
In Part 3, we wrap things up with a discussion of the remaining three steps in the series, including how to orchestrate ventilation work, how to better manage fire streams, and the importance of accurately reporting the progress achieved during an interior attack.
This three part series is dedicated to the memory of firefighter Gary Staley of the Porter (Texas) Fire Department, who lost his life during an interior attack at a fire on January 18, 2003. The lessons to be learned from that tragedy are many and it's been the intention of these articles to ensure that we never forget firefighter Staley and the sacrifice he made that day.
STEP 8: COORDINATION OF VENTILATION EFFORTS
The need for a coordinated ventilation effort is of critical importance to the safety and survival of interior crews. The failure to properly perform some adequate type of ventilation repeatedly puts our personnel at unnecessary risk. The key point to remember when ventilating for fire attack is that the effort must be coordinated. Premature ventilation may cause a fire to develop rapidly and overtake an advancing hose crew. Improper ventilation caused by the incorrect placement of the ventilation opening (a window or a hole in the roof) may trigger an immediate directional change of the advancing fire. And finally, the wrong type of ventilation may cause an unnecessary spread of the fire and potentially jeopardize the advancing crew.
The type of ventilation needed (i.e., positive pressure ventilation/forced, hydraulic, vertical, or horizontal) is strictly situation-dependent. In some parts of the United States, firefighters have grown accustomed to what is now an age-old tool of the ventilation trade--the positive pressure fan/blower. While some voices may continue to argue that the PPV fan has no place in the fire service, I believe that even more will argue that it's a tool that can be used appropriately and effectively. The critical point here is that it is a tool, not an absolute.
Nevertheless, regardless of the methods we choose, ventilation must be coordinated with fire-attack efforts. Here are some important questions to answer before requesting ventilation:
1. Where is the fire?
2. Is there a natural or existing opening?
3. How is the fire likely to react to the ventilation efforts?
4. What type of construction are you dealing with? Lightweight truss construction carries an extreme risk of collapse if using vertical ventilation. Likewise, tiled roofs are contra-indicated for vertical ventilation, because of the high potential for them to collapse on operating roof crews. Structures featuring balloon-frame construction present a high probability that concealed fires may advance undetected to the attic area, which means that PPV probably should not be used in those situations. Finally, buildings with tilt walls and limited lateral openings present a strong case for using vertical-or high-volume positive pressure ventilation.
5. In terms of time, what type of ventilation will provide the most immediate release of heat and smoke? Vertical ventilation, for example, is labor-intensive and is therefore likely to be time-consuming. Positive pressure (or mechanical) ventilation is less labor-intensive and should be quick to initiate. Finally, horizontal (or hydraulic) ventilation can be initiated by a nozzle crew.
STEP 9: FIRE STREAM MANAGEMENT