10 Step Action Plan For A Safer More Effective Interior Fire Attack - Part 2

In Part 1 of our three-part series, we addressed a few of the many developments affecting today's fireground environment, including: changes in firefighting gear and equipment, the effects of building techniques and materials, and the regulatory standards and guidelines that specifically deal with interior fire attack. Part 1 also outlined the first five steps of our action plan, including: apparatus placement (and the importance of worst-case planning), the first-arriving radio report, what to look for when conducting a 360-degree size-up evaluation, the need to assemble the proper tools for interior operations and the critical importance of proper fireground staffing.

Steps 6 through 10 detail suggested courses of action for the attack crew and those support personnel on the fireground who are assisting in the initial attack operation. In Part 2, we will focus on the next two steps in our action plan to create a safer, more effective interior fire attack. Step 6 concerns the selection and advancement of hoseline, while Step 7 involves the evaluation of interior conditions (i.e., risk assessment, and what efforts can be made to minimize the potential of risk).

STEP 6: HOSELINE SELECTION/ADVANCEMENT

Hoseline Selection: As a general rule of thumb, "GPMs > BTUs," meaning that a flow of water that provides a sufficient number of gallons per minute can usually overpower a fire (as represented here by its British Thermal Units). However, we must be careful as we approach our choice of hoseline. The selection of the correct attack line is a decision that can prove less than forgiving, if figured carelessly. Let's face it--as firefighters we are creatures of habit. We have a general tendency to repeat past actions that have previously worked out successfully--even though those actions may actually have been rooted in mistakes.

As it pertains to hoseline selection, the choice of the conventional 1.75-inch cross lay--usually made because of its easy deployment--can and has led to tragedy on the fireground. The fact is simple: If the GPMs you take with you during your initial attack don't absolutely overwhelm the BTUs exhibited by the fire you might face, you're destined for failure and could suffer potentially serious injury. The old saying "Big fire, big water" has been repeated by many fire-service experts across the country. Unfortunately, far too many of us continue to resort to our prior efforts, which may have been less-than-safety-conscious in nature. And then when we factor in the rising threat of rapid thermal insult due to the increasing use of synthetic fuels (such as gasoline in its solid state) and the prevalence of "tight" construction zones that are overbuilt, we are facing a greater chance for trouble than ever before.

So what's the solution? How do we select the right hose for the task at hand? First, we must take the information we gathered during Step 3 (Size-up) and use it to answer the following questions:

1. What is the overall size of the structure?

2. What type of occupancy are we dealing with? (If it's a commercial occupancy, we need the "big water" provided by 2 to 2.5-inch hose. If it's a residence where one to two rooms are involved, a 1.75-inch hose should suffice. If the affected residential area consists of more than two rooms, we need the same type of delivery required in commercial occupancies--a 2 to 2.5-inch hose.)

3. How does the building construction itself contribute to the spread of fire? (Wood frame construction leads to a rapid fire spread, while tilt-wall construction promotes a limited spread of fire, but a concentrated build-up of heat.)

4. What is the actual fuel load of the occupancy? What are the common combustibles or other fuels that may support or enhance rapid fire spread? If the fire is located in a commercial or industrial occupancy, are there combustible liquids and/or pressurized vessels stored in the building?)

5. What outward cues are visible in the smoke? ("Lazy" smoke indicates low heat and a slowly advancing fire, while "pushing" smoke indicates high heat and a rapid fire spread.)

6. How much of the building is involved? Is it a "go" or "no go" situation? Is our course of action offensive or defensive? (If we can't overwhelm the fire, we don't "go"!)

Hoseline Advancement: Hoseline advancement is one of the most laborious and frustrating tasks that we initiate on the fireground. We've all heard the following statement and many of us have said it ourselves: "We need more hose!" This infamous phrase--echoed across every fireground--is not only troubling, but also detrimental to our efforts. To be effective, we must have a coordinated plan of attack that addresses these three questions:

  • Where are we going?
  • How are we going to get there?
  • Who's doing what to help us accomplish this task?

Where are we going? Our hasty approach to apply "first water" has established a fire-service tradition that 99 out of 100 fires are attacked from Side 1 (or Side A) of the occupancy. Although I have not conducted any scientific research to back my assumption, I would comfortably guess that this is not always in keeping with our long-standing rule of an "unburned-to-burned" fire attack. So why is it that we continue to stress to our members to initiate a fire attack from the unburned side, despite the fact that in reality we simply follow the path of least resistance (i.e., the front door)? It's my belief that once again we resort back to the action-oriented, "fast-attack" mentality that has been instilled in our personnel over the years. Understandably, the path of least resistance plays a valuable role in boosting our efficiency, but if we capitalize on the information gathered in our 360-degree evaluation/size-up, we can undoubtedly initiate a fire attack that supports victim safety and property preservation (the two critical components of our mission).

Using the size-up information, the company officer should lay out a plan for the fire attack. Typically, the choice will be the "unburned-to-burned" attack. While not every fire can be approached from the unburned side (because of obstructions, excessive forcible entry restrictions, exposure potential, etc.) this should be a general rule or guiding factor that we follow as we initiate our fire attack.

How are we going to get there? This apparently simple question is considerably complex, based on four other questions: 1) What is the safest, most effective way to advance the hoseline? 2) Do we need to gain access via a ladder? 3) What obstructions must we overcome? and 4) Do we need to do a dry stretch or wet stretch?

Dry Stretch While some may argue that we should not enter a burning occupancy without a charged hoseline, the contrary is actually true. An effective size-up, coupled with a proper risk assessment, can allow such an entrance to be made in a safe and effective manner--provided a few simple rules are followed:

  • Dry hose lines should not be deployed to the fire floor without a barrier between the fire and the advancing crews--such as a wall or door.

  • The company officer and crew must maintain constant awareness of the fire conditions and be able to forecast the fire's advancement within the structure. (The worst-case scenario must always be considered.)

  • Always maintain a clear means of egress away from the fire. Carefully plan for a secondary means of egress, in case the primary access/egress pathway becomes obstructed or overrun by fire.

  • If smoke and/or heat conditions require you to crawl on the floor, you're in too deep. At that point, you should back out, charge the line and then advance accordingly.

  • Do not make entry to the fire area without first ensuring the attack line has been properly charged (check for water, pattern and pressure before advancing). Also, you should make sure that a sufficient amount of hose is available to advance. You should attempt to have one length of hose (50-feet worth) available for the attack. Typically, this is the rule that is ignored by overly aggressive firefighters who are bent and determined to put water on a fire. Failure to abide by this rule inevitably delays the suppression effort while simultaneously putting our members in a position of unnecessary risk.

    Advantages:

    • Allows for a more rapid hose deployment.
    • Minimizes the chance that the advancing crew will suffer pre-fire attack fatigue.
    • Hose positioning can be better accomplished with less effort by allowing the advancing crew to deploy more hose to the fire-attack area.

    Disadvantages:

    • An increased potential for rapid-fire advancement without the protection of immediate water.
    • Unpredictable ventilation (such as that triggered by window failure) can cause a crew to be overrun by a ventilation-driven fire front.
    • Mechanical failure (of a hose, nozzle, apparatus, or other equipment) can cause a crew to be overrun by an advancing fire, if that crew lacks the immediate protection of a hose stream.
    • Unforeseen kinks in the hose are possible, thus reducing the water available for suppressing a fire, once the line is charged
SAFETY NOTE

Wet Stretch The wet stretch is the safest and most common method of fire attack. The wet stretch requires that the line be charged prior to making entry into the involved structure when immediate suppression efforts are necessary to advance.

Advantages:

  • Allows for immediate fire-attack capabilities.
  • Established safety factor, which serves as a defense mechanism in the case of a rapidly advancing fire.
  • Reduced kinking potential.

Disadvantages:

  • Labor-intensive deployment, requiring firefighters to pull the added weight of water to the fire-attack area.
  • Crews are less likely to pull extra hose due to extra weight.
  • Prolonged/delayed deployment, again due to the additional weight
  • Requires crewmembers to standby at corners (i.e. door jams) to assist with deployment.

Who's doing what to help us accomplish this task? As we attack a fire, we must constantly remind ourselves that the successful outcome we seek is based on the actions or inactions of our crew (or crews). The failure of crews to work cooperatively and concurrently only further aggravates our fire-attack efforts. We must understand, despite our most modest (or not-so-modest) "war stories," that only one member controls the nozzle of a given hand line. Each and every crewmember must perform his or her designated task in order for a safe and effective fire attack to be initiated. The company officer should provide each crewmember with an assigned task to support the hoseline deployment effort. Crew assignments may include:

Nozzle Operator Ensure that the nozzle is set according to the type of fire attack being initiated. (A direct attack should warrant a straight-stream pattern. An indirect attack requires a 60-degree fog pattern, which is also used when initiating a combination attack.) Safely navigate to the point of fire attack, while considering the path of the hoseline and how it may affect the advancement effort. You should maintain a constant awareness of your surroundings (including factors such as smoke conditions, overhead fire development, building layout, etc.). Also: plan for a secondary means of escape if the need arises.

Company Officer Evaluate the fire conditions while maintaining an awareness of the fire and the potential "pushing" actions of the advancing fire stream. (Caution: The pushing action of a fire stream--combined with the pressure differential of steam generation--can cause the fire to wrap around an advancing crew due to room configurations and open doorways.)

Support Personnel Assist in advancing a sufficient amount of hose to the nozzle operator. Consider supplying one length of hose per floor to allow for advancement to the seat of the fire. Support personnel need to carry out several functions.

  • Assist in advancing the hose around corners, doorways, and up advancing stairs.

  • Consider how the building might assist in advancing hose. During multi-story operations, consider deploying the line up the stairs one floor above the fire to allow the downward gravitational force to assist with hose advancement.

  • Follow the deployed hose line to the nozzle and provide back up for the fire attack.

Deployment Tip When possible, attempt to form an "S" formation with the hose behind the advancing crew to reduce the potential for kinks. This can be done on the floor of operation or on the exterior of the structure, just outside the point of entry (depending on the area of fire attack).

STEP 7: EVALUATION OF INTERIOR CONDITIONS

As a continuous means of ensuring the safety of fireground personnel, the company officer should perform a quick interior-risk assessment, taking into account the following factors:

  • Smoke Conditions Forecast the potential effects of the advancing fire and smoke. (Thick black velvety smoke usually signals the presence of highly combustible gases, presenting an extremely volatile atmosphere. Pressurized smoke indicates a high-heat environment with the potential for rapid fire spread. In that instance, you should consider whether to "fight" the fire or take "flight.")

  • Visibility Evaluate the visible thermal layer. (Low visibility occurs in volatile environments that exhibit the potential for rapid-fire development.)

  • Heat Conditions High-heat conditions with low visibility are indicative of highly volatile environments. Rapid cooling, coupled with a coordinated ventilation effort, is required.

  • TIC Reading Evaluate the temperature reading, if one is available, as well as the gray scale differential. (Bright white areas typically signify high-heat conditions. Rippling waveforms are indicative of radiant heat, and/or flames overhead.)

  • Time How long has the fire been burning? And what effect has the fire had on the structural integrity of the building?

  • Gut Feeling What does your gut tell you based on your experience, previously obtained size-up information, and crewmember reports? Is the fight worth the risk?

"FIGHT OR FLIGHT" ACTIONS

The decision to either "fight or flight" must be decided immediately upon the recognition of rapid or advanced fire development (signaling an impending flashover situation). Any delayed action or inaction will undoubtedly result in the injury or quite possibly the death of those firefighters in the immediate area.

Fight

  • 60-degree Semi-fog in the Overhead Employ short burst(s) of water using a 60-degree fog pattern applied to the combustible gases in the overhead areas, in an effort to push the flames and associated gases back away from the nozzle crew, while immediately reducing the temperature of the superheated gases, dropping their intensity to temperatures below their ignition temperature.
SAFETY NOTE:
    • Penciling/Pulsing Direct short straight stream bursts in the overhead area. Short- duration bursts, using a straight stream in the room's upper corners (including along the walls) will help reduce the temperatures of the combustible gases in the overhead, lowering them to temperatures below their ignition temperature, thereby preventing a flashover from occurring. (Note: The direct application of water to the base of the fire will be necessary to achieve final knockdown.)
SAFETY NOTE:
    • Direct Application to the Base of the Fire Final knockdown and the ultimate means of fire suppression is achieved by the proper application of an effective stream to the base of the materials that are burning.

    Flight This is the immediate decision to evacuate/retreat to an area of safe refuge.

    • Evacuation Immediately exit from the super-heated environment via a primary or secondary means of egress (such as stairs, windows, ladders, etc.).

    • Retreat Immediately make a lateral movement to a position of isolation/safety (such as a wall breach, or some point of isolation behind a closed door or barrier).
SAFETY NOTE:

PART 3

In Part 3, we will conclude our series by outlining the final three topics, discussing the coordination of ventilation efforts, fire-stream management and progress reporting...plus a review of our entire 10-step plan for creating smarter and safer interior attacks.

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Tim is a 17 - year student and educator of the fire & emergency services, a former Assistant Fire Chief for Missouri City Fire & Rescue Services, Texas and a former Firefighter/Paramedic with the Kansas City, Kansas Fire Department. Tim has earned B.S. degrees in Fire Administration, Arson and an A.S. degree in Emergency Medical Care from Eastern Kentucky University. Tim is a contributing editor to numerous publications including the International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI) monthly publication The Voice and the Fire & Emergency Television Network (FETN) in which he is the writer/developer of the featured "SURVIVAL!" program. You can contact Tim by e-mail at: tesendelbach@msn.com.

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