The essence of fire service suppression operations is predicated upon the deployment and application of water as an extinguishing agent, in sufficient quantities, location and duration to extinguish a fire within an enclosed structural compartment. The universal engine company correlation of: “putting the wet stuff on the red stuff” is fundamental to structural fire suppression operations but is ambiguous at best in the context of today’s modern building construction, occupancies, structural systems and building features.
We used to discern with a measured degree of predictability, how buildings would perform, react and fail under most fire conditions. Implementing fundamentals of firefighting and engine company operations built upon eight decades of time tested and experience proven strategies and tactics continues to be the model of suppression operations. These same fundamental strategies continue to drive methodologies and curriculums in our current training programs and academies of instructions.
The lack of appreciation and the understanding of correlating principles involving fire behavior, fuel and rate of heat release and the growth stages of compartment fires within a structural occupancy are the defining paths from which the fire service must reexamine engine company operations in order to identify with the predictability of occupancy performance during fire suppression operations thus increasing suppression effectiveness and firefighter safety.
Our buildings have changed; the structural systems of support, the degree of compartmentation, the characteristics of materials and the magnitude of fire loading. The structural anatomy, predictability of building performance under fire conditions, structural integrity and the extreme fire behavior; accelerated growth rate and intensively levels typically encountered in buildings of modern construction during initial and sustained fire suppression have given new meaning to the term combat fire engagement.
The rules for combat structural fire suppression have changed, but we have yet to write the rule book from which the new games plans must be derived. We seek the elusive “Rosetta stone” that aligns and interprets the emerging and traditionalist acumen related to fire stream effectiveness, flow rates, cooling capacity, extreme fire behavior and fire dynamics, compartment fire theory, propagation and cooling capacity and tactical deployment all relate towards defining an engineering approach to firefighting tactics versus the manual, labor-driven tactics of line deployment and rudiment placement of water on a fuel source within the fire compartment (room).
It's no longer just brute force and sheer physical determination that defines structural fire suppression operations. It begs to suggest that many of today's incident commanders, company officers and firefighters lack the clarity of understanding and comprehension that correlate to the inherent characteristics of today's buildings, construction and occupancies and the need for refined engine company operations within the modern building construction setting. We assume that the routiness or successes of our operations and incident responses equates with predictability and diminished risk to our firefighting personnel.
The work of such notable suppression theory pioneers as P. Grimwood, E. Hartin, S. Särdqvist and S. Svennson and the concepts surrounding 3D firefighting, B-SAHF and other emerging research from the NIST and UL are areas that today’s discerning and progressive fire officer and commanders must become well-informed and conversant. The quantitative scientific data and emerging concepts from continuing research and testing such as the NIST’s Wind Drive Fire Studies and UL’s The Structural Stability of Engineered Lumber in Fire Conditions are providing enlightenment on fire development, fuel controlled and ventilation controlled fire development, operational time-duration parameters and degradation and failure mechanisms related to compromise and structural collapse in occupancies.