Harry Carter's New Fire Attack Triangle

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Since the goal of this blog is to stimulate thinking out there in the world, I thought I would start right out by tossing down the glove of challenge at your feet. Here is a new view of the world which I think will set a few teeth on edge out there. In this visit with you, I am going to toss out my view of a critical fire service operation. I am going to propose a new way of thinking that will offer you the option of a fight/no-fight decision at the next structural fire you attend. 

Right now it is culturally incorrect in far too many places to even suggest that such an option exists. Hell, people will tell you, we are the fire department and we will fight fires whenever and wherever we find them. Bull! Tell that to the family of the Detroit firefighter who was killed battling a blaze in a worthless, abandoned building back in 2008. Tell it to the firefighting people who are continually injured when the floors underneath them give way and they are tossed into a blazing basement. Tell that to the people who fall through the roof which are built with some form of cracker box truss.
Let me suggest to you that I think we are missing an opportunity to save lives during firefighting operations. To that end, I am proposing a totally different sort of fire triangle from any that you have ever seen in you life. This, my friends, is not your father's fire triangle, which we have all heard about during our careers in the fire service.
We have long talked about the interaction of fuel, oxygen, and heat. Well my friends, here is my 21st Century cure for what is killing people in our fire service. We need to bring the basic elements together in a way that will cause a heck of a lot more thinking to occur on the fireground.
The triangle which I am proposing has as its three legs the following critical information:
·                     What is the construction type? (Fuel and its composition)
·                     How long has the fire been burning? (Time)
·                     How many gallons-per-minute are available? (Water supply)
I have long taught my fire service students that a firefighting operation can be expressed in a simple mathematical manner.
People + Equipment + Water + Labor = Fire is Extinguished
During a recent discussion with my best buddy Jack Peltier, this topic came to the forefront of our discussions on the phone. I shared with Jack the thought that there were some serious changes that I would have to make in the upcoming second edition of my IFSTA firefighting text. I mentioned that it would be necessary for me to segment my book into two parts based upon the construction era of the building(s) involved in fires. There are the classic forms of construction which are somewhat durable and there are the new forms of construction which have trouble merely staying one step ahead of gravity.
Jack pointed out that I was ignoring time as a component of the firefighting equation. We reviewed a number of recent fires where people were killed or injured and decided that the element of time was being overlooked. One of the questions that can only be answered on rare occasions is "when did the fire start?" We can know when we were dispatched and when we arrived on location, but how can we possibly know when the fire began to attack the structure we see in front of our eye when we arrive?
The types of construction in use in your community must be determined during the pre-incident planning process. The age of the various buildings in your community can be determined in a similar manner. Even in the absence of a formal pre-incident planning system, individual members of the fire department can keep an eye on what is happening around them.
My personal example should serve to guide you in this rough estimation business. More than 2,000 units of housing have been built within one air mile of my home. The new construction era began in 1969 and continues to the present day. Two of the major developments came on line during the late 1980's. Others have been built during the 1990's and on it goes into the early years of this the 21st Century. 
We have tightly packed condominium complexes, as well as a number of major residential developments of the Mc Mansion style. All of this new construction has one major component in common. The new stuff is all built to hold costs down, maximize profits to the developers, and fall down as soon as it becomes involved in fire. I do not care who disagrees with me on this one.  I owe it to my late, great friend Frank Brannigan to keep battling this one.
We need to start worrying more about our people than saving buildings. My fire department saved a building a couple of years ago, only to see the developer tear it down because the person who was buying it did not want a house that had had a fire in it. What a load of crap. I am talking about maybe $30,000 damage in a $699,000 home. That operation was a $669,000 save in my book. If that is the type of person we are protecting then I must opt to protect my people at every turn in the road. 
Do not get me wrong. There will be times when lives are a risk. There are times when citizens will be in danger. But do not try to BS me. After 45 years in the business I can tell you that the number of times when lives were really at risk during a fire situation in which I was involved was far outweighed by the number of times that we were just fighting the fire because it was there for us to fight. 
Let us now get back to the issue at hand. We can know the construction types from our pre-incident planning visits. Let me suggest that you can also have an idea about how much water you will need to conduct an initial structural firefighting attack. The formulas are available to you from the National Fire Academy (NFA), the Insurance Services Office (ISO), and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). However, being able to make these calculations will require you to read the materials from these groups and make the knowledge a part of your daily operations. 
You can know your water supply capabilities via the mechanism of periodic water supply drills. If you have hydrants, know where they are, know what they can supply, and use them from time to time. I have taken a hydrant only once this year, so the periodic drills which we have at the county fire academy are really important to the maintenance of our skills. 
What have I said to this point? You can know the details of the construction and water supply by pre-incident planning and drilling. How can you know the time? That is the challenge. Let me propose that you can only know the times which start the clock running when you are dispatched on your response. What you must do is develop the skills to equate the times you can identify with the physical facts of the evolving situation as they appear to you upon your arrival at the scene of a structural fire. This requires a great deal of studying and factual accumulation.
What should you be worrying about? Here are my suggestions, right from my textbook:
·                     What have you got in terms of a fire?
·                     Where is it located?
·                     Where might it be going?
·                     What have you got to stop it?
·                     What can you do?
·                     Where can you get help?
·                     How are you doing?
·                     Can you terminate?
Let me suggest to you that you can never know the exact time that a fire starts. What you can know is the manner in which fire can attack a building before you are called to do something positive. A fire can be expected to do a great deal of damage in the first ten minutes of its life. This means that if you have a great many lengthy responses, you really will not have much of a chance to fight the fire, at lead not without putting your people in danger.
Let me close this blog edition with a simple statement. I want my words to stimulate you to start thinking. We need to do what the NFL does. We need to practice clock management. In coming editions of this blog, I intend to add more meat to the bones of the skeleton I have presented to you here today. What I would ask you to do is send me your comments. Help me to target in on how to handle this firefighting problem which is killing and injuring people every year. We can do this if we choose to work together. Please help me.