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  1. #1
    EuroFirefighter.com PaulGRIMWOOD's Avatar
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    Default 50 Backdrafts A Year - How Deep Is This Problem?

    In December 2004 the UK's Building Disaster Assessment Group (BDAG) of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) published a series of critical research documents that clearly offered radical recommendations for change in current tactical approaches at structure fires, further suggesting that firefighter training should reflect these changes in the future.

    A review of the current situation in the way firefighters approach UNDER-VENTILATED FIRES was presented by Brian Hume of the Fire Statistics & Research Division where it was demonstrated that UK firefighters regularly face, in excess of, 50 Backdrafts and several hundred other related phenomena of rapid fire development every year. These remarkable statistics mean a Backdraft is, on average, a weekly event for the UK's 30,000 professional firefighters. Such data is hard to come by in the rest of the world. In the USA 37 firefighters reportedly died of flashover related phenomena between 1990 and 1999 although the NFPA now record data simply as rapid fire development and fail to differentiate between flashover, backdraft or other ignitions of the fire gases.

    How deeply rooted is this problem? Are we training enough in Fire Behavior? Are we preparing our firefighters adequately to deal with entry to under-ventilated compartments and combustion in the gaseous-phase?

    FURTHER INFORMATION


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    Forum Member Dave1983's Avatar
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    Well, Ive never seen one, but have read plenty of accounts from other departments. They all seem to have the same thing in common, that being a fire that has had a lot of time to develope, be it from a delay in calling the FD, or a long response time due to a number of factors. While ventilation plays an important part, as does proper training, I would look at things like dispatch and response times. Perhaps that is part of the problem.

    Dave

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    EuroFirefighter.com PaulGRIMWOOD's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Dave1983
    While ventilation plays an important part, as does proper training, I would look at things like dispatch and response times. Perhaps that is part of the problem.

    Dave
    Thanks for your response Dave. I agree that dispatch & response times times are influential but you (as firefighters) don't have as much control over this as you do with VENTILATION. I would like to pose these questions then - Is venting that roof or window more likely to lead to rapid fire development or less likely to? And .... is an opening made at a higher level in an occupied (by firefighters) structure, demonstrating under-ventilated conditions, a 'safe' action?

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    Yoda is back on the forums

    Happy New Year Paul!

    The biggest danger I've seen down our way is not backdrafts occuring when opening a door or window, but rather when searching for a fire in a wall or "opening up" during overhaul. Guys just don't realise that a backdraft can occur very easily when you open up that wall cavity - especially seems more frequent "Down Under" where we don't run Truck companies as such, and so the average firefighter isn't as experienced in opening up walls etc and isn't as aware of the dangers. Another problem/contributing factor is a lack of supervision during overhaul, as Chiefs don't turn out to fires down here, so company officers are outside IC'ing the job.

    Backdrafts (and particulalrly flashovers) are possibly less likely to occur in the U.S. as most larger fire departments over there (and a lot of smaller ones) respond truck companies that perform ventilation early as part of their SOP's, or at least have engine companies perform truck work. Down here in Australia, in our second largest city (population 2.5 million) the department responds only 2 pumpers to a working house fire - that gives you a total of 6-7 on scene (4-5 firefighters + 2 officers - one of whom is IC), and so ventilation often gets overlooked, and usually doesn't occur until overhaul. Dangerous - yes, recognised as being dangerous practice - NO.

    Paul maybe that's the problem in the U.K. - you are getting so many backdrafts because you don't have any truckies

    Great to see you back on the forums Paul.
    Last edited by stillPSFB; 01-04-2005 at 07:31 AM.
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    Forum Member DeputyChiefGonzo's Avatar
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    Paul... a very "crusty" fire instructor I had at the Massachusetts Fire Academy had a mantra he would reinforce with us over and over...

    "vent early, vent often"

    We ventilate to allow the products of combustion to "escape" from the building. Superheated gasses and toxic smoke go out, the visibilty improves dramatically, which allows us to find the seat of the fire and put it out.

    While "sparking" a fire in a neighboring community many years ago, I heard the fire chief in charge of the operation say to his ladder crew "do not, I repeat, do not open up that roof!"

    He sent two of his firefighters to the hospital that day...the two on the attack line inside who were taking a beating for no reason at all. Had the roof been opened, they would have easily extinguished the fire. I wonder what the cost to the community was for that decision, between the ambulance and hospital bills, overtime and IOD pay when the cost of replacing that section of roof would have been small in comparison.

    I fell that most "backdrafts" are a result of our "moth to the flame" mentality (gotta grab the knob) and overlooking proper ventilation, coupled with delayed notiffication of the fire to begin with.

    Vent early, vent often!
    Last edited by CaptainGonzo; 01-04-2005 at 07:03 AM.
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    Default Re: 50 Backdrafts A Year - How Deep Is This Problem?

    Originally posted by PaulGRIMWOOD
    How deeply rooted is this problem? Are we training enough in Fire Behavior? Are we preparing our firefighters adequately to deal with entry to under-ventilated compartments and combustion in the gaseous-phase?
    Certainly not down here we aren't - in fact it's got worse. One of the world's largest fire departments (no names to protect the clueless) with a strength of 60,000 firefighters has recently banned any and all training related to compartment fire behaviour as being "too dangerous"

    The ultimate example of this lunacy was when they ran a couple of demo's using the 2 foot cube doll's house training prop that is a great learning aid for this training. Due to the "huge" risk of the instructor being exposed to "massive" amounts of formaldahyde from the burning box they made it SOP that the instructor had to be wearing a fully encapsulated Level A HazMat suit while doing the demo, and the students who are 20 feet away had to be in full PPE including SCBA on air. Go figure

    There's only one question I want an answer to now - what did I do to deserve to live in the area served by the world's most firetrucked-up fire department
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    Forum Member Dave1983's Avatar
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    Thanks for your response Dave. I agree that dispatch & response times times are influential but you (as firefighters) don't have as much control over this as you do with VENTILATION. I would like to pose these questions then - Is venting that roof or window more likely to lead to rapid fire development or less likely to? And .... is an opening made at a higher level in an occupied (by firefighters) structure, demonstrating under-ventilated conditions, a 'safe' action?
    Well, the answer is two fold. If you ventilate the roof early enough, you reduce the amount of heat and gasses thus lowering the chance of a backdaft or flashover. I'm not so sure about windows alone as they work to a point but your best option is to open the roof. On the other hand, improper use of positive pressure ventilation can cause an increase in the amount of fire and lead to extention into attics and other void spaces.

    As for the second part of your question, by "under ventilated" I take it you mean not ventilated yet (by firefighters). If thats the case then yes, its safe to open the highest point of the roof, if your not sure where the fire is. If you do know, try and open the roof over the fire area.

    Now, when I say safe, I mean as related to a backdraft/flashover. Putting people on the roof at anytime is iffy. Some people over here say you should never put crews on the roof, which is why so many departments have gone to PPV over the last 15 years or so. Its not the end all answer but it has its place. We have it (PPV), have
    trained on it A BUNCH and use it in place of roof ventilation about 90% of the time. But you have to know what your doing with it. Very easy to push a room and contents fire into the whole building if your not careful.

    Dave
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  8. #8
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    Lightbulb OPEN the ROOF!!!

    While "sparking" a fire in a neighboring community many years ago, I heard the fire chief in charge of the operation say to his ladder crew "do not, I repeat, do not open up that roof!"
    Any Chief who orders his men not to cut should be removed from his duties forthwith and committed to the funny farm or placed in charge of fire prevention because he doesn't belong on the fireground.

    I would seriously question his qualifcations for his rank as NO WHERE has it ever been written that the roof should remain in tact during a fire

    It is standard practice around here for the Roof man at a taxpayer job to go to the roof and imediately start cutting the roof over the main body of fire. No questions asked...no permission needed. In fact the roof man would probably be alreadly on the 9 of his 7,9,8 cut by the time the chief showed up.

    A good friend of mine recently spoke to me about a fire in a taxpayer in his city. They didn't vent the roof and they didn't determine acurately how many cocklofts there were. The only vertical vent was They thought the fire was out. The Chief had placed it under-control when suddenly within a minute heavy black smoke was pushing into the store and fire erupted everywhere. They backed out and the place burned to the ground. They never found the other voids and hidden spaces as they only vented the area from below by pulling ceilings (very dangerous without vert vent). They never vented vertically. Although they were using PPV Fans...

    What did they learn from this fire....OPEN THE ROOF. Hopefully this will prevent most backdrafts.

    FTM-PTB

  9. #9
    Forum Member MemphisE34a's Avatar
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    First off. Hello Paul. Excellent website.

    ---------------------------------------------------
    Quote:

    Putting people on the roof at anytime is iffy. Some people over here say you should never put crews on the roof, which is why so many departments have gone to PPV over the last 15 years or so. Its not the end all answer but it has its place. We have it (PPV), have
    trained on it A BUNCH and use it in place of roof ventilation about 90% of the time.

    ---------------------------------------------------

    In my opinion PPV is no replacement for vertical ventilation. The best way to rapidly vent an entire stucture will always be by vertical ventilation. You can supplement that ventilation further by adding PPV. Heat rises, so open the top, it seems so natural. PPV by itself works best when you remove smoke compartment by compartment. Most fires of any significance in the living areas will result in at least one broken windows. Overzealous fire departments may not leave a solid piece in the house. These openings will greatly reduce the amount of positive pressure able to make it to the attic space. The air pressure that does make it will have to move the tremendous amount of air in the attic to the far ends and out the louvers. The path of least resistance will not be to the attic but through all the opening below. Therefore most of time the compartment of the attic space cannot be vented rapidly without the 4X4. Even with PPV.

    Now, on the origianl topic of the post. How much of a problem are backdrafts in the fire service. Honestly, not that much when you apply it toward the total number of incidents responded to by firefighters. The problem lies in that they are much like plane wrecks. Worldwide still the safest way to travel, but most of the time everyone in the crash is killed or seriously injured.

    Do we need to know about them, train how to handle then when the signs are there? Absolutely, but not a major fire service epedemic.

    Lt. Robert Kramer, Jr.
    Engine Co. 34-A
    Memphis Fire Department
    www.memphisfire.net

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    AS I am sure all of you know, the opening of windows before opening the roof in a backdraft situation will in fact create the backdraft (or "smoke explosion as the old-timers call it) and endanger any firefighter at ground level with 10-30' of the structure. Opening the roof is the ONLY option if the signs of a possible backdraft are visiable on arrival. Ventilation and fire attack must be coordinated as the fire will take off again once ventilation is completed and the attack crews must be prepared to make immediate entry and begin fire attack. Windows and doors then can be used in addition to the roof openings for either posaitive pressure or natural ventilation.

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    Forum Member Dave1983's Avatar
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    Great points by all. And as I said above, PPV is not "The Answer" but it has its place. You can never replace agressive roof ventilation on a well involved building (ie more then room & contents), or potential backdraft situation.

    Dave
    Last edited by Dave1983; 01-04-2005 at 03:08 PM.
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    MembersZone Subscriber SteveDude's Avatar
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    The trouble is...the rest of the World (outside of the US & Canada) do not run truck companies and cannot nor have they ever ventialted roofs, primarily becuase of Construction.

    Our mainly concrete shelled Buildings put paid to that a lot of the time, but even when there are Buildings that are 'Crying out' for Topside ventialtion, there isn't the amount of Aerial Trucks around to make it happen.

    As PSFB said, over in Australia, here in the UK and just about every where in between every fire get a 2 Pump response...(Central London gets 3 Pumps and an Aerial) but the busy Ghetto areas get 2 Pumps upped to 4 on receipt of further calls. Aerials will only be ordered if requested.

    Even in the Good old Days London 'only' had about 30 Aerials to cover the 115 Stations/620 sq miles. This has been cut and cut over the yeats so now the entire Brigade is covered by 11 Aerials. Can you imagine only 11 truck Co's in NYC... The two Cities do not differ that much (apart from Consrtuction as I said)

    Paul and I have discussed this on many occasiuons. We were our own worst enemies. I used to be at a Station with a Turntable Ladder (100ft Ladder truck) as a Junior officer in the late 80's and early 90's when Aerials were still on most Fires we'd be all over the place on the thing...only to see Incident Commanders, silhouetted by flame and smoke waving us away unless they wanted it specifically as a water tower or for a rescue

    There is an old saying "Use it of lose it" We in the UK are guilty of always underusing Aerial trucks...and now are paying the price. I believe there are a couple of Fire brigades in the UK that only have One aerial, that covers a county of many hundreds of square miles with 20-30 Fire Stations and several medium to large Towns. These machines are often alternate manned and only get crewed when a request has been made.

    I realise I have digressed from Paul's point here, but for all of the advances we have made in Firefighter Safety, Incident Command etc. I really think we missed the boat many many generations ago when for whatever reason (I wans't around then) we only saw an Aerail Applaince as a (Water Tower or rescue Apperatus).

    I can understand why Roof ventialtion hasn't caught on, but every Building is different. How many times in the massive Hotel & Hostels blazes that raged though London in the 60's & 70's did people die becuase a Fireman wasn't sent to the roof to 'open up' the light well?

    I will always consider the roof at a job, but to be homest the opportunity isn't there. Although on Sunday night I was called to a Make up (Multi-Alarm) in a large derelict Building. I was pleased to see that first Crews had pitched a ladder to place a fire break in the roof thus stopping the fire from taking the whole of the 100' x 50' structure out.

    Sadly there isn't enough opportunity with concrete, brick etc to open roofs so with tradition and procedures long adpted and proudly passed on, we are as like to start venting roofs ans you Guys are to stop doing it.

    How are we going to deal with the increase in backdraught's caused by better built 'Tighter Buildings' and more and more man made fixtures and fittings... I'd suggest that proper CFBT is a good start, but what else can we do??
    Steve Dude
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    Forum Member Co11FireGal's Avatar
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    I have never been at a fire where there was a backdraft, but have heard stories of two or three, all of which I'm pretty sure never should have happened. One a guy was blown off the front porch of a structure and into the yard, another was checking for extension in an attic, I guess they pulled open the overhead hatch and BAM! There it was! Don't know all of the circumstances surrounding these incidents, but I am guessing they were all because ventilation should have been done and wasn't for one reason or another.

    Now I won't claim to know much about ventilation...Small Town, USA depts. rarely have people who are specially trained for truck work, half the time we don't even have an aerial in the county that is in service. I know in basic firefighting classes here, ventilation is defined and tools to do it with are pictured but that is about the extent of it. I later learned about PPV in a 'Structural Firefighting' class at a training weekend, but even there we went over how to do PPV and hydraulic ventilation, but not WHEN to do it.

    I have been to quite a few fires, not nearly as many as most of you, but enough to know what needs to be going on. I have seen vertical ventilation MAYBE a handful of times, where I'm sure that it should have been done a few dozen times. My dept. bought a new k-12 saw about a year ago and it has seriously NEVER been used. I didn't even learn about the types of ventilation until I sat down and read some training articles one time. I would love to know more about it, and definitely recognize the fact that we need to be doing more of it, but I honestly think that in my area there is a push NOT to do it (vertical vent.) b/c of the public image of the fire dept. that it can give...that with a lack of the facts to realize, "Hey we should be doing more of this." Not really sure how to change it though, and houses are only getting tighter and tighter. I'm sure if something doesn't give, before long in SOME areas backdraft WILL be a "Deep Problem."
    IACOJ

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    EuroFirefighter.com PaulGRIMWOOD's Avatar
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    Yes some good points made and most certainly I acknowledge the benefits of roof venting actions in some situations. Steve is right - we are neither equipped or tactically aware in Europe to benefit.

    Yoda? tsk tsk

    However, a phenomena that has received little, if any, attention is that of creating 'pathways' where venting actions occur below and above the fire area, sometimes leading to devastating effects! A routine approach to a structural fire would be to open the street entry door, normally below the fire, followed by a tactical venting action above the fire. Several ncidents come to mind (some fatal to firefighters) where occasionally this process is reversed where the entry is made at high level before the venting action occurs at low level, creating a 'pathway'. It is the final action of creating a 'pathway' for air to enter from below the fire and smoke and energy rich gases from an under-ventilated fire to exit at high level that sometimes leads to an 'event' of rapid fire progress. The process may well involve a sudden depressurization of the structure or compartment as the gases are released and air flows in to counter the negative pressure created. This phenomenon may be someway explained by imagining your house on a windy day. An upstairs window or a door at the back of the house may be open. Someone then opens the front door .... no problem .... suddenly BAM! An internal door somewhere on the route between the two openings slams shut! You've experienced that effect right?! Its caused by a sudden air movement that may involve both negative and positive air pressures on routes between the openings within the structure. Now imagine this air movement in an under-ventilated structure fire, with internal pressures building and then suddenly unleashed. It may even be the smallest gust of wind at the entrance doorway that sets this in motion.

    Two firefighters who just made it out of an Illinois fire in 2002 were lucky to have escaped with minor injuries as a 'pathway' was created between the air-inlet (street door) and fire-gas exit point (window venting action) resulting in an ignition of the energy rich gases at 2nd floor level. It was as if the action of venting the window provided the momentum or inertia for the high-energy gases to ignite in a 'flash' of combustion, unleashing tremendous amounts of heat for a brief second or two. Other fires have demonstrated similar events as this 'pathway' was created by firefighting actions - notably the Cherry Road fire in Washington DC in 1999; Seattle basement fire 1987 and the Dorothy May fire in 1982.

    Think of occasions where this 'pathway' might have been created, leading to rapid fire progress - an air inlet (street doorway) and a fire gas/smoke outlet (window) both in existence and if 'fuel rich' gases are involved - note the inertia created, quickly followed by a subsequent ignition!

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    Forum Member Dave1983's Avatar
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    However, a phenomena that has received little, if any, attention is that of creating 'pathways' where venting actions occur below and above the fire area, sometimes leading to devastating effects!
    Hey now, sorry to get of course here, but that brings a question to mind. Whats the best way to vent a basement fire, which of course you are going to attack from above? Being in Florida, we dont have many basements so thats why I ask. Anybody have any idea what would happen if you used PPV on a basement fire? Has anyone tried?

    Dave
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    MembersZone Subscriber Plugmedic's Avatar
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    The possible reason for more backdraft situations is a fairly easy one to find with todays construction features.
    We have insulated everything to death. We have insulated coffee mugs, insulated food containers, cars, and we have gone to extremes to insulate our homes. Nobody wants the cold air in their home in the winter and likewise for the hot air in the summer (if you have AC). So we insulate, insulate, insulate! Then we fill the home with a fire load of plastic based materials like sofas, beds, flooring.
    So, a fire starts, and the BTU's spike very fast and because of the great insulated home, they have nowhere to go. The heat and gases build in the home until someone gives it all a big gulp of fresh air. BANG!
    How do we deal with this, simple. If you look for indicaters before rushing in, get the roof vented, and get to work the backdraft can be prevented. We all just need to stay on your toes.
    When it comes to venting, there is no reason to cut a hole when you have fire showing through the roof. The fire has vented intself, and another cut will draw the fire to the new hole. So, where do you make your next hole after venting a roof????? At your next fire!
    Be safe everyone!
    Jason S. - SFFD
    Local 798

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    Originally posted by PaulGRIMWOOD
    Yoda? tsk tsk
    Yep - Yoda - teaches by asking thought-provoking questions. Hey Paul you could be the first Jedi Firefighter
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    EuroFirefighter.com PaulGRIMWOOD's Avatar
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    Originally posted by stillPSFB

    Yep - Yoda - teaches by asking thought-provoking questions. Hey Paul you could be the first Jedi Firefighter

    Nothing to do with my appearance then?

    Hey Jedi Firefighter - Yeah I kinda like that!

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    - that's a ****er of a photo!

    You coming over to FDIC Paul?
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    EuroFirefighter.com PaulGRIMWOOD's Avatar
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    Originally posted by stillPSFB
    - that's a ****er of a photo!

    You coming over to FDIC Paul?
    Yeah thanks Its only a passport photo so I'm pleased the way it came out FDIC? Not this year I fear ....

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