Notebook Nuggets – The Truck Company: Basic Ventilation

July 1, 2005
Richard J. Blatus and Thomas J. Richardson discuss the basic tactic that needs to be reviewed: vertical and horizontal ventilation.

As technological advances in building construction continue to envelope the fire service, our members struggle to find new and innovative avenues to solve the myriad problems they pose. Remember to address the “basics” while you also size-up the structure for the additional problems. This month, we focus on one of the most basic tactics: ventilation.

Vertical ventilation is the one tactic we seem to always address. No matter what, we have generally accepted the need to “get the roof.” Quick and immediate vertical ventilation will improve conditions throughout the structure and permit a more direct and effective advancement of the search teams, which will result in rapid discovery of the fire and a quick, effective knockdown.

But what of horizontal ventilation? Horizontal ventilation is performed to ventilate for life or for fire, sometimes accomplishing both. When firefighters “vent” for life, they are initiating a tactic that permits them to make entry into an area where there is the possibility of an overcome civilian. Implementation of this tactic may encourage the horizontal or vertical extension of fire. That’s OK. Remember risk versus reward; the reward of saving someone’s life is well worth the risk of additional fire extension. The release of smoke and heated gases from a room or an area will increase visibility, permitting a more effective search while enhancing the survivability of any possible victims.

When firefighters ventilate for fire, they are enabling the fire attack team to advance the attack line closer to the seat of the fire to accomplish extinguishment. This type of ventilation is ideally performed in a location opposite the attack line to permit it to advance efficiently once the attack line has water and is ready to advance. Incident commanders must ensure that there are firefighters assigned to perform these basic but essential truck functions early in an operation. It is imperative that horizontal ventilation be performed in coordination with the fire attack and that good communications take place in order to prevent any bad fire behavior within the fire area.

Let’s take it one step further. Ventilation of cellar or below-grade fires is often a very difficult tactic to implement, depending on the type and construction of the occupancy. In residential buildings, small windows are routinely available on the exterior to provide some ventilation. The open interior stairway is also an avenue for the products of combustion to travel. We all should know the inherent dangers of this “chimney,” but it does, in fact, provide a ventilation avenue.

Many times in commercial occupancies, we are limited in our options for effective “below-grade” ventilation. One possible tactic is to cut a hole in a floor above the fire area near a window if it safe to do so. Firefighters performing this tactic should be protected by a charged hoseline. The use of ventilation fans may be helpful with caution. Close observation of the fire conditions should dictate how this tactic is employed. The use of positive-pressure ventilation (PPV) is not advised when there is the possibility of a life hazard in the building. This includes firefighters. When firefighters are properly trained, this tactic may be beneficial once the fire is under control.

Today’s firefighters have the best equipment and the best training available to them. If successfully completed, ventilation tactics permit us to control fire area behavior, which allows us to operate safely and efficiently. Do not overlook this important fireground tactic!

Richard J. Blatus and Thomas J. Richardson will present “Notebook Nuggets: Tales from the Fireground” and “Operational Tactics and Procedures at Structural Fires” and Chief Blatus will present “Hands-On Training: Fireground Operational Tactics – Live Burn/Search Exercises” at Firehouse Expo 2005, July 26-31 in Baltimore.

Richard J. Blatus is a 23-year veteran of the fire service, currently assigned to Battalion 15 in Bronx, NY. A strong proponent of training, Chief Blatus has served as both a regional and national instructor/lecturer for fire service trade publications and conferences, such as Firehouse Expo. He holds degrees in business and municipal fire administration.

Thomas J. Richardson is a 23-year veteran of the fire service, currently serving the FDNY at Battalion 38 in Brooklyn. A former chief of the Deer Park, NY, Volunteer Fire Department, Chief Richardson is an adjunct instructor for the Suffolk County, NY, Fire Training Academy.

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