There is an immediate need for today’s emerging and operating command and company officers to increase their foundation of knowledge and insights related to the modern fire dynamics, building occupancy, building construction and fire protection engineering to adjust and modify traditional and conventional strategic operating profiles to modern research-based tactics in order to safeguard companies, personnel and team compositions.
Strategies and tactics must be based on what we have recently learned from the great research work of NIST and Underwriters Laboratories (UL) on fire dynamics; utilizing occupancy risk, not occupancy type; and must have the combined adequacy of sufficient staffing, controlling the fire dynamics, fire flow and tactical patience orchestrated in a manner that identifies with the fire profiling, predictability of the occupancy profile and accounts for presumptive fire behavior.
The dramatic changes in buildings and occupancies over the past 10 years have resulted inadequate fire suppression methodologies based upon conventional practices that do not align with the manner in which we used to discern with a measured degree of predictability how buildings would perform, react and fail under most fire conditions.
We predicate certain expectations that fire will travel in a defined (predictable) manner, that fire will hold within a room and compartment for a predictable given duration of time; that the fire load and related fire flows required will be appropriate for an expected size and severity of fire encountered within a given building, occupancy, structural system and given an appropriately trained and skilled staff to perform the requisite evolutions, we can safely and effectively mitigate a structural fire situation in any given building type and occupancy.
The ISFSI states its position on the importance of recent research in fire dynamics and firefighting tactics, as conducted by the NIST and UL. The ISFSI believes that fire departments should take action to adjust their tactical plans and training programs to incorporate this research into their emergency response operations. Additionally, the ISFSI believes that professional standards should be updated to reflect the latest information in fire dynamic research as soon as possible.
Given the information from the research, the ISFSI takes the following positions:
Size-up must occur at every fire. Consideration must be given to the resources available and situational conditions — such as weather, fire location, size of the fire and building, and the construction features. A tactical plan for that fire must be developed, communicated and implemented.
Let’s take a look at what size up really is. It is more than walking around the building and looking at some smoke or fire. Size up requires that you read the building and what is going on inside with the fire utilizing the presentations of fire and the ability to read the smoke identifying the flow paths. It is important that we remember that every building on fire is under demolition due to the degradation of the materials as it is being consumed by the decomposition of the structure by the rapid oxidation process of fire. It is important to understand the building’s anatomy as the relationship the fire behavior will have with the building is based upon the design and construction of the building and the availability of flow paths within due to open pathways. In size up we are looking at the global picture of the conditions of fire, the building anatomy conditions, personnel and their capabilities, water supply, access, weather and a host of other factors.
Fire departments should manage and control the openings to the structure to limit fire growth and spread, and to control the flow path of inlet air and fire gases during tactical operations. All ventilation must be coordinated with suppression activities. Uncontrolled ventilation allows additional oxygen into the structure, which may result in a rapid increase in the fire development and increased risk to firefighters due to increased heat release rates.
It is important to understand that for many years we have been taught that you ventilate for life. That may hold true today but the ventilation has to be controlled and coordinated to create the fire conditions that we want. By not ventilating we don’t create flow paths, which will feed the fire, which is most likely in oxygen or ventilation limited state. Which means the fire has stopped growing and is decreasing which cools the temperatures due to no radiant heat feed back. In research we can see these temperatures decreasing, but once ventilation is created and a flow of oxygen is allowed to occur then the fire begins to increase which results in an expediential increase in temperatures from fire growth. Here is an example, trying to exhaust the heat through normal vertical ventilation practices on a residential structure the 4’ X 4’ vent hole will exhaust about the amount of energy a modern couch burning will produce. Now think of the fuel loading in modern homes and is this enough? According to the research you would have to open up half or more of the roof to be able to discharge the energy being produced.
Given the fuel rich environment that the fire service operates in, water should be applied to the fire as soon as possible. In many cases, water application through an exterior opening into a fire compartment may be the best first action, prior to committing fire fighting resources to the interior.
Fire departments should cool the interior spaces of a fire building with water from the safest location possible, prior to committing personnel into spaces with, or adjacent to, fully developed or smoldering (ventilation limited) fire conditions.
So the above statement does not say not to go into the structure to apply water. What it does say is that you have to go back to size up and determine based upon resources, water supply structural anatomy and fire conditions where the safest location to apply water is. Anyone could argue that outside is the safest, but in some cases you will not be able to place water on the fire from outside. This is where the tactical decision-making comes in. Often in today’s fire service environments, progressive departments like Chicago, Los Angles County, FDNY and others are using this tactic and the tactic is referred to as resetting the fire or softening the target. This tactic makes the environment safer for entry. Anytime that you are interior on fire attack and you have heavy smoke conditions we should be testing the environment. We should place a short burst of water into the ceiling area and see the reaction. If no water returns you should be cooling the environment immediately. I know now the water damage issue comes up, but it is easy to dry a place up from a water flow but it is rebuilding when fire consumes. It is also making it safer for fire personnel to be in the area.
Fire department rapid intervention procedures should be updated to provide water on the fire as soon as possible and ventilation openings controlled during firefighter “Mayday” incidents.
Research show that it does not make the conditions worse and you do not push fire with water application. Fire spreads based upon airflow paths. Research shows that water flow into a room on fire does not push the fire. It has been proven several times over by NIST and UL in their research burns. It has proven that the temperatures throughout the structure begin to drastically decrease. In the research burns in Spartanburg, South Carolina we saw temperatures go from over 1000 degrees F throughout the building to below 150 degrees F within a very abbreviate period of water flow. We also saw that the oxygen levels near the floor significantly increased and the CO levels decreased. In rooms that had closed doors throughout the event the oxygen levels never dropped below 19 percent and CO never go over 10 PPM with room temperatures at a balmy 95 degrees F, which equates to very survivable conditions.
Relating this to rapid intervention and case studies it has been determined that flowing water during these types of emergencies will help increase the survivability of fire personnel.
Fire departments should consider revised tactical guidelines for suppression from R.E.C.E.O.V.S. to the S.L.I.C.E. - R.S. acronym. This stands for the following:
Locate the fire
Identify and control the flow path
Cool the heated space from a safe location
Extinguish the fire
Actions of opportunity that may occur at any time
To Take Place in Order
Size-up. Size-up remains a paramount activity to gain the big picture of the event. We still need to gain a 360-degree view of the incident and determine what operational tactical mode or position we want to take. During this time we will determine the building construction/anatomy, the condition/progression of fire, additional resources we may need and begin formulating the tactical plan.
Locate the fire. From size-up, this is one of the most critical pieces, as you want to determine where the fire is currently. More specifically, you want to identify the area where the fire is located and the areas that have superheated gases are moving, aka the flow path, as these areas are inherently dangerous and pose a significant risk to firefighters as they will experience extreme radiant heat. These same problems identified as hazards for firefighters also impact the occupants of the building on a much higher level.
It is important to utilize all the tools you have in your toolbox for identifying the location of the fire and the flow paths. The flow paths will identify areas where superheated gases are located and indicate danger areas for both occupants and firefighters. One tool that has not traditionally been used in size up to the degree it should is the thermal imagining camera. One grand discovery during the NIST Research conducted at Spartanburg, South Carolina, during research funded by the FEMA Assistance to Fire Act Grant (AFG) obtained by the ISFSI, was just how important it was to utilize a thermal imaging camera (TIC) on the initial size up and during the 360-degree lap. It allows the first arriving officer to quickly identify the areas of the building that are hotter than the others as well as areas of flow paths specifically if the building is not self ventilated. The thermal imagining camera also helps identify area air intake flows.
Identify and control the flow path. Once the location of the fire has been identified in the building, determine the presence of a flow path. If a flow path exists, every effort should be made to control the flow path. One significant flow path identified is the door entry is made through. By controlling the entry door, you control a large flow path. This is important as often an exterior door is left open when occupants exit the structure.
If a flow path does not yet exist often the fire has become oxygen-limited/ventilation limited, even if the fire has self-vented. This was a common occurrence in both the FDNY Governor’s Island and Spartanburg, South Carolina research. So with that research data it is important that you do not create a flow path until you are ready to do so.
Opening the entry door or windows before crews are ready for entry will create a flow path and the fire will grow exponentially. In the training environment, giving officers open doors on arrival will help build the skill of recognizing them and initiating control early in the operation.
Cool the heated space from the safest location. Given the information from size-up, location of fire, and flow path, the initial crew/officer or the Incident Commander (IC) makes a determination on the location and fire stream tactics to cool the fire and superheated areas of the building. The goal is to reduce the fire growth known as resetting the fire or softening the target and will reduce the immediate thermal threat to firefighters on entry. This will make it safer to enter the areas where fire and superheated gases existed so that the fire may be more safely extinguished.
Water may be applied from the exterior or interior, the goal is to do it from a safe location where firefighters are not in the extreme conditions. The ultimate goal is reducing the thermal threat. In most residential settings, a window may allow access to the seat of the fire; that is a huge bonus! In large residential structures, attic fires and many commercial buildings, the crew may have to enter the structure to gain access to begin the cooling of heated compartments. Even on interior entry the cooling effort should be accomplished from a safe as possible location, which means you may have to cool as you go.
Photo courtesy Barry McRory
Extinguish the fire. Once the thermal and fire threats have been controlled, the fire should be extinguished in the most direct manner possible. Firefighters should be cognizant of the potential for the thermal threat to return and should move to extinguish the fire quickly. Even with “re-setting the fire or softening the target” crews can anticipate encountering significant fire in the interior of the building requiring fire suppressions tactics. It is important that even with the cooling and suppression efforts from a safe distance there is still a need to extinguish the seat of the fire, search operations need to occur and the overhaul and salvage work that was there in the past will still exist.
It is important to remember that interior fire attack falls under what is considered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administrations, as an immediately dangerous to life and health (IDLH) atmospheres. This is also addressed in NFPA 1500. It is a must that during any firefighting activity where firefighters are exposed to IDLH atmospheres the proper firefighter rescue capability should be established prior to their entry. Many people consider this two in/two out. It has been proven, based on the research conducted by the Phoenix Fire Department following the Southwest Super Market store incident, that it takes eight to 12 firefighters to rescue one firefighter down. This is the reason it is recommended to have firefighter rescue capability that exceeds the OSHA regulation.
Actions of Opportunity: May Occur at Any Time
Rescue. The officer/IC should consider the potential for rescues at all times. Firefighters should always be prepared to affect evacuation or a rescue of endangered or trapped civilians within the structure. This may require that the fire fighting crew be in very volatile and hazardous atmospheres trying to affect evacuation or rescues. Many times the safest and best tactic for affecting evacuations and rescues is to suppress the fire. Rapid and informed tactical decisions must be made on the priority and sequence of rescue/evacuation verses fire suppression. The concept of occupancy profiling versus occupancy type must be employed in critical decision-making. We have found that through the Spartanburg research conducted by ISFSI and NIST, that often time the best way to address the highest tactical priority, rescue, which always takes precedence, is fire suppression and isolation. The fire officer must determine the best course of action to ensure the best outcome for occupants based on the conditions at that time.
What that means is we still are in the business of rescuing victims, we just need to do it smarter! A lot about rescue has been explored based on the research. It is found that if you control the flow path you change the environment. The results from the Spartanburg research shows that when a door is closed the environmental condition is much more conducive to survivability. With all that information it confirms that the tactic of vent – enter-search needs to have another component added. That component is once ventilation occurs and entry is made, the environment you are in needs to be isolated, door and flow path control which creates a safer compartmentalization and isolates the environment from thermal increase.
Salvage. Firefighters should be conducting as much salvage as possible throughout the incident. In the fire code large areas such as industrial facilities and warehouses utilize the compartmentalization concept in fire codes as a means of fire control by compartmentalizing areas on the ceiling thus slowing and controlling thermal flow paths and fire control. The Spartanburg research solidifies this concept on a residential level and well as a commercial level by utilizing the compartmentalization to control fire spread and smoke whenever possible. So the ability to close doors, which reduces the flow path and isolates areas will reduce fire and heat damage by reducing the flow of thermal currents and smoke. Reality is salvage is easy to conduct easily and should be done anywhere you can, whenever you can.
Based upon the ISFSI and the NIST Spartanburg research, ventilation has been removed from a must do tactical component and placed as a special consideration. Ventilation must be affected and simultaneously conducted with fire attack. Ventilation should not occur without direction from the fire attack crew coordinating tactics with incident command. Based upon the research, ventilation often will occur after the main body of fire has been controlled. Every ventilation opening, the entry door is a ventilation opening, can and most likely will have significant influence on the flow path as well as fire growth. If windows are ventilated research shows that we need to control the doors of those rooms to restrict flow paths and fire spread. Airflow will spread fire and it moves from high pressure taking the path of least resistance to the lower pressure areas.
Affecting Tactical Cultural Change
Everyone knows that most people do not embrace change. We can just about guarantee it is not going to be welcomed with open arms in most cases. To make change requires constant exposure and practice to make it part of the memory or culture. The change from RECEO VS to SLICERS will be like most change in the fire service — resisted. To cause change to occur with fire officers and firefighters they will need to understand and apply it utilizing training scenarios, under controlled conditions based on the department resources and tactical operational guidelines. SLICERS has to be part of your tactical standard operating guidelines. ISFSI has published a sample SOG for your utilization.
You can find that SOG by going to the ISFSI website, www.isfsi.org.
The ISFSI and many other fire service leaders acknowledges the resistance to change, but we believe it is important for fire departments to act on this information in a timely manner to enhance firefighter safety. Additionally, the ISFSI believes that chief officers, instructors, company officers, firefighters and all entities that support the fire service should make incorporating the latest in fire dynamic research into regular tactical operations a high priority.
For more information of this research please visit www.isfsi.org, there is a training program on the learning management system for your use in understanding this topic further.