“…and here we go…”

I am confused.

Nearly every fire service magazine, website, or blog of any significance has talked for years about the dual dangers of modern construction and modern fuel packages.  You can read anywhere how the presence of plastics has increased the potential for fires to burn much hotter and to develop much faster. This fact combined with the inherent susceptibility of lightweight construction to quick failure, leaves  firefighters in a bad situation.

I am sure that we can all agree with that.

Further, sufficient science exists to show that most civilians who die in a fire do not die from thermal insult but rather from asphyxiation secondary to smoke inhalation-the greater part of which is carbon monoxide exposure.

I am sure that we can all agree with that.

Now I can’t swear to it but I suspect that most fires burn for at least a short period of time before being discovered. During the vast majority of its life a fire in the modern environment the fire is ventilation limited, meaning that there is insufficient oxygen to cleanly burn all the fuel present. This means that there are significant amounts of carbon monoxide present for most of the life of the fire.

I am sure that we can all agree with that.

It takes time to process a 911 call. It takes time to dispatch a 911 call. It takes time for firefighters to get dressed and start driving. It takes time to drive, to initiate a water supply, to stretch hand lines, and to mask up. While this clock is ticking the occupants of the structure are being exposed to heat, oxygen deprivation, and most tragically, carbon monoxide.

I am sure that we can all agree with that.

The primary mechanism of risk for the civilian then is the exposure to carbon monoxide that is being created by a fire burning uncontrolled and under-ventilated. As long as the fire burns it consumes oxygen, creates heat, and creates carbon monoxide.

It also true that the second we begin to apply water to a fire the rate of its burning is reduced, the amount of heat it can generate is reduced, and the amount of carbon monoxide it is able to make is reduced. The primary risk that requires reduction for the person trapped inside a burning house is the risk of being asphyxiated. The second we begin to apply water the risk is reduced.

Residential fire sprinklers save lives. They save lives by spraying water down from the ceiling onto burning surfaces. We can all agree to this too. They do not charge in the front door down the throat of new flow paths and into the door of the burning room. They do not smash windows or cut holes in roofs, they don’t spread fire by their fine spray. They still save lives.

Life Safety, Incident Stabilization, Property Conservation, in that order, just like I remembered.

Assuming there are no jumps in my logic and assuming that my primary objective is to account for life safety and assuming that the primary risk to the trapped occupant is the fire and assuming that the second I begin to apply water that risk is reduced, I should want to apply that water as quickly as possible.

Arguably I have reduced the inherently chaotic and complicated nature of firefighting to some very basic terms. I have removed the “fog” of confusion. I have assumed that every fire station was located based on some valid mathematical formula. I have assumed that all units were in quarters, that there was no delay at the fire station, none of the fire engines went the wrong way, there was no trouble stretching the line, and that the crews took the right line to the seat of the fire quickly. That was a lot of assuming. We can all agree that things are never that perfect.

But I think that for most people who have followed along thus far this is where the agreeing turns innocent faces red and the disagreeing begins. Most firefighters know that the best way, the fastest way, to save a life in a fire is to put water on the fire as quickly as possible. They know this. They know that everything gets better after the fire is darkened down. They know searches can move more quickly and can be more efficient after the fire is darkened down.

But they still believe, most of them, that in most cases, almost all cases that the best place, the right place to apply the water is from the inside out. Even though it takes time to get a line stretched, time to force entry, time to do a circle check, time to mask up, time to move through the structure, it all takes time.  The one commodity that a person trapped by carbon monoxide in a burning house does not have in abundance is time.

The modern firefighter can believe everything I said so far. He/she really wants to do the right thing. They want to save lives. But they also believe that all this talk of exterior streams as the de facto mode of initial operation is a sign of the demise of the modern fire service. They believe that deploying a hand line to an exterior position as a matter of policy makes one a sissy, a coward, a heretic, a modern day Joan of Arc, and an anti-hero all at once.

They will say that I got it all wrong, that the science they refer to in lectures during probie training is right, is good science. The science that says fires need fuel, oxygen, and heat, and when one of these ingredients is missing the fire goes away. That science is valid. However, somehow the science that says it does not matter where the water comes from, that science is tragically flawed.

The second we begin to apply water to a fire the rate of its burning is reduced, the amount of heat it can generate is reduced, and the amount of carbon monoxide it is able to make is reduced.

The second we begin to apply water to a fire things get better for the trapped people and things get better for the firefighters. The risk of dying a horrible death goes down dramatically for both parties. The risk of experiencing a positive outcome goes up for both parties.

I am confused how about how it should matter where the water comes from.

 

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Comments
8 Responses to ““…and here we go…””
  1. We cannot have absolutes in the fire service. We must provide the best possible service, that is based on the situation in front of us. If this means getting a “quick hit” from the exterior to knock down the fire is the best for the situation, then it should be done. Just as making a push interior to perform search, rescue and fire control may be warranted in other situations.

    The demise of the fire service, will only be suffered by those unwilling to change. We should concern ourselves only with solving the problem not stroking our own egos.

    • firechat says:

      I tend to agree. Now what sort of process do you use to make the critical decisions-“based on the situation in front of us.”

      • Are you posing this as a question? A decision making process used within my system goes something like this.

        1. Identify the 3 most critical factors, typically life, fire size/location, and building type.
        2. Ask what is the risk to us and to them
        3. What is the benefit to us and to them
        4. Decide a strategy
        5. Decide the attack type
        6. Confirm or change based on a 360.

        If hitting the fire from a defensive position will keep it in check until more support arrives or fire conditions change enough to enter, we do so.

        I feel their are 4 attack methods, fast attack, offensive, quick hit and defensive. All have their place. And to talk about pushing fire, the only time I see this happenis with parital or full collapse and using master streams that miss the fire in void spaces. Never have I seen pushed fire by a properly directed hose stream.

        Great site by the way.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I beleive it all goes back to the basics. If i have a fire room on the Bravo side of a house and the victims are in the Delta side of the house its not a good tactic to put water in the Bravo side and push everything to the Delta side. Now everyone talks about “You cant push fire” BS. I have seen it. I have seen departments push fire from one end of a home to the other and back again becuase of improper hose line positioning. All hose lines were coming in from the Outside. Also I have heard fireman say well what if the door is shut in the fire room? Yeah ok what are you gonna do go inside and see? If so just take a hoseline with you. Reading smoke may tell you that. But are you gonna risk someones life on a guess? BASICS PEOPLE!!!!!!! Go in put the fire out. Problem solved.

    • firechat says:

      You say you have seen it and I want to believe you. Can you explain the situation you were in when you saw fire “pushed” across a house. Please provide all the details.

    • Just for discussion’s sake, is it possible that the fire spread mentioned was related to inappropriate ventilation and/or inadequate water flow? I believe many fires that appear to be “pushed”, are in fact “pulled” by venting windows, or opening doors, on the side of the structure opposite the fire or they are “pushed”, or simply allowed to grow, because there isn’t an adequate volume of water being applied to the seat of the fire.

  3. Jim Cable says:

    I would agree that it should make no difference to the fire and involved fuel packages as to whether water in sufficient quantity to control the fire is applied into the fire area through an interior door or an exterior window, as long as the water can be applied to those involved fuel packages effectively enough to control that fire. Assuming that this can occur from the exterior, rather than simply flowing water through windows at smoke or from positions where the main body of fire cannot be controlled, a line must then be placed between the fire area and the remainder of the structure (i.e. on the interior) as soon as possible to protect potential victims and the members searching for them. Basic, as noted.
    I’d suggest that the scenario Anonymous offers, and which many of us can relate to, if not have participated in, may have been more the result of unchecked fire extension throughout the interior of the structure as a result of the ineffectiveness of those exterior streams due to an inability to put enough water on the main body of fire, rather than the “pushing” effect of those streams.

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