No Trash Talking – Follow Up

When someone opposes my viewpoint, I usually take pains to understand their perspective. I value other observations on the issues, provided they are respectful of others and also consider alternative perspectives.  A few weeks back, when I posted No Trash Talking, I suggested change should be embraced if the science recommending the change bears it out. 

Before I go there, however, I did get feedback from others who pointed out other factors like balloon frame construction and the fact that not too many compartment fires go without void space involvement.  And as these observations were respectful and pertinent, I really appreciate them.  I will quickly reply to that as well: I don't believe for a minute that structural firefighting can be limited to exterior attack.  But that being said, the science defends that we can effectively mount a transitional attack without fear of pushing a fire through the building, if anything, to check rapidly progressing fire conditions.  In those situations, I would utilize the quick knockdown then transition to digging out fire in void spaces from inside if warranted.

I did get a comment to that post, however, that I wanted to discuss. I am going to admit that each time I went to address it, my post sounded like I was delivering a public spanking. But this was the comment and I do at least appreciate that they included a link to their own article:

Do not lump all of us who oppose this movement as being stuck in the past.  Myself and others are more than open to advances in our field.  Our problem is when information is cloaked in political propaganda, when the ideas presented do not make sense based on current scientific evidence, and when “new information” is really something we have all known for years.  Don’t just assume that we are uneducated, stubborn naysayers who have nothing substantial to add.

No matter how I phrased it, I found anything I might say could be construed as heavy-handed.  However, after taking a moment to re-read the comment, I went to the linked article from the commenter.  At that site, I then read the article written by Chief Shane Ray in Fire Chief magazine that he was referring to.

The goal of this post is to clarify that I do consider that anyone who would refute scientific evidence without any substantiating counter-argument to be uneducated and stubborn.  And yes, that does infer that those who oppose the movement (in the case of my post, that of the use of quantifiable and measurable data to develop fire tactics) are stuck in the past.  I am not saying that contesting a finding is inappropriate; I am saying that constesting a finding without anything other than your personal observations is.

Let me repeat: I never have said interior attack was not an option.  I said (paraphrasing) that given a choice between applying an exterior stream and an interior stream, if both are equally effective, we should use our head and opt for the safe one over the relatively unsafe one, especially if we can get water on the fire faster from the outside than on the inside. Regardless, the post wasn't even about tactics, it was about the reluctance of people to change when change is warranted.  But since we are going here, let's do it.

Let me make it perfectly clear. Research conducted by a number of sources found the application of exterior streams on compartment fires did not “push” fire, either onto victims or throughout a building.  

I have another paper due and not much time, so I’m going to cut to the chase.  My immediate literature review involved going straight to the UL report Impact of Ventilation on Fire Behavior in Legacy and Contemporary Residential Construction (Kerber, 2011).  There are other studies that Chief Ray cites in his article and they all provide the same observations.  So for the sake of time, let's just use this one right now.

The UL report identified the methodology: Fire was allowed to grow to approximately peak burning rate before the stream was applied.  Temperatures were measured 30 seconds before stream application, during the 10 seconds of the stream being applied, and then 30 seconds after.  The crews operating the streams specifically attempted to push fire and hot gases into exposure rooms while not putting water directly on the items burning in the room.
There was no evidence of the fire being pushed into the surrounding rooms.  Temperatures tended to decrease and temperature increases that did occur after water application were minimal. Fire progress was checked and external water application had no observable impact on what would have been considered tenability of the building. The results of this research were pretty obvious: when water was applied from the exterior, it did not push the fire, the streams did not create an untenable situation, and it did check fire progress.
Chief Ray can defend his own article, but I didn’t see anything in his observations that were unfounded.  To me, the derisive references to “spraying smoke” didn’t consider what Chief Ray had actually said, as his article actually referred to spraying smoke in the context that cooling the fuel (smoke is a fuel) might have beneficial effect, and if it didn’t hurt the situation, then it wasn’t a bad idea.  Obviously the commenter has problems with the science of cooling fuel, but we have been doing that since I became a firefighter in 1980.
I began to defend all the other options and how transitional attacks seemed to work, etc.  Then I realized that none of this evidence based nonsense was going to make any difference to some people. The author shared:
I have already discussed in previous articles why I do not agree with making fully prepared crews stand on the sidewalk and fight a fire from the safety of the exterior. It flies against every responsibility we shoulder as firefighters. It continues to be used as an excuse to cover up for lack of preparation and training.

So let’s talk tactics: If the research shows that a quick exterior application of a stream will check fire progress, not result in a substantial increase of interior temperatures, and improve tenability for occupants in less time than it would to deploy an interior line, find the fire room, and attack the fire, you STILL want to make the interior attack? Why? 

The author states that the purpose of his article is to “expose the other side of the argument.”  I am wondering then, what is the other side of the argument? He says his rebuttal “isn't packaged as nicely and doesn't include pictures of myself, but it is from the heart.” 

Well, here's where my comments are going to hurt some feelings. My answer is that it is time we stopped thinking with our “heart” in regard to tactics, and started thinking with our head. We have the FDNY, the Chicago Fire Department, and Underwriters Laboratories conducting research that all agrees.  His contention is that putting water on fire coming out of a window is bad, but other than his feelings as to why that is wrong (and the fact that it runs counter to verifiable, observable evidence), we have nothing.  

I support differences of opinion, so long as your opinion is voiced respectfully. When you try to make me and others sound like an idiot, well, I have problems with that, but okay, I can even live with that.  But when we are talking about what is a best practice for the job, will save firefighter lives and is scientifically shown to not result in adverse effects, and you say you don’t like it, well, you should probably just keep your opinion to yourself.

I had a whole bunch of other stuff to say about this, but I'm simply not going to go there.  As a chief fire officer, when I give someone an order to do something, it is an order based on what is the most effective means to bring resources to bear on a problem with the most chance of success and the least amount of risk to completing the overall operational objectives.  I’ll highlight it for you: It has nothing to do with what is in my heart.  

My job is to save lives, protect property and the environment, and to do my best to bring everyone home in one piece.  If that requires an interior attack to dig out the fire, then we'll suit up and go get it.  But if there is a more effective method, well, I don’t care what tradition says about heart, responsibility, or courage, the science trumps it. I could care less if that sucks the fun out of anyone's day.  We're not doing kumbaya here.  People's lives are on the line.  Let's act like it and do the right thing.


  • Tracy wife of Deputy Chief says:

    Thank You !!!!!!!!!!!

  • Brad says:

    I would say that the comments made struck a nerve with you. First, we must realize that not everyone is going to be on the same page with the scientific findings of the Spartanburg burns. This doesn’t mean that those individuals are wrong, they simply don’t agree with the proposed tactic. Aren’t we all entitled to our own opinions? If you didn’t care for his views, you may not agree with mine either. After all, the findings were skewed. Older shotgun houses were burned with very limited furnishings. Another thing that was even less impressive was the lack of research on other fireground functions. I never saw any evolutions done with vertical ventilation taking place. Oh, that’s right, we shouldn’t be doing vertical vent anymore because it’s too dangerous. Whatever, come to my department and you will see it on a regular basis. With all of this money spent and all the equipment on hand, this would have been a wonderful time to experiment with all sorts of fire attack while completing other vital functions. Also, wouldn’t $619K go a long way in providing a great deal of training for our responders?

    First of all, this “new” tactic is not new at all. Firefighters have been spraying water through windows for years. You being a veteran of the fire service surely would agree with me on that. Granted, the new cool readings, fancy sensors and hefty price tag for a week of burning structures is modern, but not the idea of transitional attack. I truly believe we have so many jumping on the bandwagon in support of these new findings to make a name for themselves or because they are afraid to express themselves if they don’t believe in the tactic. Certain times or conditions may warrant a quick pop through a window, but as fire service leaders and trainers, we must be very careful how we present this idea of transitional attack. The number of fires are down everywhere and our new generation of firefighters are simply not experiencing the amount of fire our veterans are. If we focus our attention on exterior firefighting and transitional attacks, I fear we are setting the future of our profession up for failure. When the time actually comes for these less seasoned members to quickly advance and perform a rescue or attack, will they be ready? Probably not, because our training and preparedness isn’t where it needs to be. I was just in an instructor update earlier this evening and was told the SCFA will be phasing out the FLAG class becasue the fires are too big and hazardous on campus. GIVE ME A BREAK! We are attempting to turn a blue collar profession into a white collar world. As a training officer, I know we can’t ignore these new findings because we live in a technology driven world. I also know that sound, hardcore firefighting tactics and skills saves lives and we can’t abandon that. The same can be said for interior firefighting.

    Secondly, how can we warrant spraying smoke through a window if the water never reaches the seat of the fire? Yeah, you may cool the overhead in that room, but the fire will continue to grow in other rooms where the water is not reaching. This is very possible when you arrive to find heavy smoke showing, but no fire visible. In many rural areas, the use of water by the first arriving engine is vital. I’m not so sure that emptying your booster tank through a window is the best choice. I was in attendance during the Spartanburg burns and I witnessed a large amount of water being applied through windows during several scenarios. Now, let’s send in the calvary to complete extinguishment on the interior. Oh, by the way, we may have weakened the structure with all of the water we just dumped in the window. Sure hope our guys don’t fall into a “still burning” basement because the first floor was weakened. Also, let’s consider the victims that lay just inside a door or window that can be saved by performing a quick search (rescue is priority) rather than stretching a line to a window and opening the nozzle. Haven’t you peformed a search without a hoseline before the engine crews get there stuff together. My guys and I have, and that saves lives. And don’t mention survivability profiling anywhere near me. That is a load of crap that we use to feel better about ourselves when we chose not to attempt a rescue or advancement simply because we weren’t prepared. I don’t need another fancy term to make decisions on if I should enter. That’s what my knowledge, training and experience should do. If someone doesn’t have the experience needed to make the call, they sure as hell better try to gain it through knowledge and training.

    We need to be presenting transitional attack as a way, NOT THE WAY! It’s a tool for the toolbox, for lack of better terms. Don’t get me wrong, we shouldn’t ignore the findings at all. I am just pointing out concerns that many of my colleagues and myself have. Sorry if I am not excited and ready to change all of my fireground strategy and tactics yet. I am not ignoring firefighter safety either. Interior firefighting is ultrahazardous, if you don’t believe so just look under your helmet and inside your bunker gear. We can’t deny that the majority of firefighter deaths are health and driving related. But the fireground deaths will always get the most attention and these tend to make us question the way we do business. Our training, as a whole, has got to improve. The fire service has gotten soft and we need to challenge ourselves to stay combat ready!

    Sorry for the long post, but I felt I needed to share the other side with you. You may not agree with me, but we both are entitled to our own views and opinions. Calling out a fellow brother on your website because he doesn’t see things exactly like you isn’t going to further our fire service. This is a hot topic in the fire service, and I am certain more disagreements and opposite views are on the horizon.

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