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.
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.