Confusing the Message – My Apology

It has become apparent to me that an apology is in order for more reasons than one.  I'll be succinct since the volume of comments, both via e-mail and on the site have led me to the conclusion that my original message was mistaken, and then in replying to that, even more so.  So if you only make it this far, just know I am sorry for the confusion.

Let's begin with a few caveats and I should probably post this with easy access for all to read: First and foremost, Firehouse Zen is my blog; I am the only writer and the only one to blame if there is an issue on here. There are a number of reasons for that, even though I frequently get individuals who want to write a piece for the site.  It's just my first policy and I'm sticking with it.  So as much as I appreciate the offers, I have consistently declined.  I will link to your article if it is appropriate, I will paraphrase and even quote you, but all posts are mine.

Second, I have had a rule that regardless of the issue, we remain relatively civil.  This wasn't an issue here, but I have seen it happen elsewhere, so I always like to get it out there for everyone to see. There is room for discussion and dissent, but the moment things get out of control, I'll shut down comments.  But that said, if attacked, I will return fire, not out of policy but because I am human, and I usually regret it later.  But let nobody think I am a pushover because I am open to different viewpoints.

And lastly, because this is where I want to focus on for this instance: Firehouse Zen is not necessarily a "tactics" blog.  I will talk tactics all day long, which is part of the reason this is not a tactics blog, as I have a finite time to write what I do.  But the focus of this blog is leadership and change, not just in the fire service, but in the world.  That's why you get an occasional political observation or a rant on society.  So if I use a tactical issue as an example, you may have a differing opinion on it and I will entertain discussion, but I'm not going to let that genre hijack this blog.  There are lots and lots of blogs out there talking tactics, and mine is one of very few talking about the sociology of leading.  In fact, it might be the only one, although I'm sure I'll be corrected if I am wrong.

So to the issue: I respect the differences of opinion in regard to this specific research, or rather (as it is becoming more clear to me) the scientific process in replicating the experiments in a particular instance, resulting in data some observers felt was flawed.  I guess if I had asked more questions in reply rather than assuming an attack was going on, I could have drawn that conclusion.  Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa.

But let me also be perfectly clear: the science from the UL study bears out data that is pertinent to how we do the job, and the comments observed that sometimes it is THIS logic that people use as an excuse for not doing the entire job.  And I believe they are right about that as well.

Exterior streams have gotten a bad rap for as long as I can remember.  I remember my own father talking about the changes in operations when he made chief, forcing his department to stop engaging from the outside and going in and digging it out (this was in the 70's).  For you who might not realize it, that was also concurrent with the advent of SCBA and better PPE.  And all that being said, I am a supporter, fan, believer, lover, etc. of interior attack.  It is the most effective tool for finding and extinguishing fire in a structure where the seat is not obvious and we do not have structural conditions that contradict entry.  Was that well said enough for you?

However, and this is a big "however", this method of delivery came at the almost total exclusion of exterior streams except in defensive operations.  I know that I personally instructed firefighters (because of my own bias, what  was taught, and of course my incorrectly conducted personal observations) that we shouldn't use exterior streams because they "push fire".  Nothing against my instructors and mentors, but they beat this into me (sometimes literally) and while I still love them dearly, I realized some issues later that you may understand has colored my perspective on how to lead.

In the 90's, though, I did something interesting.  I went back to school.  In seeking a degree, I took a class that reminded me of the part I always loved about the job.  I like physics.  And in taking physics at the collegiate level, I realized some of the things I was understanding about the science of fighting fires didn't add up.  This was reinforced not too many years later when in the event of making changes in the way we operated, a class on fireground management actually caused us to do some small scale demonstration burns and proved to us the logic in that "streams push fire" was not sound.  So over 12 years ago, our department began to implement and train (at the MCAS Beaufort burn building) on transitional attack.  The result was that on fires like in the picture above (courtesy of my good friend, Chief Ed Boring), we implemented these attacks with astounding success.

I will admit, not everyone has gotten on the train, even in that length of time.  But the ones who did were very successful in how they were stopping fires.  The addition of Class A foam to our attack in the past ten years has even more so increased our effectiveness and, (knock on wood) we stop them where we find them.  But there is also the need to consider stream choice. We use breakaway nozzles in our department so we can utilize a solid stream, and honestly, that is my weapon of choice. The short version: if we roll up and fire is showing, we hit it quick (very quick), then we go in and dig it out.  The use of foam to do this makes that first stream lethal (to the fire) in its delivery.  More often than not, within seconds, we can be in there with reduced interior issues.

As one brother commented, in balloon frame and really, in almost every structure fire, there is a need to go interior and seek fire in the voids.  And I agree completely.  And exterior streams aren't going to solve that issue.  But the use of an exterior stream (given fire conditions are present) will make the building more tenable for entry and is a means of checking the forward progress of fire.

This does bring up another point, about "spraying smoke".  I believe in cooling the smoke to dissipate the heat and avoid flashover.  But if I'm not standing there with you saying, "You need to hit that", its a little hard for me to explain what gets sprayed and what doesn't.  I would say that if it is coming out under pressure, if it is dark, thick, boiling smoke, it needs to be cooled. But this is where that solid stream comes into play again.  If you consider the flow path to be out that opening, and it more often than not, is, then use of a solid stream is not going to close off that ventilation point.  It will disrupt the thermal balance, it will cool the gases, and it doesn't "block the hole".  What you are doing is buying time to avoid having a flashover occur.

So in conclusion, while I believe the intent was to educate that perhaps in this case, there was miscommunication on my part, the lesson to take from this is that questioning the findings of research is not bad, in fact, it is encouraged.  It is through questioning the research that we learn, and if the science can stand up to examination, it makes it valid.  That is, in fact, exactly what the fire service needs to make it more professional.  But it is the way in which we do it that is problematic.  I understand we are not all researchers, and those of us that are have over 200 years of tradition to fix, so you can say we are busy.  But the way in which firefighters have questioned science isn't necessarily conducive to discussion.

It may seem like us to be obvious, but it clearly is not.  This is why there are applied research papers being done at the Executive Fire Officer level and why more and more of us are taking a more scientific approach.  But resistance to findings because we have done something a certain way for years and it "seems" to work is not a good practice, mostly because what "seems" to work often ends up catastrophically, if not today, then very soon.

As things progress, we must advance our own science and through intelligent discourse, we can all be better and safer.  Thanks for engaging me and hopefully you all continue reading my humble ramblings.

1 Comment

  • Dave Werner says:

    I can assure you no respect was lost in this process, in fact I believe respect was gained (at least from my corner). I think what we have had going on here has been spot on and exactly what is needed. This is how we all learn and grow. I’m thankful for the individuals who devote their time and energy to EFO projects, and I hope to one day be a part of that program once I reach the requirements for entry. That being said, while the work accomplished by EFO projects is valuable, it doesn’t take a research project to figure out that our training (speaking on a nationwide level) tends to be inadequate for what we are facing these days. With less fires, in most areas, we are fighting a work environment which provides fewer and fewer opportunities to practice fireground decision making, tactics, and strategy. Unless we find ways to fight this lack of real world experience we are setting people up for failure. Again, I am thankful for all of the scientific work being done in the area of fire behavior and I am always eager to read up on the latest developments. That being said, at this point in my career I am in the trenches and I am much more focused on my proficiency, capabilities, and preparation, as well as those around me. We wage a constant war against complacency and mediocrity and for now this is where I fight. Although this is a narrow battle front, I believe it is the most critical. As Brad mentioned, too many of the deaths we see are health and driving related. These are the no brainers. While I don’t believe every single one of us is going to go home at the end of every shift, I’m going do everything I can to make myself as hard to kill as possible. Thanks again for being willing to work through the issues we have been dueling over. Stay smart and stay combat ready!

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