Are You Listening to the Research?

By Brian P. Kazmierzak and Drew R. Smith

Have you, your fire department, or the fire service really been listening to the message behind all of the new modern fire behavior studies and tactics, or have you been putting your own twist on what has been said? It seems to me that most of the fire service is only hearing one side or the other and not the entire message behind the tactics and the studies off which they are based.

Any day of the week, you can find someone on any number of fire service blogs or social media that exists, giving opinions on the studies and how the writer agrees or disagrees with the tactics. In addition, it seems that when a department does implement these tactics and they are captured on video, they are crucified by the keyboard incident commanders (KICs).

I don’t see why it’s so hard for one to change his mindset on how to do this job; the world changes, so why can’t you? Look at the world today vs. 25 years ago—no internet, no smartphones, no flat screen TVs, no iPads and, worst of all, no search engines. But the fire service, for some reason, has embraced the mantra from Backdraft: “150 years of tradition unimpeded by progress.” But why? Why do we refuse change? Sure, some of us still wish we were riding the tailboard or wearing hip boots, but most of us have embraced riding, seated and belted in the cab, or wearing bunkers and self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). But, if you mention a change in fire service tactics, you become an instant pariah and are looked at as a sissy, a wimp, or a firefighter who is just looking for a reason to not go inside. What you must remember, though, is that the built environment where you do your job has changed. Stick-built, solid structures filled with natural products have been replaced by structures built of sawdust and glue, filled with plastics and other synthetic products that have enormous heat release rates.

When was the last time there was actual science behind our tactics in the United States? Although there have been some minor studies done, the most prevalent prior to the Underwriters Laboratories (UL)/National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) research where the “Little Drops of Water” studies by Lloyd Layman in 1950, most of which was based off shipboard firefighting and tactics adapted to residential firefighting.

So, why, when the UL/NIST studies come out and suggest we need to LOOK at the way of possibly doing things differently, do we go absolutely crazy and complain about ruining the fire service. The funny thing is the rest of the firefighting world has challenged the US tactics, and have been doing things differently for quite some time now. Sure, some will argue that buildings may be built differently, but the contents are the same that we have here in the United States such as plastics, solid hydrocarbons with high-heat release rates, and so on. Even their turnout gear is light years ahead of ours, but we continue to stick with tradition like leather helmets, even though they may weigh four pounds more than their plastic counterparts.

Steve Kerber’s 2013 presentation, “Ventilation, Flow Paths and Suppression Tactics,” features  a slide entitled, “IF YOU HEAR!”  Unfortunately, it seems a large number of firefighters are hearing the wrong message, interpreting it the wrong way, or just plain not listening. Following are some common topics that just aren’t being heard properly.



There is no research that says NEVER horizontally ventilate or never vertically ventilate. Sure, the research says that opening the front door or making any opening in the structure will create a flow path or air track that can intensify the fire. It also looks at the different size of openings, but all it means is that ventilation needs to coordinated when putting water on the fire. This concept should not be new, and it can be best summed up by a quote by the late Captain Tom Brennan:

“[It] comes down to tactics …. I don’t want to do anything [task] first. I want to do seven things all at once. Now, you have a safe building and you can operate within that structure with an acceptable level of risk …. Today, we have these explosive bombs because there’s nobody showing up to make [the buildings] behave.” 

The biggest issue with this in today’s fire service and its tactics should be the lack of proper staffing that doesn’t allow us to do seven things at once; we have to adapt our tactics to what we have, which makes the UL/NIST studies more sensible. Another issue that exists and which is closely related is the firefighter that takes a truck operations class from a member of a large city fire department—for example, a department that runs six members to a truck company—and tries to take those tactics back to a department that runs two to three people on a truck company. It’s not apples to apples; it’s more like apples to rocks. Those tactics cannot be applied in the same way in a small department that they can in a large, well-staffed department. We see lots of aggressive, young members from assorted departments attend some of the best hands-on truck skills training offered by a variety of instructors from departments all across this county. Yet, many of them forget to control the door they have just forced. The instructors didn’t leave this step out, but somehow it does not transfer into a fireground practice for many. Why?

Tom Brennan once told me that that in the 10,000 fires to which he responded in his career, he doesn’t remember ever seeing a flashover. That should say several things right there…  They had the staffing to make the building behave, but they were also dealing with a completely different fuel load in the 1960s and 1970s, with different heat release rates than those of  today.

If you not familiar with the terms “flow path” and “air track,” which actually go back to the middle 1800s, their meanings follow:

Air Track. This is the movement of air and smoke as observed from the exterior and interior of the structure. Air track is used to describe a group of fire behavior indicators that includes direction of smoke movement at openings (e.g., outward, inward, pulsing), velocity and turbulence, and movement of the lower boundary of the upper layer (e.g., up, down, pulsing). 

Flow Path. In a compartment fire, flow path is the course of movement of hot gases between the fire and exhaust openings and the movement of air toward the fire. Flow path can significantly influence fire spread and the hazard presented to occupants and firefighters.

The internet features many videos showing firefighters standing at the front door trying to charge the line and mask up while, in a matter of one to two minutes, the whole place lights up and they are forced to retreat or use ineffective tactics. Why?



Firefighters seem to be afraid of research that tells you to ALWAYS hit it from the outside and you will NEVER go inside again. But, if you pay attention to the research, you will learn very quickly that the opposite is true. The research is clear: you have about two to three minutes to get inside and, after making the quick hit or softening the target, extinguish the contents fire before it reaches flashover stage again. Just as in football, the goal of the defense is to stop forward progress; it is the same here: The quick hit is used to slow up the forward progress of the fire.

Although some may consider it a defensive position, it’s hard to argue with its offensive outcomes. But, no matter the offensive outcomes, you still have to get that hoseline inside in an offensive position to finish extinguishing the fire. In addition, we still go inside for fires with no evident fire showing, but the key here is to use the nozzle to cool the superheated environment and (if the nozzle will reach from 20 feet away) to put out the fire so you don’t have to be inside the fire room. So, no matter the situation, we will go inside unless it’s a completely defensive fire.



Suddenly, two new fire service tactical acronyms have come to challenge RECEO-VS. Some will say we have no reason to change. Which one is correct, and which one isn’t? Although I am a fan of SLICE-RS and practice it in my own department, it is not the acronym that makes the attack sequence successful; it’s how the attack sequence tactics are applied to the conditions determined during the size-up including the 360° walkaround, which must be done every time it’s possible, and the thermal imaging camera (TIC), which will size up fire location, extent, and so on. Part of the size-up as well continues as we make entry, watch out for conditions that signal flashover, and do not be afraid to cool the environment even if we are spraying water just on smoke. Things such as “black fire” are killing us, and we must spend more time on fire behavior training with every rank of our departments; just not the usual three hours during recruit school.


Another argument against the SLICE-RS concept says that we are delaying the search to put water on the fire and we could be steaming the people inside. Well, if you do nothing at all, conditions are just going to get worse. In most cases, slowing down the fire will help increase chances of survival. But, remember that it’s the fire gases that kill in most cases. So, unless the door is closed or the victim is in an area of refuge, his chances of survival are pretty slim in the first place, so by no means is the hose being moved into the window going to do more harm to the victim.

SLICE-RS (International Society of Fire Service Instructors/Eddie Buchanan)

  • Size-Up
  • Locate the Fire (360° every time with TIC)
  • Isolate the flow patch
  • Cool from a safe distance
  • Extinguish
  • Rescue
  • Salvage

DICERS – VO (Fire Department of New York Lieutenant Ray McCormack)

  • Detect
  • Isolate
  • Confine
  • Extinguish
  • Rescue
  • Salvage
  • Ventilation
  • Overhaul

RECEO-VS (Lloyd Layman)

  • Rescue
  • Exposures
  • Confinement
  • Extinguish
  • Overhaul
  • Ventilation
  • Salvage



This current issue and the emerging research have two basic components: The behavior of modern fuels when they burn and the effect of our tactics have on them. As firefighters, we cannot change the laws of science and affect how the fire will burn. We can understand our tactics and their effect on the fire.

We have gotten here because, over the past several decades, generations of firefighters have taken principles and turned them into rules. Some rules can be dangerous. Rules usually contain words like “always” or “never” and mandate a course of action that is inflexible. Principles are not so rigid because a principle guides our behavior and influences our decision making. Principles are based on science, research, and consensus of subject matter experts. We have taken terms like “offensive” and “defensive” and married to them other terms such as “interior” and “exterior” or “handline,” and “master stream.” How and why did this happen? I can’t say. But I do know this: When Royer and Nelson of Iowa State University expanded on Lloyd Layman’s work, they demonstrated offensive attacks that began on the exterior. These can be seen in the 1961 film The Nozzleman. If you believe an offensive attack can only occur on the interior and that, if you are outside, you must be defensive, you probably also believe that a master stream that is being used must be defensive, too. Here are the principles, not the rules:

First, if you think you can and are going to try to put the fire out, you are choosing an offensive strategy. If you know you cannot win but can stop things from getting worse, you are being defensive. It’s that simple. Strategy is determined by what you feel you can accomplish, not from where you try to accomplish it.

Second, if you feel you can win, you must match gallons per minutes (GPMs) to British thermal units even if that means you start with a master stream. Believe it or not, some departments have successfully used the newer, lightweight, portable master streams, dare I say, on the interior to achieve a successful offensive attack. It’s the water that’s key—not the hose or nozzle used—but the hose and nozzle must be able to deliver the needed GPM. It’s that simple.

Third, if you choose a strategy, and then a stream to match, you must determine a position from which to operate. The number-one factor in this decision is “how close do I need to be to get the job done as safe as possible?” Why do we crawl on top of the fire when the water out the end of the nozzle reaches 25 to 100 feet depending on the stream and pressure? Is it because we have inadvertently trained candidates who become firefighters to do this in live fire training facilities that are generally smaller and do not have floor plans representative of actual structure fires we fight? We can’t build NFPA 1403, Standard on Live Fire Training Evolutions, compliant live burns that sufficiently represent the fires you now face. Are you providing a false impression to those recruits you train each year? Strategy, stream, and position are principles that we should use to guide our behavior and influence our decision making, and but they should not be rules.


What we did in the past we did the best we could with the information on which we had trained. If you look back to the mid-20th century, you will see that there was COORDINATED attack. The ventilation was timed to the stream application. We have substituted better personal protective equipment (PPE), SCBA, and the brute strength these things exude to permit for the smarter work produced by our predecessors. But, times have changed, fire loads have increased dramatically, and homes are full of basically solid gasoline. We now live in a time of computers, research, and knowledge as well as PPE with extremely high thermal protection performance ratings. Just look at some of the line-of-duty death (LODD) research that has been done using fire modeling software in the cases of the Kyle Wilson and Mark Falkenhan; that information was not available to us just 10 years ago.

Look at the UL/NIST studies and the decrease in the number of fires to which we actually go. Now consider that the number of interior attack LODDs is not really decreasing. Something needs to change. So, I encourage you to read, study, analyze and decide; don’t just make decisions based on the past and what you have been taught. Take time to learn! However, remember the definition of insanity: Repeating the same behavior and expecting a different result. We don’t have to stop and turn 180°. Like professional athletes, need to watch the video, listen to the coach, and adjust our grip or stance. That’s all. Don’t say “always” or “never” and don’t ignore the coach and video.

If the fire service truly wanted to save lives, then we ALL would be out pushing for tighter building codes, more inspections, residential fire sprinklers, and ensuring smoke alarms work on a daily basis instead of riding the “recliner of rage” or being KICs! We seem more worried and passionate about arguing whether or not we should search vacant dwellings or use a fog vs. smooth bore nozzle than things that could make a true difference in the civilian fire death count each year. In addition, we should also be out learning and understanding the research and training and perfecting our tactics instead of crucifying others as KICs or knocking holes in studies just because we believe it says something it really doesn’t.

Finally, keep in mind that THIS STUFF IS NOT NEW. Tom Brennan used to preach, “Put water on the fire and the rest of your problems go away.” The late Lieutenant Andy Fredericks would preach, “You don’t need to jump out the windows if you put the fire out.”

I highly encourage readers to watch the following two videos from fire service experts that really put the research and tactics in context for all:



Let no man’s ghost ever come back to say his training let him down!

Photo found on Wikimedia Commons courtesy of Denis Janssen


Brian P. Kazmierzak, EFO, CTO, has been a member of the fire service since 1991. Brian is currently employed by the Penn Twp. Fire Dept. in Mishawaka, IN as Division Chief on C-Shift and also the Chief of Training. He was the founding member of the MABAS Division 201 Tactical Rescue Team and currently serves as a Team Leader, MABAS 201 TRT provides technical rescue response using a coordinated system of six fire departments serving a nine county area in Indiana and Michigan. He has an associate’s degree in emergency services administration from Indiana University, an associate’s degree in fire science from Ivy Tech State College, and a bachelor’s degree in fire service administration from Southern Illinois University. In addition, Kazmierzak completed the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program in 2006 and is a CPSE credentialed chief training officer.

Kazmierzak serves director of operations for where he runs the day to day operations of the leading fire service safety and training Web site along with publishing THE SECRET LIST and recently launched the Web site with Firefighter Close Calls and the UL FSRI. Kazmierzak was the recipient of the 2006 F.O.O.L.S. International Dana Hannon Instructor of the Year Award, the 2008 Indiana Fire Chiefs Training Officer of the Year Award recipient, and the 2011 Fire Engineering/ISFSI George D. Post International Fire Service Instructor of the Year Award at FDIC. He was in the original Blue Card Hazard Zone Management Instructor Course ( and serves as Blue Card instructor and program contributor for Version 2 of the online program. He is a member of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors, Indiana Fire Instructors Association, Michiana FOOLS and has served as a Peer Assessor and team leader for the Commission on Fire Accreditation International. He is also a partner in the Web site as well as running his own company, KAZ-FIRE Consulting, Simulation, and Training. He is also a board member of the ISFSI serving as a Director at Large and serves on the UL FSRI PPV Research Study Panel.

Drew R. Smith, BS, CFO is deputy chief for the Prospect Heights (IL) Fire District. He has been a member of the fire service for 36 years and a chief officer for the past 24 years, serving in volunteer, part-time, private, and municipal career departments. Smith also serves as the director of the Northeastern IL Public Safety Training Academy (NIPSTA) Firefighter Academy, which trains both entry-level and incumbent career members. He has been a member of the MABAS Division 3 Technical Rescue Team since 1988, its director between 1992 and 2012, and currently the liaison to the regional joint chiefs. Between 2002 and 2012 he served as the chair of the MABAS-IL Statewide Technical Rescue committee coordinating 39 regional teams. He hold multiple advanced certifications from the Illinois State Fire Marshal in the areas of firefighting, technical rescue, and hazardous materials, as well as Instructor I-IV and Training Program Manager. Among his experiences are the formation of a new fire department, implementation of paramedic transport ambulances into existing fire departments, transitions from volunteer to career staff, and the implementation of a first aerial apparatus into fire departments. He is a member of several state and national fire service organizations including the IAFC and ISFSI. He has presented at FDIC numerous times over the past 23 years.

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