Attacking fire from the burned side

“Attacking from the Burned Side Can Save Lives” (Fire Engineering, November 2011) fails to show this approach can indeed save lives. The article offers some great examples explaining how attacking from the burned side can save property, can be easier for understaffed departments, and is more effective at extinguishing certain types of fires. The problem is these are all beside the point.

Our primary responsibility is life safety. The old adage that if you make the fire go out, most of your problems go away is true. But so is the acronym RECEOVS that says you must contain a fire before you can extinguish it. Operating an exterior line without having a protective line in place in the interior is asking for catastrophic results. The first hoseline must be stretched for two reasons: to protect the primary means of egress and to be placed between the fire and potential victims. If this hoseline is also able to extinguish the fire, then you have killed two birds with one stone. But if your first hoseline at an occupied dwelling fire is stretched and operated from the exterior without an interior line, you are writing off anybody inside.

Even if you are not pushing the fire from the exterior to the interior, as the author states, you are still pushing superheated gases and smoke, which contain plenty of carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide that will eliminate any chance a victim could have to survive. Look at any video where fire is venting out a window. When a line opens up from the interior, all of the smoke and steam gets pushed turbulently out the window as it expands. If you have an exterior line operating, you will be forcing the same action into the interior.

Also, the line-of-duty deaths and close calls the author talks about are very vague. They do not address some basic questions such as, Were there reports of people trapped? Did these firefighters have a hoseline with them? Did they perform a 360-degree walk-around? What were their staffing levels? These and many other questions would play a role in explaining how the deaths and close calls occurred and why certain tactics were chosen. The author seems to want to write off any civilians inside because it’s safer for us. Sure, it is safer for us to attack a fire from the exterior. There is no possibility of the floor coming out from under us, we can easily escape a flashover, and many times we are not operating in an immediately dangerous to life and health atmosphere on the exterior.

I’m not saying we should go interior on a fully involved house with lightweight construction where everybody is confirmed out. But if you feel that civilians could be alive inside (such as in photos 4-9 in the article), then your first hoseline needs to be deployed to the interior to protect them. An exterior line may be your best bet for extinguishment, but extinguishment is not our first priority; life safety is. Any delay in a line that protects civilians can cause conditions to change dramatically.

The problem with the author’s idea of “attack from the burned side and then quickly apply a second hoseline to the interior to protect occupants” is that by the time you get a second hoseline to the interior, it will be too late. These tactics need to be reversed to where the first hoseline is stretched to protect the occupants and the second hoseline can attack the fire from the burned side (exterior). If this tactic is employed, use extreme care to prevent opposing hoselines.

The author writes, “One of the first things we were taught at the fire academy is to ‘attack the seat of the fire.’ ” Actually, before that, we were taught that lives come first and that the first line should go to protect the primary means of egress. These are two points that seemed to be dismissed in this article.

This article is a good view on how to extinguish fires where the only life hazard is us. This may be in a warehouse, a garage, a house under construction, or a situation where everyone is confirmed out. It is also a good tactic when there is an imminent danger of collapse and the incident commander feels that he does not want to commit anyone in the building. However, if the priority of any fire is civilian life safety, then these tactics must be delayed and the first hoseline must be deployed to protect the primary means of egress, and the line must be placed between the fire and civilians to increase the survivability of anybody still inside.

Daniel Gordon
Training Officer
Trumbull Center (CT) Fire Department

Sean Gray responds: Thanks for the interest in the article and the passion with which you have responded to it. I agree with you completely that life safety is of utmost importance, for victims as well as firefighters. Sometimes the best way to save lives is by putting the fire out. This is accomplished with the proper placement of a hoseline to confine the fire and the right attack on the seat of the fire to extinguish it.

The types of fires discussed in this article are fires that originated on the exterior of the structure. These fires are different from the typical fire because they’re not confined to a specific room for us to be able to confine the fire within. These fires stay hidden in voids on the interior while they’re fed by the uncontrolled seat of the fire on the exterior. These types of fires have very little products of combustion inside of the structure; that is why they catch firefighters off guard. As the case studies discussed, hostile fire events occurred while crews were inside attempting to locate, confine, and extinguish these fires.

My department has a minimum staffing of three personnel. With a well-trained crew, it is possible for one firefighter, with the help of a proactive driver, to stretch the exterior line while the officer completes a walk-around. The driver can then charge the exterior line and pull a secondary line to the front door for rapid deployment to the interior. As discussed in the article, using the Corner Attack Method with the exterior hoseline will eliminate pushing any type of steam into the structure. You are essentially cutting the fire off of the exterior of the structure and keeping it from getting into the soffit vent. This exterior hose stream is never placed directly into the structure through a window. It is only there to extinguish the materials on the outside of the structure. Using the Corner Attack Method also eliminates the problem of opposing hose streams.

My department has been very successful with this tactic, and civilian life safety has never been at risk. During our current times, many departments are facing challenges with staffing, and this tactic is not for everyone; it’s just another tool in the tool box. This tactic could be used while waiting for other crews to arrive so you can meet the two-in/two-out regulation.

The saving lives reference of the article title is directed at firefighters. These fires have been causing firefighter injuries and deaths around the country. These fires can be hidden and uncontained inside the attic space, which can cause a flashover event with a pressure wave that pushes in the ceiling unexpectedly on top of firefighters. Based on the research from the fires referenced in the article, these types of fires are becoming more commonplace within suburban areas. The use of a solid stream is important to reduce the entrainment of air behind the stream and increase the size of the water droplets. Smooth bore vs. fog stream is another debate altogether. If fog nozzles are what your department runs with, great. They are versatile. Just have the bezel turned all the way to the right to give you a straight stream.

I realize that this article discusses tactics that are not traditionally taught in the fire service. However, most of the tactics that we use are specifically designed to extinguish room-and-content fires. The fires discussed in the article are not room-and-content fires. They are exterior fed fires, and they require different tactics. Hopefully, you can take something from the article and use these tactics if the conditions are ever right for you.

“Code of Honor” message “on point”

Bobby Halton’s “The Fire Service Code of Honor” (Editor’s Opinion, February 2012) is a great editorial. We have had some issues recently with a small number of Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute (MFRI) instructors regarding our examination policies that have resulted in personnel actions, including dismissal. Today, I sent a copy of this editorial to all MFRI instructors (more than 700), as I think it is right on point.

Steven T. Edwards
Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute
University of Maryland
College Park, Maryland

Make social networking work for the fire service

In today’s society, social networking has become an everyday part of life; it has also invaded the fire service. I use the word “invaded” because I see it being used more times as a hindrance than a useful tool. For example, as a company officer or a “back-seater,” how many times have you looked around your apparatus recently and saw a fellow firefighter glued to the smart phone? Every day! The question is, what are we missing by trying to get to the next level on Angry Birds or seeing what’s new on Facebook?

How about changes to our first-due area? Are there fences around houses that weren’t there last week? Are there any new road closures? Hydrant locations? What about that young kid next to the engine waving at you while sitting at a stop light? How about that new lightweight construction house being built with foam panels? Once it’s covered up with the aesthetically pleasing vinyl siding, you may never know what’s under there.

Why are we missing all these important aspects of our job? Because our eyes are on the iPhones in the back of the apparatus.

As I walk through the firehouse these days, it’s easy to find the old board games with dust on them with no thoughts or notions of playing them running through anyone’s mind. This is, in fact, where we used to sit down as fellow firefighters and play a game getting to know each other and sharing laughs that will serve as memories and bonding moments. More importantly, today we don’t know how many children each fellow firefighter has or the names of their spouses. This is where we are losing. Fire journals sitting beside our young firefighters shouldn’t have the mailing plastic still on them.

When we had downtime before social networking and got bored, we went to the apparatus bay and learned the history behind a hand tool or maybe looked at that map board a few more times, learning our first-due district better. Another thought, how many of us have been in a training class and saw the firefighter next to us texting on his Android instead of learning about the topic at hand, which may save his or a fellow firefighter’s life someday?

Of course, this issue, like all issues, has two sides. How about a hybrid extrication application at the touch of a button? A pediatric dosage application in seconds? Are there benefits to this technology? I think so. I can read about a close call on the East Coast an hour after it happened and learn from it. This is key where I work in Alaska because news didn’t travel very fast for us so long ago.

The question is, are we using social networking to our advantage in the fire service? Can our probies tell us why fire engines are red or why we label calls as runs? Or can they just tell the company officer how to navigate Twitter?

As company officers, we need to practice what we preach. Take a good look at your department and see if you are using social networking as a tool for good or a distraction to the service. Social networking can be an effective tool in your battle. What are you using it for?

Casey Linton
Ft. Wainwright Fire Department
Fairbanks, Alaska

Editor’s note: The e-mail address listed in Peter W. Blaich’s “SCUBA Dive Rescue Operations: A Familiarization Course” (Training Notebook, February 2012) is not open to out-of-network communication. Instead, direct inquiries to

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