Drill Of The Week: Reading Smoke Basics

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First-arriving units at any structure fire have myriad decisions to make in a very short period of time. Decisions made at this critical point can be the difference between saving the structure and property or burning the structure to the ground. From the time of dispatch, fire officers and firefighters are beginning their size-up. Upon arrival, the officer on scene will use the signals from the involved structure to make tactical decisions. One signal is the smoke issuing from the building.

Being able to read smoke can help first arriving personnel determine the extent and general location of the fire. Four key factors provide valuable information:

  • Volume: amount of fuel, fullness of windows;
  • Velocity: rate of heat release, speed exiting from the structure;
  • Density: quality of burning, potential for other events, flashover;
  • Color: illumination, shimmering, unusual, heavy carbon (fuel) based.

Smoke that is changing in volume, velocity, density, and color indicates that conditions are improving.

This week’s drill, based on Dave Dodson’s “The Art of Reading Smoke” at FDIC 2005 includes two images and several discussion points for you to review at your next drill.

Find the sample images and discussion questions for this drill at FriefighterCloseCalls.com.

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