Understanding Extreme Fire Behavior

Deputy Chief (Ret.) Ted Nee is a twenty-eight year veteran of the fire and emergency services. He retired after 20 years of service with the Albuquerque Fire Department. Ted is currently a training officer with the Sandia National Labs Emergency Response Team in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

“Understanding Extreme Fire Behavior” is an extension of material presented in another program called “Dying Inside” which Nee presented in partnership with the Albuquerque, New Mexico Fire Chief James Breen and Columbus, Ohio Lieutenant Dave Bernzweig at FDIC in 2007. The workshop examined the main causes of firefighter deaths inside structures during firefighting operations. Nee presented the portion of the class which outlined extreme fire behavior but felt that the material was not covered properly in the available time. Nee decided to design a new class and present it as a stand-alone workshop.

The first section of the class outlines compartment fire dynamics, in particular, the factors that contribute to fire growth, the changing nature of fuels, fuel loading, and building construction factors that affect fire dynamics. The second section examines the nature and dangers presented by flashover and flame over ending with a presentation of a LODD case study involving extreme fire behavior. The class concludes with a presentation regarding back drafts and smoke explosions.

Highlighting the dangers of extreme fire behavior in ventilation-limited fires is one of the most important objectives of this program. Practical experience confirmed by recent ventilation research conducted by UL proves that most compartment fires are in a ventilation-limited state when the fire department arrives on scene. The ability to quickly recognize the signs of a ventilation-limited fire is a skill Nee hopes students will absorb during this session.

The session is designed to examine compartment fire dynamics and extreme fire behavior in more detail than what is seen in a Firefighter II program. Nee attended workshops conducted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Underwriters Laboratories (UL) regarding fire dynamics and ventilation, and researched numerous Line of Duty Death and Near-Miss reports regarding extreme fire behavior to prepare for this program. The program is grounded in science but retains a practical focus on fireground strategy and tactics.

“I know from my own experience at FDIC that most of the “students” attending classes are instructors in their own departments and are looking to bring the programs they attend back home with them. In order to make that job easier I will be providing all of the students with a DVD of the program including the presentations, videos and detailed instructor guides” Nee said.

The Deputy Chief offers some words from the late Frank Brannigan who was known for this often quoted maxim: “The building is your enemy, know your enemy”. Nee believes that in the modern fire environment we can add: “The fire is your enemy, know your enemy”.

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