Firefighting Tactics: Change Breeds Debate

By Brian P. Kazmierzak

When we look at society we are surrounded by change. Over the course of my short 38 years here, we no longer allow smoking in most public places (as a matter of fact, I can’t even imagine what it used to be like to fly in a cabin full of cigarette smoke for hours). We have the Internet instead of encyclopedias, iPads and iPhones that can do more than the first computer ever could, and much more. Change is around us every day. If we didn’t want change, we wouldn’t have the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, which allows for freedom of speech. Thus do we allow for change, but also debate.

Ever since Adam and Eve there has been debate—there are people that don’t believe Adam and Eve ever existed, or that there is even a God. There are Catholics, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Lutherans, etc. Each religion has many differences, but some similarities, with many developing after splitting from other religions over different ideals and values, just as our forebears, the settlers, wanted change and freedom from Britain. Democracy exists because our forefathers didn’t like the rule of tyrants and wanted a better life. A civil war erupted in the United States because of different ideals over slavery. And now even there is division among the political parties. In every part of our world, things change and things are different. The reason the apparatus manufactures have more than 440 different shades of red at our disposal is because we can’t agree on a standard truck layout, let alone a color.

So after a year of me getting irate at every negative, misinformed blog I read on how the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Underwriters Laboratories (UL) Firefighter Safety Research Institute (FSRI) are wrong and ruining the fire service and killing civilians, or how SLICE-RS is wrong because it doesn’t consider the victims (it does), it finally has dawned on me–we never will all agree. Just as with the county clerk in Kentucky who refused to issue gay marriage licenses even after the Supreme Court ruled that she must, there are some differences of opinion that simply cannot be overcome.

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I am a believer in what UL FSRI and NIST are doing and truly believe that new tactics are making things safer for firefighters. I believe these methods increase victim survivability, by cooling the environment no matter where the water is thrown from, and that the toxic gases really do decrease by putting water on the fire. Remember why we got called there in the first place – the building is ON FIRE, the only way things are going to get better is by putting water on the fire and by VENTILATING (meaning coordinated ventilation, and understanding the WHY of ventilation, not just the HOW). It has been said best by Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson: “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.”

The fire service over the years has done a horrible job understanding the science of fire, which has got us in the mess of disagreement we are mired in today. Take my training, as an example: in 1991, when I entered the fire service, the only thing I remember from my fire behavior class is conduction, convection, radiation, and the stages of fire. I don’t remember flashover or backdraft being mentioned, let alone terms such as heat flux or heat release rate. Fast forward many years, and I completed three degrees, two associate degrees and a bachelor’s degree. Every one of those degrees has the term “fire science” in it, but I never took one true course from 1996 to 2004 that dealt with any type of physics or fire science. Those degrees are from very well-known, major universities that were all done in the classroom or drill ground, not from some Internet diploma mill. What I am getting at is that the fire service has forgotten that our job is based on science. The fire triangle and fire tetrahedron came from science. All of the current research is done using scientific methods. If we had stressed this a long time ago, the debate today would be a mere whisper. Look at EMS, which has always been science-based. Medicine is based on science, and there are constant studies and research being undertaken. We don’t seem to fight the fact that major changes to CPR methodology seem to emerge every five years, because the American Heart Association has the science to validate their changes. Science is also why drugs change, we no longer use MAST Trousers, we have determined tourniquets to be a good thing, etc.

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I ask every firefighter to truly LISTEN. Have you ever heard anyone from the modern fire behavior camp say one of these things?

  • Never ventilate
  • Never go inside
  • Always throw water from the outside
  • Never go over a basement fire
  • Everything we did in the past is wrong

If so, one of three things has happened. Either you are not listening, you are listening to 140 character or less “sound bites,” or the instructors are passing on bad information and are not listening themselves. There are VERY few always and nevers in the fire service. The exceptions may be those mentioned by Forest Reeder and Kevin Milan in the July 2014 issue of Fire Rescue, such as:

The top 10 actions to always do on the fireground:

1.       Always wear your SCBA in immediately dangerous to life or health (IDLH) atmospheres, including overhaul

2.       Always wear your PPE appropriately

3.       Always have a positive water supply

4.       Always conduct a risk/consequence assessment

5.       Always perform a 360° evaluation

6.       Always size up every fire

7.       Always consider fire location and flow path

8.       Always establish a two-out and rapid-intervention crew (RIC)

9.       Always communicate your findings and needs

10.   Always wear your seatbelt

Some of the actions to never do on the fireground:

1.       Never freelance tactics

2.       Never operate in a designated collapse zone

3.       Never risk your life for property

4.       Never risk anything to save nothing

5.       Never breathe smoke

6.       Never operate apparatus at unsafe speeds

7.       Never shortcut training

8.       Never operate without a radio

9.       Never wear bunker gear near open water

10.   Never quit learning

So while there are very few always and nevers, there are LOTS of tools in the toolbox. Just look at them all–different sized hoselines; different sized tips on the deck gun; horizontal, vertical, and positive pressure ventilation; fog nozzles and smooth bores; CAFS and water; black gear or modern-style helmets. We must use each tool appropriately on the fireground, strategically and tactically—remember, a mechanic would never use a socket wrench as a hammer!

It has always been hard for the fire service to accept change, hence the renowned “150 years of tradition…” saw. Just look how long it took for some developments to take hold, such as closed cabs, SCBAs, bunker pants (known to some as “sissy pants”), etc. Consider also the debate over the smoothbore vs. fog nozzle or pistol grips and hose loads. Some of these changes are still not as widely accepted as we would like today.

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Someone sent me a great Facebook post quote by Ben Waller: “…SLICE-RS does not place less emphasis on victims, just as RECEO-VS does not place less emphasis on ventilation.” SLICE-RS has NEVER placed victims last, in fact a new ISFSI video series clarifies that point. Another interesting note is that Lloyd Layman, the father of RECEO-VS, is also the father of high-pressure fog fire attack and used science and research with some of his findings; most only remember him for fog attack. I assume most who think SLICE-RS puts victims last have never educated themselves or had a sit down conversation with Eddie Buchanan or anyone from Hanover County (VA) Fire Department, the originators of the acronym. I assume these dissenters continue to use anecdotal evidence instead. It’s very easy to make hateful posts on something you do not understand.

Things have changed since the 1950s, and the change will become even greater as our gear and SCBAs change, and decon procedures change because of the carcinogens we face. Debate is good, and change is great, but we ought to remember the Golden Rule: treat others the way you wish to be treated. There is no need for harsh, mean, rude, and cruel social media attacks over tactics. Go out, take a class–the ISFSI Principles of Modern Fire Attack class, a UL FSRI Online course, or the Los Angeles County (CA) Fire Department videos–and practice the techniques. Visit and try to understand things such as SLICE-RS, transitional attack, and limiting the flow path through the use of a smoke curtain. Also understand that RECEO-VS is just as important as SLICE-RS on the modern fireground—they are all simply tools in the toolbox.

Instead of sitting behind the keyboard throwing stones, we need to get out and train; be proficient with our SCBA; pull hoselines; throw ladders; perform aggressive, efficient searches, and ventilate in coordination with the fire attack. In the end, while we will never fully agree, maybe we all can come to an understanding that firefighting, strategy, and tactics are heavily intertwined and we must understand them all! NOW GET OUT AND TRAIN – you can make more of a difference training than you ever will debating all of this on social media! Remember, with a truly COORDINATED fire attack we can save lives and property – which, no matter what anyone says, is still our primary mission!

Brian P. KazmierzakBrian P. Kazmierzak, EFO, CTO is the division chief of training for the Penn Twp. Fire Dept. in Mishawaka, Indiana. He has a bachelor’s degree in fire service administration from Southern Illinois University and serves as the director of operations for and the Webmaster for Brian 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 International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI)/Fire Engineering George D. Post Fire Instructor of the Year. In addition, Brian completed the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program in 2006. He is a CPSE credentialed Chief Training Officer, serves as a Director at Large for the ISFSI, and is on the UL FSRI PPV Research Study Panel.

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