Rethink Attacking From the Unburned Side

By Jimmy Taylor

“Attack from the unburned side”–it has been drilled into us from years of training. There are several good arguments for attacking from the unburned side, including “pushing the fire away from the occupants” and “pushing the fire out the nearest vent opening.”

These sound like good reasons, but if the fire involves the primary means of egress, you will likely need additional hose and personnel to move that hose into position to attack the fire from the unburned side. Consider that a stretch around the side of a house to reach the unburned side may be longer than most preconnects (200 feet) and involve additional personnel to navigate around potential obstacles in the yard, such as fences. I have seen crews go to great extremes to attack from the unburned side only to have the fire grow to the extent that additional lines were needed to extinguish it. Generally, such a stretch requires too much time, hose, and personnel.

My conviction stems from real-world firefighting experience set against textbook theory. The fact is that most of the time the attack lines should be advanced through the occupant’s primary means of egress. This means that if the occupant’s primary means of egress is involved, then you attack the fire head on. You will not push the fire if you use a straight stream or a solid stream. You still need to do a walk-around size-up to ensure that there is no fire below you. Attacking from the primary means of egress will allow you to control autoexposure and will likely reduce the amount of extension to the upper floor or floors.

I have seen crews attack an attached garage fire from inside without considering a head-on attack from the garage door. This is also a by-product of years of training. The garage is most likely a compartmented space with code-mandated fire-resistant walls that adjoin the main structure; it can act as a separate structure when burning. Your size-up should tell you whether the fire has extended to the main house or is still confined to the garage. If it is confined to the garage, opening an interior door to the main structure to attack may allow the fire to spread. There is no reason you can’t attack from the garage door. Your second line can be placed inside the structure to ensure there is no extension.

The “attack-from-the-unburned-side” strategy has almost become a convention that we use with pride and without thought. Forget the convention and use the walk-around size-up to determine the best place to attack the fire. Don’t overlook your initial instinct to attack the fire head-on because you are a “attack-from-the-unburned-side” officer. Consider how far advanced your fire will be if you take the time to make the stretch to the unburned side. How soon can you have a permanent water supply? Some people advocate always attacking from the primary means of egress. The only thing I would say is, “Always do is the size-up–that is how good fireground decisions are made.”

Jimmy Taylor, a 24-year fire service veteran, is a battalion chief and paramedic with Cobb County (GA) Fire & Emergency Services. Taylor has a fire science diploma from West Georgia Technical College. He is a Georgia-certified instructor and has taught classes on incident command for high-rise operations at the Georgia Fire Academy.

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