Tactics Coloring Book


Last month, we discussed the importance of making an initial and ongoing evaluation of the fire’s location. Being able to do this necessitates an understanding of and the ability to define standard fireground conditions. This ability becomes the foundation of making appropriate operational assignments to all the areas within the fireground. Developing a picture of the overall incident basically becomes a combination of three standard conditions that (together) describe what is going on all over and around the fire area. The existence, size, arrangement, and movement of these conditions also become the basis of predicting where the fire is now (if we know), where it is heading, and what operational response will be required to achieve fire control.

The three standard conditions are (1) involved (red), (2) exposed (yellow), and (3) uninvolved (green). Giving each condition its own color creates a simple-to-do and easy-to-understand multicolor graphic system. Using the standard colors to describe fire conditions in a building (or really anywhere) for study, simulated practice, discussion, teaching/learning, exchanging information, and critiquing develops a very practical, standard “visual language” that provides a quick, basic overview (picture) of what is going on throughout the fireground. We could call it a low-budget, easy-to-do fire modeling system (my lovely wife mutters something about “second childhood” when I break out my tactics crayons). Using the colors to describe basic fireground status (where/what) can create a higher level of understanding of how actual fire conditions evolve and how they connect to each other. This can lead to an improvement in our situational awareness when we encounter these conditions on the fireground. Let’s look at the three basic tactical conditions and the areas they occupy.

The red is the involved area. This is where the fire is currently located. The red area is the fire’s “center of gravity,” and where that center is and where it is going define the operational action that will be needed. The fire will expand from this area using its own three basic methods of fire extension: conduction, direct thermal transfer/radiation, and heat waves through intervening space/convection. The fire will first burn up, then across, and then down (mushroom). It will seek and then expand into the closest unprotected spaces and then into unprotected vertical and horizontal openings.

Most often, an interior fire is very robust and will initially involve contents, then extend to the interior finish, then burn into and consume concealed spaces and structural components, and then extend into and eventually out of the exterior finish. Exterior (exposure) fires will basically burn into buildings in the reverse order. If the interior fire is not controlled, it will extend onto, involve, and destroy any adjacent combustible or human. There is very little that can withstand direct contact with the products of combustion—sadly, pretty much everything that is red is dead. The space where the fire can extend into with no natural or manmade protection/separation to stop it (fire walls, doors, etc.) is known as the fire area. Understanding the profile of the fire area is a critical tactical factor, because this area defines the boundaries of possible involvement—this is the battleground where the firefight will occur.

The exposed part is the yellow area immediately adjacent to (right up against) the involved red area. This area is immediately threatened by the fire and soon will go from yellow to red unless there is an adequate and well-placed manual fire suppression intervention that is directed right where the two colors come together. This red-yellow connection is the battleground where operational action is typically applied—if it is effective. How the firefight is physically executed becomes the foundation for the where, what, when, how, and why practice of firefighting tactics.

In most cases, the red-yellow connection is highly dynamic and rapidly changing, because the dirty red rat (fire) is using all of its very powerful natural capabilities to extend into and eat up the yellow. As the red goes after the yellow, it transforms the green (uninvolved) to yellow so it can continue to make everything in the fire area red. The adjacent presence of the involved red area makes this yellow space a highly hazardous and exciting place to conduct firefighting operations, because it is generally where the fire will quickly extend to next and offers the best place to cut off and stop the fire. This means that the firefighters must use water, tactical support, and their safety system to kill the red. When we murder the red, we turn the yellow to green. The basic reality is that under active fire conditions, the yellow will not stay yellow. It either turns red (bad) or green (good), depending on the effectiveness of the firefight—not really complicated but really important.

The uninvolved is the green area directly behind the yellow. The yellow is what is, at that moment, separating the involved from the uninvolved. It can be separated by the arrangement of the fire area; by built-in construction features; or by effective, well-placed firefighting operations. It is the area that must be occupied and protected by hose streams and support and becomes the interior, offensive in/out path that leads to the yellow area where the firefight will occur. This uninvolved area also becomes the best place to take out those who were threatened by and removed from the yellow area. More on our tactics coloring book next month.

Retired Chief ALAN BRUNACINI is a fire service author and speaker. He and his sons own the fire service Web site bshifter.com

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