BY BOBBY HALTON
One of the best old beer commercials used to feature a group of guys yelling at one another, “Tastes great,” and another group of guys responding, “Less filling.” The brilliance of the commercial was that it got both points about the beer across to you, that it was great tasting and less filling. For many years in the fire service, articles and panels featured debates much like the “tastes great/less filling” commercial. Some of them still go on today—for example, the smooth bore vs. fog nozzle saga. Firefighters on one side scream “penetration and flow,” and firefighters on the other side scream “versatility and heat protection.”
The reality is that both nozzles and other types have a place in the American fire service. Based on their design, they are well-suited to different types of fires and different conditions. The smooth bore is obviously a critical component of pre-1993 standpipe operations, as that standpipe was designed for a 100-foot, 2½-inch handline used with a 11⁄8-inch tip flowing 250 gallons per minute. The fog nozzle is a wonderful tool, especially if you have to approach a blowing gas line to reach a valve. So both nozzles have their place on every engine, and it should be up to the intelligent, well-trained, and skillful firefighter to know when to use the right tool at the right time.
But arguments are always interesting to watch and even more fun to participate in. There are several very lively debates going on in the fire service regarding important issues and techniques of great interest to those who approach this profession with passion and sincerity. Because it is evidence of our passion for what we do, this degree of argument and debate is a very good thing. John Milton once said, “Where there is much desire to learn, there of necessity will be much arguing … for opinion in good men is but knowledge in the making.”
The real students of the fire service like sharing their opinions, listening to the opposing views, and then weighing the information in formulating a judgment. This is how real firefighters learn—experimenting, listening to new opinions, trying out the concept under real-life conditions, evaluating the outcomes, and continuing to study. For the ideologically pure firefighter, that kind of wishy-washiness won’t do at all: You either capitulate to their line of thinking, or you are a bad firefighter, a mutt.
One heated issue argued about today is the “transitional attack” tactic. It is important to point out here that for professionals who are respectful and sincerely interested in improving, arguing does not mean fighting or being disrespectful or demeaning toward one another. The first thing to achieve in any argument/discussion is to define as clearly as possible the issue, topic, or idea. Too many pundits and commentators often start off their opinions with a distorted concept or impression of the position or issue on which they are commenting. As a case in point, two or three credible definitions of “transitional attack” abound in the fire service.
The “transitional” mode of fire attack is formally defined in Fire Engineering as a quick knockdown from the exterior with a straight stream directed off the ceiling to hold a fire in check; it is coordinated with a subsequent offensive attack.
Proponents of this type of fire attack believe that placing water on the fire from an external position and knocking down the leading edge of the fire, or as much as possible, from that exterior position has several advantages. The proponents would argue that it is useful in cooling the superheated gas in the flow path created by the ventilation, thereby reducing the possibility of flashover and enabling a safer follow-up interior attack on the fire, and that it makes fire attack a possibility under restricted staffing conditions.
The opponents of transitional attack would point to the possibility of reducing the chance of survival for potentially trapped victims by disrupting the thermal balance of the room and thereby creating an untenable environment for persons who may be trapped away from the main body of the fire. Opponents of transitional attack also argue that the widespread use of this tactic will be adopted by those not well educated or experienced in firefighting, who will use it as the preferred methodology for all future fire attacks.
The proponents of this tactic need to be careful about falling into the trap of the fallacy of the antecedent. What this means is that just because this tactic was successful in preventing flashover on one occasion, it will be successful in all. Believing it will work all the time, or stating that it does reduce flashover universally, makes the proponents’ argument weak. Opponents need to be careful about falling into the trap of creating a false choice by saying that if companies do this once or occasionally, they will always attack from the outside. This is untrue, making the opponents’ argument extremely weak.
The reasonable voices out there have commented that most of us have employed some version of this methodology at one time or another. Some firefighters have called it “giving the fire a dash” or splashing the fire. It is important that you clearly explain your definition of the tactic before arguing your points for or against. Milton was absolutely right, and we must continue to debate and argue, but we must pay attention to the tactics we use if we want to be viewed as reasonable. With regard to transitional attack, like light beer, it “cools great,” reducing the potential of flashover, and it can be “less effective” for the inexperienced.
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