Transitional attack and VES vs. VEIS

The article “Killer in the Attic: Fire Operations in Half-Stories” by Frank Ricci and Chris Tobin in the December 2017 issue does an excellent job overall of looking at attic fires and tactics used to mitigate them, but I take issue with two points.

The section on transitional attack at attic fires is not accurate. If you go back to the Underwriters Laboratories Firefighter Safety Research Institute (UL FSRI) research on attic fires, you will find that the transitional attack through the eaves was by far the most effective tactic found in that study. No one has ever said you can’t send a crew in to search while performing transitional attack. 

What we need to concentrate on here is the effectiveness of tactics. So often, the concentration and focus are on safety. While safety is important, any tactic needs to be looked at for effectiveness, and that was exactly what was found during the UL FSRI research. Remember, if you put out the fire, the rest of your problems go away. Also, when it comes to tactics, we all must remember that staffing dictates tactics. This tactic may be doing the most good for the greatest number of people even though water isn’t being flowed from the inside.

The other issue is vent-enter-search (VES). Times have changed; terms have changed. The textbooks have adopted vent-enter-isolate-search (VEIS) as the new term. I may not even truly agree with the name VEIS because most good VES instructors taught that closing the door is a must. As we get new firefighters out of the academy, we need to adapt to what they have been taught. Think about it: If we were really smart, wouldn’t we have been better off calling it “vent-isolate-search”? Who needs to be told to enter?

We can’t continue to accept the past as the future because that is the way we have always done it.

Brian P. Kazmierzak

Chief of Training

Penn Twp. (IN) Fire Department

Frank Ricci and Chris Tobin respond: We believe science has a place in our continual quest for growth along with training, education, experience, and knowledge; however, to worship only at the altar of science will leave you an orphan and caught off guard.

It is true that the “most effective tactic” in the UL Attic Fire Study was transitional attack through the eaves. It’s a proven tactic, but this article was about fighting fire in half-story legacy balloon-frame construction with knee walls and attic voids. Most balloon-frame homes do not have vented eaves, rendering this method the least effective tactic.

Updated improperly installed insulation and hoarding conditions inside the knee walls also diminish the eave attack when vents are present. Many of these structures in the Northeast and throughout our nation will appear to have soffit vents, but they instead are tongue-and-groove boards underneath. This may be easy to identify on a one-story structure; however, it will take time to make this determination on a 2½-story building.

There are circumstances in which this tactic may work; however, it still must be balanced with the time and staffing it takes to get a line in place on the second or third floor. In the words of Mike Tyson, “Everyone has a plan till they get punched in the mouth.” These fires punch hard. Time is not your friend in these structures, especially if the fire is on multiple floors or started in the basement. Legacy buildings demand legacy tactics; anything less will get you a vacant lot. 

The only way to confirm that searches are negative is to aggressively place lines in conjunction with search teams on any floor with fire or above the fire. Water was not any wetter in 2017 than it was in 1917. It wasn’t a study that taught us that if you put out the fire everything gets better. It was John Norman passing down the knowledge he learned from the Fire Department of New York—that and common sense.

Techniques survived the test of time for a reason, and we have a word for that: dependable. When it comes to effectiveness, flip your playbook to that chapter, and you will find success. The source of the information in our article was proven street experience in conjunction with training and knowledge. Just the other day, I (Frank Ricci) had a fire in a 2½-story wood-frame building. We used these very tactics with fire on the first, second, and third floors and an aggressive attack coordinated with command, vent, and search. This structure still stands and will be able to be rehabilitated and provide housing and taxes for our city. The tactics—when deployed with proper staffing—are safe, effective, and efficient and place your crews in the best position to rescue an unconscious victim. 

Regarding the VES/VEIS acronym, acronyms are used for clearly communicating thoughts and ideas. They are great for teaching. In my (Chris Tobin’s) department, we don’t formally use VEIS or VES. The chief just says, search that room or throw a ladder to that window and give me a primary. The rest is implied. Acronyms look pretty on paper and PowerPoints®, but I’ve never brought one to the fireground, and I would hate to see the day when acronyms make it there.

We respect research, but we also know the limitations of studies and how the science evolves. Just look at the changes in how we perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation. The right answer proven by science and research a few years ago is the wrong answer proven by today’s research.

The fire service must not be blinded by the light but must continue to reconcile research with proven tactics and realize that circumstances will dictate actions. It is not just staffing: It comes down to all of the factors of size-up and—don’t be fooled—the fire has a say in all of this as well. 


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