BY David “Chip” Comstock, Jr.
Firefighters can increase their chance of staying alive at an emergency scene by becoming an expert in the field of fire science. “Experts” are those persons who possess specialized knowledge, based n their education, training, experience, or a combination. In the fire service, we often debate what is the best teacher–education or experience. Training is always accepted as being a valuable teaching tool. However, to become an expert in the fire service, a firefighter has little control over obtaining experience. In a rural volunteer department, actual experience may be difficult to obtain. Therefore, to increase your chance of survival, you must become an expert through both training and education.
Training, especially hands-on training, is great. But firefighters must often rely on others to provide such training. Furthermore, because of recent cutbacks in many departments’ funding, training expenditures are often being slashed. Therefore, firefighters who want to become proficient in their chosen occupation or area of public service must educate themselves as often as possible. The easiest way to increase fire service knowledge is to read a fire service textbook.
Numerous books have been written for the fire service on a wide variety of topics. There are 10 books, however, that are must-reads during a firefighter’s career, to increase knowledge and understanding of the fireground and its inherent dangers. These books also provide a general understanding of fire department operations that will help you gain the knowledge you need to stay alive. While not listed in any particular order, here are my choices for the top 10 books.
Building Construction for the Fire Service, Third Edition, by Francis L. Brannigan (National Fire Protection Association, Battery March Park, Quincy, MA, 1993, 643 pages). This is considered the bible of building construction for the fire service. The third edition is divided into 14 separate chapters. Initially, the book reviews general principles of construction and then examines wood and ordinary construction in detail. Other chapters include garden apartments and other protected structures, principles of fire resistance, steel construction, concrete construction, fire growth, smoke and fire containment, high-rise construction, trusses, automatic sprinklers, and rack storage. What makes this text so invaluable is the author’s review of construction methods and techniques that will place a firefighter in danger. Brannigan also includes tactical considerations for fire operations. For example, he recommends procedures to ventilate a ballasted roof and why SCBA must be worn even though a roof fire might seem to permit otherwise.
Collapse of Burning Buildings: A Guide to Fireground Safety, by Vincent Dunn. (Fire Engineering Books and Videos, Saddle Brook, NJ, 1988, 280 pages). While Brannigan’s text examines all types of construction and the hazards associated with each, Vincent Dunn’s text strictly examines the danger of structural failure caused by fire. Dunn recognized that structural collapse is one of the leading causes of firefighter deaths and, through his book, examines the reasons why buildings collapse and, more importantly, attempts to warn firefighters, company officers, and chiefs as to exactly how structures collapse when destroyed by fire. This book has 20 chapters. It begins with general collapse and building construction information but quickly addresses specific types of collapse. These chapters include collapse facts and indicators relating to masonry walls, wood floors, sloping peak roofs, timber truss roofs, flat roofs, light weight steel roofs, lightweight wood trusses, ceilings, stairways, and fire escapes. Wood-frame buildings and buildings under construction are also discussed. Of specific value to the firefighter are the “lessons learned” detailed at the end of each chapter.
Safety and Survival on the Fireground, by Vincent Dunn (Fire Engineering Books and Videos, Saddle Brook, NJ, 1992, 367 pages). Dunn warns firefighters of fireground dangers beyond building collapse. This book examines 15 firefighting tactics and the hazards associated with each. In addition, to a review of collapse and collapse rescue dangers, Dunn examines the inherent dangers of peaked roofs, cellar fires, forcible entry, outside venting, and overhauling. Dunn concludes each chapter with “lessons learned,” which should be made part of every promotional examination for company officers. The book concludes with safe firefighting practices and a review of firefighting dangers. Dunn ends the book by noting that there are “no new lessons to be learned from a firefighter’s death or injury. The cause of the tragedy is usually an old lesson we have not learned or forgotten along the way.”
Fire Command (2nd Edition), by Alan V. Brunacini (National Fire Protection Association, Quincy, MA, 2002, 392 pages). Alan Brunacini’s book is an updated version of his original 1985 text. The original text was the fire service’s treatise on incident management and the functions of command. The new book is divided into eight chapters, which include assumption, confirmation, and positioning of command; the situation evaluation; communications; deployment management; strategy and incident action planning; organization; review, evaluation, and revision; and continue, transfer, and terminate command. Brunacini, as he has for decades, emphasizes customer service. The book is easy to read and is organized well. Its benefit is its emphasis on fireground organization and its pointed criticism and argument against freelancing. The author has a great sense of humor and illustrates it often. Elsewhere, he gets to the point about life and death issues and decisions that the incident commander must make.
Firefighting Principles & Practices, Second Edition, by William E. Clark (Fire Engineering Books and Videos, Saddle Brook, NJ, 1991, 459 pages). William Clark’s book is the quintessential text for a student of fire suppression. The 16 chapters have more information packed into the pages than almost any other book available. There are more than 30 pages devoted to safety on the fireground. Clark has also devoted a significant amount of space to firefighting strategy and tactics, as well as action plans at working fires. Two chapters review ladder and engine company operations. The last three chapters review everyday fires, major fires, and special problems fires. There are few scenarios not addressed in Clark’s text. The book concludes with four exercises that bring many of the strategy and tactic issues together. Clark makes it known that his aim is to help the fire officer in the use of strategy and tactics in a fire situation.
Fire Officer’s Handbook of Tactics, Second Edition, by John Norman (Fire Engineering Books & Videos, Saddle Brook, NJ, 1998, 447 pages). John Norman’s text is divided into two parts. Part 1 relates to general firefighting tactics and includes 10 separate chapters beginning with general principles of firefighting and size-up. Engine company operations are discussed in general, with additional chapters specifically addressing hoseline selection, stretching, and placement; water supply; and standpipe and sprinkler operations. Likewise, ladder company operations are discussed generally, with additional chapters addressing forcible entry, ventilation, and search and rescue. Part 2 examines specific fire situations and includes chapters on firefighter survival, private dwellings, multiple dwellings, taxpayers, high-rise office buildings, buildings under construction, renovation and demolition, and fire-related emergencies (incinerators, oil burners, and gas leaks). The last chapter addresses collapse. Although other texts address issues relating to specific operations for size-up, few address engine and truck company operations as well as Norman’s book. Practical advice is provided that cannot be found in other textbooks.
Strategic and Tactical Considerations on the Fireground, by James P. Smith (Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ, 2002, 433 pages). Smith reviews incident scene decision making and size-up, strategy and tactics, and modes of fire attack. Engine and truck company operations, building construction, and incident scene safety are also reviewed in detail. What makes this text unusual is the attention to 12 special situations in occupancies. Firefighters in every jurisdiction are going to encounter fires in basements and cellars, garden apartments, vacant buildings, strip malls, and houses of worship. The first part of the text addresses these special occupancies. Smith reviews problems likely to be encountered in each scenario and provides a list of lessons learned and reinforced. In addition, Smith provides size-up factors for each special situation and occupancy and outlines strategic goals and solutions for various methods of attack for each scenario. This easy-to-read text will assist any firefighter, company officer, or fireground commander in evaluating risks in the community and will further provide insight into creating preplans and SOPs for those special hazards found in every jurisdiction.
Firefighting Strategy and Tactics, by Harry Carter (Fire Protection Publications, Oklahoma State University, 1998, 188 pages). Harry Carter, often known for his philosophical discussions of fire administrative and operational behaviors, takes the opposite approach in his text by simplifying a firefighter’s or officer’s approach to size-up at every fire. Carter’s text commences by providing a short historical perspective of firefighting not found in other books. Fire behavior, an introduction to strategy and tactics, and engine and truck company operations are all covered. What makes Carter’s book unique is his eight-step process for fire size-up that is reviewed in one chapter and then applied in more detail in six additional chapters. He then uses an additional three chapters to examine fires that will be seen frequently, those that will be seen occasionally, and the big ones that a firefighter will see only rarely. The book concludes by covering construction and firefighter safety issues, as well as decision making and problem solving. Carter notes, in his conclusion, that he wrote the book “for people who go to fires, get dirty, and create extinguished fires.” Carter writes that “this book is for that whole range of hands-on people because they are the ones who are called upon to handle a whole range of problems from year to year.” This book provides the fire officer with the information he will need to address those problems head on.
Responding to “Routine” Emergencies, by Frank C. Montagna (Fire Engineering Books and Videos, Saddle Brook, NJ, 1999, 240 pages). Frank Montagna’s book is divided into two parts. Part 1 consists of eight chapters and provides detailed information regarding eight common emergencies-such as electrical emergencies, home heating emergencies, natural gas fires and emergencies, water leaks, vehicle fires, kitchen fires, mattress fires, and trash fires. Each chapter provides a comprehensive examination of the threats firefighters will encounter on a daily basis. Study questions are provided at the end of each chapter. Practical advice for mitigating the hazard are incorporated into each of the chapters. The second half of the book provides approximately 75 pages devoted to the response to carbon monoxide (CO) alarms. No other publication provides information on these calls, which are now a common occurrence. Although CO is the leading cause of accidental poisoning death in the United States, very few firefighters take the time to study this potential hazard, its effect on the human body, and the fire department’s response to the emergency call. Montagna provides critical information for not only new firefighters but firefighters who often forget the potential risks associated with what otherwise be just the ordinary run.
Managing Major Fires, by John F. “Skip” Coleman (Fire Engineering, Tulsa, OK, 2001, 312 pages). What sets this text apart from many others are two approaches. In part one, Coleman provides excellent material on preparing for the response. This section includes six chapters on the incident management system, sectoring large incidents, resource allocation, risk assessment in the fire service, accountability at major incidents, and managing a Mayday. These last two subjects are addressed as well as anywhere in written fire material publications. Part two of Coleman’s text addresses fighting fires in 13 types of occupancies, including older apartment buildings, garden apartments, strip malls, restaurants, churches, hotels and nursing homes. Coleman focuses on strategic and tactical evolutions from three different points of view: a small fire department with 12 firefighters, a medium-size department with more staffing and equipment, and a big department with a minimum of three engines and two trucks. Coleman recognizes there is always more than one right way to fight a fire but emphasizes safety, basics, and common sense throughout his book.
DAVID “CHIP” COMSTOCK JR. is a 20-year veteran of the fire service and chief of the Western Reserve Joint Fire District in Poland, Ohio. He is a chief fire officer designee and lectures extensively on chief and company officer liability and personnel issues. Comstock is an attorney in the firm of Comstock, Springer & Wilson Co., L.P.A. in Youngstown, Ohio. His law practice focuses on insurance defense litigation, including governmental liability defense and insurance fraud/arson cases.