Almost all formal training is created with an initial set of objectives. Often times these objectives are listed in an early PowerPoint slide, lesson plan or drill briefing to make it clear what will be covered. In reading through the Fire Service Summary Report for the PPV study last night from UL I was reminded that we must make it equally as important to communicate what cannot be covered, presented or recreated.
The background section of the report for me was as thought provoking as the study. It articulates a serious problem facing fire service training not only in regards to PPV, but all our operations; unrealistic training. I believe it should raise the question “are training ground methods countering fire ground best practices, and what is the cost?”
“Even if realistic home geometries become available, the fire service is not able to use realistic fuels such as sofas, per NFPA 1403”
To summarize the paragraph, fire service training does not and cannot replicate real world situations because to do so would be too unsafe. Let that sink in for a bit…..
Training in non combustible structures with non combustible furnishings and finishes is something that has had an incredible influence on how we operate. I think an argument could be made that it has possibly had the single greatest impact on where the fire service is collectively today. Burn building experience does not always equal fire experience. If you are a fire department with operations based in burn building experience you need to be humble enough to listen to the information UL and so many others are presenting right now to make the potential necessary changes. TO BE CLEAR: IT IS NOT THAT TRAINING SHOULD NOT BE CONDUCTED IN THESE SETTINGS BUT WE AS INSTRUCTORS MUST COMMUNICATE CLEARLY AND OFTEN THE DIFFERENCES.
“…firefighter deaths occurring inside structures has continued to climb over the past 30 years. Ventilation is believed to be a significant contributing factor to this continued climb in firefighter injuries and deaths”
UL is not the only ones who have discovered this connection. In Lt. Parker’s 2010 article he made it clear that of the top 25 factors present at firefighter fatalities ventilation was noted as number 3 overall but it was the top tactical factor.
If the objective is to reduce firefighter deaths inside structure fires we have been failing for the last 30 years. While it would be convenient to place the blame for this divergent trend on “modern fire behavior” I think we need to consider modern firefighter training and what is missing.
When we train our firefighters in non combustible structures with non combustible furnishings and finishes, we are training firefighters in fires which are fuel limited. No matter how we alter ventilation conditions it only changes the intensity at which the fuel package burns and will not lead to extension or true flashover. This has lead to a collective INEXPERIENCE with the effects of ventilation on fire conditions. “Opening up” in these structures and training scenarios is without consequence. Putting a fan on fires in these conditions will be without consequence. If these points are omitted from the training evolution the performance in practice will become practice on scene and the outcome may be drastically different.
It would be easy for us to watch this video and be critical of the way he keeps the door open while calling for the window to be taken however, this action of opening up in the presence of worsening conditions is how they were trained. That mind set is how I was initially trained; an open fire building was a clearer and safer fire building. In a natural product (pallet/excelsior based) fuel limited fire this is absolutely true. Opening up will intensify the burn of the fuel package leading to a cleaner more complete (less smoke) burn and the greater number of openings allows avenues for the smoke to escape all while there is no threat for extension.
This is not a post to push people towards door control firefighters and smoke curtains or anti ventilation protocols. Many of our traditional methods of fire attack are working fine as long as the firefighters know what to expect and how to deal with changes. The biggest problem is not how we are operating it is the context in which our gauges are set. In fuel limited fires and training scenarios we have all the time in the world to act, the fire will not grow beyond the package. This is where we are failing our firefighters, the sense of urgency and necessity of action, working with speed and purpose is essential because in the real world things get real, real quick.
Some of us have learned the hard way that in a real structure fire where synthetic fuel is unlimited and readily available for extension, ventilation will not only intensify the original fuel package but it will begin to involve more fuel packages and in the case of synthetic fuels create more smoke which is just additional fuel being dispatched throughout the structure.
Another example of crews operating how they were trained. The video even makes a clear statement that “the crews did nothing wrong”; operating as they were trained and within department policy, a policy that has since changed. Operating with a tactic that works well in burn buildings, NFPA 1403 compliant live burns, or in fires that are completely extinguished or fully compartmentalized and vented. My question is how much longer or how many more close calls will it take for others to change? How much longer will we claim our objective is to make fire attack safer while omitting the fact that we are force feeding the “modern” (vent limited) fire air.
To those who argue that the information is still new or that there are people out there promoting positive pressure attack success, this is a nice throwback. Almost 10 years ago the two paramount PPV instructors made very clear the risks and precautions.
From “Pressure Precepts” Fire Chief Magazine December 2006
Battalion Chief Kriss Garcia & Battalion Chief Reinhard Kauffmann Salt Lake City Fire
- “As incident commanders turn to positive-pressure as part of their firefighting attack strategy, the potential for injuries rises.”
- “ A recent NIOSH report underscores the importance of completely understanding the precautions required to safely use PPV. ‘Unless PPV has been started in coordination with the initial attack , it shouldn’t be initiated until all interior crews have exited the structure’.”
- “There are many PPV situations where precautions are necessary. Firefighters should watch out for the following situations:”
- When there are or is the potential for victims, or firefighters standing at windows or other exhaust openings.
- When firefighters have entered the structure prior to the PPV being used.
- When backdraft conditions are observed
- When exhaust openings cannot match fire loading
- When exposures may be threatened by “blow torching”
- Allow for 60 to 90 seconds of PPV prior to attack operations
The UL Study is not new information, it is repeating the same message. ARE WE GOING TO START LISTENING?
If it is clear that the structure fires we are responding to are ventilation limited then our objective should be to get better at fighting ventilation limited fires. If we only have fuel limited fire scenarios to work with than we to be that much more diligent in ensuring that the setting isn’t controlling the experience and operation, we as knowledgeable instructors are.
Why collectively and nationally are we not attempting to take the information clearly presented in these documents and make it our objective to improve the understanding of fire behavior, no longer standing for those who are omitting it, putting citizens, property and firefighters at greater risk.
I wish this was limited to ventilation and we could stop the discussion here but it doesn’t. I get sick to my stomach when I hear recorded radio traffic prior to mayday’s where firefighters are reporting “heavy smoke and high heat” but there is no water flowing. Our fire attack training has been equally compromised through fuel limited fire training. Look no further than the picture above and see how low volume attack lines, concerns over water damage or statements like “don’t flow water until you see fire” infect our membership.
The objective of the flashover chamber is to provide firefighters an opportunity to observe more realistic fire behavior however once again if clear description is not provided, misapplication of the message runs rampant. In the flashover chamber short bursts of water are used to maintain the fire in a marginal state. Since the objective is to observe fire behavior applying too much water would extinguish the fire and stop the lesson. The short bursts of water are a fire management tool. All it takes is for one person to tell a group of wide eyed students that these short bursts of water or “penciling” is CONTROLLING flashover without providing the full context and this becomes their idea of what should be done if they ever find themselves in a pre-flashover situation rather than fully opening and continuously operating the nozzle until through cooling has been achieved.
With that said it is possible to make training more real. We KNOW smoke is fuel and that it will travel through out the structure. We KNOW that just because we can’t see fire doesn’t mean that it isn’t there. We KNOW that the only way to prevent flashover is to cool the environment rapidly. Unfortunately since it takes education to understand this and some work to alter buildings these extremely critical points are not being incorporated into training exercise where firefighters are developing experience.
It is as simple as hanging pallets from the ceiling and suspending a fuel package which is what hot and buoyant smoke from synthetic materials burning would be. Is there risk in training for one of those pallets to fall on to an advancing firefighter? Yes, but you must decide if that risk is greater then sending them out into a world where their experience in training might just be a complete mismatch for reality.
SLICERS has taken a beating for the “cooling from a safe location” component, but once again maybe we need to ask why. In the video above the firefighters are cooling from a safe location. They are flowing on their way to the fire room, cooling the environment and interior surfaces to reduce the potential for the radiant heat they are communicating from contributing to a flash over. These are well educated firefighters, training in context. If a firefighter’s only experience is in the gas feed prop above the there is no need to flow in a hallway, in fact there is no need to flow any water until you are on the prop so therefore flowing water into a window on to that prop might be “fast water” to them. This once again is not the fault of the firefighters it is just their experience and understanding based on that experience, they have not had the experience or had the facilitator of that training experience make it clear that fuels other than that single target might be involved.
This rant could continue all day, my point remains that we as instructors and shapers of future generations in this fire service need to speak in complete sentences.
“A wide fog pattern will provide protection on approach of a gas fed fire outside. This principle does not apply to the interior of a structure where your surroundings are also fuel.”
“Today you will not see fire when you enter the front door but you will be flowing water as soon as you get in as if it were there”
Classrooms are filling every day from coast to coast for anything with the words “Modern Fire Behavior” in the title. It seems to be a key objective nationally to get this information out to anyone who wants it. Let us make sure that what is being gathered and communicated on paper is not being omitted from practice otherwise it is all just lip service.