Responding to a fire alarm can generate a thought process unlike any other. This is heightened when the response will place you as the first-arriving fire officer on the scene. The anticipation of establishing command, identifying incident priorities, and considering initial assignments can happen like a one-two punch.
Experience dictates rescue is a priority at any fire event; we look for evidence of occupancy and begin to consider survivability profile indicators. While the neighbor rushes to you with information, a bystander parked in the street blocks your path, and the scene becomes more chaotic. Rig placement and making the stretch are even more of a priority. The things that take place in the first five minutes can shape the whole event.
Decisions on the fireground can follow a pattern that works for most fires. Firefighters learn acronyms that help guide the decision process and provide memory joggers for on-scene reports and assignments. Sometimes the pattern changes because the fire scene dictates a different dynamic. The part that cannot change is the focus on life safety-- both for those we protect and those who protect.
This month’s www.Firefighternearmiss.com report is from an initial incident commander. The incident begins with an engine and ladder truck arriving on the scene, and the report concludes when the event takes a near miss turn. While we know that is not the whole story for this event, it covers the part we need for our review.
Flashover Inhibits Attack in a Single-Family Dwelling Published: 11/19/2017
Single-story residential structure, 25% involved, with working fire showing on arrival.
The initial engine crew arrived to find fire showing on the Charlie side of a single-family dwelling and initiated an offensive fire attack. The truck company marked on scene and was assigned to conduct a primary search, as a neighbor told us on arrival that there might be occupants inside. As additional units began to arrive, the fire conditions worsened. This was noticed from the disposition of the smoke going from light gray to darker brown. I asked for a progress report, and soon after that request, there was a flashover. Both crews inside evacuated, the truck company went out a window, and the engine crew exited out the initial attack entry door. Two of the crew members who went out the window had minor injuries.
At that time, another crew was on the outside attempting to ventilate and was close to the fire on the Bravo/Charlie side. One of those firefighters received a second-degree burn. As this event was happening, I called for a Personal Accountability Report (PAR). The PAR took longer than it should have due to radios not being on the correct channel and one of the crew members not having a radio with him.
Lessons to Share
Fuel loads and the fires we respond to are completely unpredictable. Firefighters have to maintain an acute level of situational awareness at all times and understand what is being communicated to us from the color and turbulence of smoke. There are several training opportunities on the Internet that will assist in reading smoke. While the home was a legacy structure, the contents were modern, leading to faster flashover times and advanced fire behavior.
The location of the fire and floor plan of the house were factors. The home was previously a duplex, and once crews went one direction in the foyer, they no longer could access the other side of the home. The fire was then inaccessible to the suppression team. The open front door also acted as an exhaust point and allowed a wind from the opposite side of the structure to ventilate the fire. The wind was blowing in from the south, which was the Charlie side where the fire originated.
Points to Consider
The actions described at this fire seem like solid decisions for most fire events. The author brings up a fine point about modern furnishings that can cause frontline crews to challenge which tactic to use. This fire occurred in October at 11:00 p.m., and the neighbor reported that someone is usually home at this time of day. Consider the report given and decide how you would address the following points if you were to experience this type of fire in the future.
The on-scene report gave a single-story residence with a working fire. The report indicates a 360 survey by the incident commander with 25% involvement from the back of the structure. How would you direct companies to attack this fire? Discuss the smoke conditions described. How does the change in conditions direct the decisions from command? What, if anything, can the interior crew determine from the changing conditions? How did the radio discipline change the outcome of this fire? What do you do to confirm everyone is on the correct radio channel? During this event, the ventilation flow path changed when it began to exhaust through the front door. Discuss door control; how could it change your tactics at the next fire? A crew member performing ventilation was injured when the fire flashed over. How can we reduce the danger of this happening?
The author indicates several factors that contributed to the near miss; they included decision making, situational awareness, communication, and the structural conditions of the building.
The things we don’t know about this event may have dictated the decisions made. It’s hard to know if obstacles or tactics prevented a stretch to the rear of the structure, or if communication about the extent of the fire to the attack crew failed because of a radio condition. Each crew leader operating on the fire scene should do their own 360 survey. It is better to know than guess the conditions.
Sometimes the most direct stretch for the first line is the best choice, but it can place the attack crew in an unnecessarily dangerous position. Because of the heat release rate produced when modern furnishings burn, we must consider a transitional attack when the fire still shows some signs of confinement.
An important factor with any fire is the ventilation flow path. Managing the flow path is the most important task for the ventilation crew. There have been many articles and studies about coordinating ventilation with fire attack, and the ventilation officer may be the most effective person to manage the entire process.
The author states that the front doorway became an exhaust opening. Thus, it modified the flow path. When this happens, it redirects heat and smoke into a previously unaffected space. This could change undetected occupants’ ability to survive if they had been in a previously protected position. The entire flow path contains all the elements of ventilation from where fresh air enters the structure to everywhere heated smoke and gases exit. Managing this job requires coordination; the incident commander may need to assign additional resources for this task.
A final factor to consider is the radio discipline for this event. The most important job you have is the fire alarm you are on now. Crews that are not on the primary tactical channel can cause a distraction for others that hear their radio. Additionally, if dispatch has priority over the other channels, important information from this fire scene could be walked over. It would be a disaster to miss a Mayday call because a crew across town was dispatched on an unrelated incident.
One way to address crews operating on the correct channel is that all assignments transmit over the radio. When the orders are confirmed, everyone’s ability to send and receive on that TAC is established.
Fire attack reports are available on the Firefighternearmiss.com Web site. The lessons to share in the database are the gold in the reports. How we develop the next generation to manage these events is accomplished by sharing real information from our experiences. If you have a report that shares one of your experiences, I would like to read about it. It only takes a few minutes to give your expertise, and the benefits to the next generation of firefighters could be lifesaving.
1. The entire report can be accessed online at: http://firefighternearmiss.com/Reports?id=11720.
2. Interior attack with door control: http://www.firefighternation.com/articles/2017/01/interior-attack-with-door-control.html.
3. FDIC 2018 Preview: Fire Ventilation and Flow Path Control. A video preview of an FDIC 2018 presentation: http://www.firefighternation.com/articles/2018/01/fdic-2018-preview-fire-ventilation-and-flow-path-control.html.
4. Fire Engineering’s Training Minutes: Transitional Attack: http://www.videos.fireengineering.com/detail/video/5018300755001.
Greg Lindsay, MPA, CFO, has been a member of the Oklahoma City (OK) Fire Department since 1984. He has worked through each level of the operational fire service and has been a battalion chief for the past 15 years. Lindsay has a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Oklahoma and Chief Fire Officer designation from the Center for Public Safety Excellence. He has been with the Firefighter Near Miss reporting team since March 2005. You can reach him at Lindsayokc@cox.net.