Original post found at: http://community.fireengineering.com/profiles/blog/show?id=1219672:BlogPost:641141
Even to this zealot, the arguments against the tactical improvements inspired by fire dynamics research can, at first, sound persuasive:”The aggressive interior attack has proven effectiveness.“; “Experiments have little application to the ‘real world’ of structure fires.”; and “Nothing works everywhere” are common examples. Furthermore, I have heard and read these and similar statements from many fire service leaders, and such pronouncements generally garner more applause – or the digital equivalents of more views, likes, and shares – compared to attempts to spread the word about the revelations from fire dynamics research. Truly, efforts to promote a different approach to an endeavor that is practiced with such passion and independence can be viewed as subversive and un-American.
That said, I have argued against each of these excuses already: (MFA 24: With All Due Respect – Newer methods can save more and injure less at http://community.fireengineering.com/profiles/blog/show?id=1219672%…; MFA 12: Research vs. Real World – How do laboratory results translate to the fireground? at http://community.fireengineering.com/profiles/blog/show?id=1219672%…, and MFA 14: That Won’t Work Here – And other lame excuses at http://community.fireengineering.com/profiles/blog/show?id=1219672%…). Despite their face validity (i.e., they sound right), I consider them to be, at best, poorly-informed rationalizations for maintaining the status quo (i.e., “foot dragging”). Their collective ill effect is a slowing of the adoption of valid improvements in safety and effectiveness, to the detriment of firefighters and those we are sworn to protect.
One of the more recent verbal tire spikes that have been spread in the path of progress toward improved fire service efficiency is the proclamation that “Changes are being proposed too quickly!” This warning implies that the modifications inspired by the science are potentially reckless, or at least not as well vetted as those we have been practicing for decades. Under the guise of caution, it suggests that new approaches might have significant downsides that justify delaying their adoption. As you may have guessed, my perspective is a bit different.
First, conventional (also known as traditional, legacy, current, mainstream, accepted, proven, and/or disproven) firefighting tactics – essentially, the coordinated and near-simultaneous application of ventilation, extinguishment, and search – were based in part on principles that have been demonstrated to be false. Specifically, the perceived benefits of early ventilation and harms from exterior streams have been dismissed, relieving us from much of the efforts previously expended cutting open roofs, or the delays we imposed on water application while securing entry or stretching to further access points. Since we now know this approach has foundational flaws, changing it is not only justified, but necessary.
Secondly, these entrenched methods arose from an era when the commonly encountered combustibles burned much less rapidly than those that currently comprise and furnish the structures to which we respond. Back in the days when the fuels we faced were usually “natural” materials such as cotton, wool, and wood, which burn much more slowly, many fires were in the incipient, or at least pre-flashover, stage upon firefighters’ arrival. Nowadays, in order to fight a fire that is not ventilation-limited, and therefore just waiting to blow up when air flow is increased, you pretty much have to already be on location when it is ignited. Modern materials can burn so quickly that they overwhelm the amount of oxygen available for the process of combustion in a matter of minutes, and instead flow out of structures in the form of smoke before igniting on the exterior. The fact that interior firefighters can now find themselves operating within pre-heated, oxygen-deficient fuels mandates the abandonment of the “wait until you can reach the seat of the fire” water application rule. Sorry to cut the rousing debate short, but cooling from the exterior has moved past the “optional” stage and has become a virtual necessity.
Finally, the development of the so-called aggressive interior attack (AIA) paralleled, and relied upon, the development of more effective personal protective equipment (PPE) and consistent use of self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). (Believe it or not, when I started in the fire service in the 1970s, wearing SCBA was not only optional, but frowned upon by many fellow firefighters.) Wearing gear that insulates firefighters, at least temporarily, from the intense heat present within burning structures, allows for most interior attacks to prevail despite ill-timed interventions (i.e., early ventilation and late water) and ever-increasing fuel loads. The two lessons about AIA inherent in this observation are that its success relies on the completely inestimable (i.e., hopeful) fact that firefighters’ protective clothing will perform long enough to allow adequate cooling of the interior; and that that approach has only been possible for the past 30-40 years (depending upon when your department invested in modern PPE and began mandating the use of SCBA), relegating it, too, to the category of “new” techniques, at least in the context of fire suppression improvement history.
So, those who cry “wait a minute” before instituting proven enhancements are instead settling for a process with identified flaws, developed for smaller fire loads, and which relies on the unpredictable balance between PPE and the heat release rate of involved building contents. While it was the ultimate method in its time, its time has passed, even if a lot of us never really mastered the complex coordination of tasks it required. Sure, our equipment allows us to survive almost every fire we encounter, regardless of inefficiencies or errors inherent in our procedures, and it is the rare occurrence for these shortcomings to come to light. Even in the event of a significant failure, such as a firefighter injury or death, the cause is typically blamed on an anomaly (i.e., “unusual conditions”) or a failure in execution, rather than a shortfall in the strategy itself. Many of us have blinders on when it comes to assessing deficiencies in our favored practices.
Delaying the adoption of rather modest modifications (i.e., apply water sooner and ventilate later) to address known shortcomings serves no legitimate purpose for ourselves or those to whom we have pledged our service. The significant revisions to our understanding of fire dynamics, obtained through research undertaken on our behalf, and widely disseminated in a variety of media (including blogs), should have already lead to equally significant revisions in the practices we had based on the previous beliefs; especially since no similarly rigorous or detailed research has ever been performed to support the methods that so many are defending so fiercely.
Slow down? Better we should just try harder to keep up!
Next myth needing busting: Worth the Risk!?