Original post found at: http://www.firehouse.com/article/12111042/slicers-in-the-rural-fire-environment Article by:
As I look out the window of my Montana house, I can see for literally hundreds of miles. This is rural America at its best. It is a truly amazing place to live—a place where it is far more common to hear about bears breaking into homes than people.
But living in the Yellowstone National Park ecosystem has its challenges, too. We respond to calls over an area of 600 square miles, and although we are able to get to most calls relatively quickly, it is not uncommon to see response times of 45 minutes or more. And like most rural areas, our calls are diverse and complex and oftentimes require multiple agencies to work together.
The strict definition of “rural” is hotly debated, but for the purposes of this article, let’s assume rural areas have no fire hydrants, have long response times, are sparsely populated and are generally protected by volunteer and combination departments. More importantly, rural areas can have many different kinds of homes, both new and old, both big and small, some easy to access from a road and some miles down a narrow drive with no way to turn around. Rural may be the wilds of Montana, an island off the coast of Maine, the farmlands of Nebraska or the swamps of Georgia; however, wherever your rural is, there are homes, fires and people who need help. There is still access to Wal-Mart and Amazon.com, and people who fill their homes with all sorts of both necessary and useless plastic items. In this sense, rural is no different than urban. Modern construction and modern furnishing have made homes more volatile everywhere.
As fires have become more volatile, with the use of these synthetic building materials and furnishings, and more unpredictable with the use of lightweight construction techniques, we must act smarter on the fireground. This is particularly true in the rural environment where it is likely that the fire has had more time to develop and may have become ventilation-limited before responders arrive. We know that when resources are limited, we must be innovative and we must do everything we can to improve safety and efficiency.
I hope that everyone is aware of the research that has been conducted by NIST and UL, and the work that has been done by the dedicated members of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI). From this research, we now know that the early application of water from the exterior can be critical to fire control as well as firefighter and occupant safety. We know that we can’t push fire with proper fire stream application, and that ventilation can be as much our enemy as our friend.
The research has shown that cooling the fire and the interior of the structure by applying water from the exterior can greatly improve the conditions within the fire building for both firefighters and potential occupants. This is critical in rural environments where response times can be longer and where personnel and water can be limited. The good news is that research confirms that many of the techniques rural firefighters have been using for years do work—and they work well.
It is important to recognize that living in a rural environment does not mean we can’t take advantage of research and modern techniques. In fact, firefighting in a rural area requires us to know how to be as efficient and effective as possible with limited resources. We learned this with EMS years ago. Our long response times require us to be on the cutting edge of technology and training, and to utilize available research to guarantee the best possible outcomes for our patients. This is true in firefighting as well.
So with all this in mind, what is modern fire attack and how is it applied in this environment? Many of you have probably studied the operational acronym SLICERS, which focuses on the importance of flow path and cooling during fire attack. Let’s consider SLICERS as it applies to the rural fire environment.
S = Size-up
A good size-up sets the stage for how everything will be approached, is critical to the decision-making process, and must begin early. In a rural area, you need to rely on multiple sources for your size-up. The initial dispatch can provide a wealth of information about the location, structure and situation you might be getting into. We know that every fire is unique, and once on scene, the 360 is critical to understanding the individual structure and the fire involved. Where is the fire located? Where does it want to go? What is the wind direction and how it will affect the fire? What resources do you have and how quickly, effectively and safely can you cool the fire?
L = Locate the fire
Where is the fire, and is the fire ventilation-limited? Because of modern building materials, fires are more likely to be vent-limited, and as a result, it may be difficult to see the extent of the fire. Carry a thermal imager, and plan for how you will attack the fire. It is important to assess the fire conditions and to look for signs of high pressure, as well as to note how advanced the fire is and what is burning.
I = Identify the flow path
When a fire is vent-limited, withhold ventilation until crews are ready, and if you are going to make an opening, you need to know how the fire will react. If firefighters are going to operate in the interior of the building, it is critical that they understand and control the flow path. Being on the inlet side of the flow path is safer than being on the exhaust side.
Control the door before you make entry. It’s wise to force the door as soon as possible, but control the door to limit fire growth until the hoseline is ready. Any ventilation must be coordinated with fire attack. You will want to limit air for the fire until the moment you are ready to cool it.
C = Cool the heated space from a safe location
Cool the space from the safest location possible using the information from the size-up. This location may or may not be from an exterior position. Where you initially open the bail from is directly dependent on the fire conditions at that moment. Your intent should be to cool the heated areas as soon as possible. If that is from a window, that is fine. You must also be prepared to flow water as you make an interior advance. Use the reach of your stream to your advantage as you move quickly to the seat of the fire.
E = Extinguish the fire
Once the fire is cooled, firefighters must enter the structure, if it is safe to do so, and extinguish the fire. This should happen as quickly as possible so the fire does not have an opportunity to build back up. Primary and secondary searches should be performed to ensure that no one is in the building, and the fire must be overhauled to ensure it does not rekindle.
R & S—the actions of opportunity
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Rescue and life safety is always our highest priority, but in a rural environment where response times can be long, the information gained during size-up will determine when and if rescue can occur. If everyone is confirmed to be out of the building, rescue becomes a lower priority. But if the status of the occupants is unknown, or they are likely to be inside, rescue remains the top priority. However, it is important to understand that creating and maintaining a survivable environment by cooling the fire as quickly as possible is critical to occupant survival as well as firefighter safety.
The officer must make the difficult decision on arrival regarding whether early water is needed to remove the hazard or if the rescue attempt is in the best interest of the occupants. Optimally, both early water application and rescue efforts can occur simultaneously, but with limited staffing, tough choices may be necessary.
Vent, enter, isolate and search (VEIS) and use a closed door to ensure that a flow path is not created during the rescue attempt. This technique is not new, but features a focus on closing the bedroom door to improve conditions for the trapped occupant and the rescuing firefighter. It is critical to use the door to cut off the flow path in order to protect yourself and potential victims.
The importance of salvage is often overlooked. I can remember being a young firefighter arriving on scene of a working attic fire with smoke pouring out the eves. Our crew was initially assigned to fire attack, but after successfully completing our task, we were quickly reassigned. When my crew leader asked me to get some tarps off the truck, I knew what it meant. We had been assigned to salvage. I was disappointed; this was going to be a great save and I was now assigned to covering couches with tarps and hauling pictures out the front door.
As other crews worked to extinguish the fire by pulling the ceiling, we removed paintings from the walls and took them outside. This was not a glamorous job for the rookie firefighter. Well, we sometimes use the wrong metric to determine what is important. As it turned out, I had performed the most important job of the incident, and the homeowner thanked me profusely. The homeowner was an artist, and the paintings that I had carried outside were worth more than the house that contained them. And unlike the house, they were irreplaceable. Bottom line: It is important to talk to your customer (the one whose house is on fire) to determine what is immediately important to them. It might be a wedding photo, a computer or their grandfather’s recliner.
Adjusting tactics for quick(er) water
One of the key concepts of modern fire attack is to cool the fire as quickly and safely as possible while not creating uncontrolled ventilation openings. In a rural environment where hydrants are not available, we must rely on tank and hauled water. This often involves the use of drop tanks, and drop tanks take time, personnel and space to set up. Some departments are using a tactic called a “rural hitch” where the first (and sometimes second) tanker (or tender) is hooked to a direct tank fill on the engine being used to attack the fire. Depending on the size of the tanks on the tanker(s), this can provide between 3,000 and 6,000 gallons of water. This tactic has several advantages. It provides additional water to the engine very quickly, it frees up the tanker crew to quickly assist with fire attack operations, and it can be utilized in areas where space is limited, such as long driveways and roads restricted by snow. For long duration and defensive fires, additional incoming tankers will still need to set up a tanker shuttle to provide the big water. Unfortunately, like anything else, it has its limitations. If the fire extends beyond the available water on scene, you’ll need to be prepared with a plan B.
Close that door!
Public and partner education is also critical to success. It is not uncommon in rural areas for law enforcement to arrive on scene ahead of the fire department, kick open the front door, and yell “Is anyone inside?” and then leave the door open. Yet we know that uncontrolled ventilation openings can be disastrous to both the structure and any potential occupants. So it is important to train your partners and the public that closed doors save lives. With modern energy-efficient construction, fires can become vent-limited very easily when both interior and exterior doors are closed. If we vent too early, without the application of cooling water, the fire can expand rapidly. So remember, control the flow path where possible, and consider the safest and quickest ways to cool the fire while making an attack.
For more information on SLICERS go to www.ISFSI.org.
TOM KUNTZ is the fire chief for Red Lodge Fire Rescue, a combination department in south-central Montana. Kuntz was selected as the IAFC Volunteer Fire Chief of the Year in 2006.