A lively debate on fireground tactics erupted on the show floor as two experienced fire officers squared off in a moderated panel session at Firehouse World 2016 on Tuesday afternoon.
The debate focused on whether the “hit it hard from the yard” tactic of fire suppression was effective or defective when it comes to saving life and property.
On the side of putting water through the window from the yard was Derek Alkonis, an assistant Los Angeles County Fire Department.
In the corner of the more traditional, through the front door and advancing to the seat of the fire was John Salka, retired FDNY battalion chief.
Firehouse Editor in Chief Tim Sendelbach moderated the session.
“If I am burning in a building, I want the water as soon as possible,” Alkonis said, making an analogy of holding one’s hand over a match. “Every second counts and you want to get out of that situation as quickly as possible.
That’s way he said the immediate, quick hit, cool down of a fire is an effective way of fighting fire.
Salka acknowledged that small rural departments that might actually arrive on the scene of a structure fire with only a couple of members. In that case, it makes perfect sense to advance a line to the window with fire blowing out of it to get a quick knock on the blaze.
However, for the most part well-staffed departments should consider going through the front door advancing the line into the building to find the seat, Salka advocated. He said as fire crews advance through the house, they are more likely to find victims of the fire quickly.
“It just doesn’t make sense to me to advance a line around to the back of the building to put a 10-second stream of water perfectly placed in the window and they to haul the charged hose back to the front to go in,” Salka said. “It just doesn’t make any sense.”
Alkonis conceded Salka’s scenario might not make sense, but he maintained that the fast water to a fire is most effective in extinguishing any blaze.
“We are talking about the most effective way of getting water on the fire,” Alkonis said adding that the science and research backs the theory up. “We’re just saying it’s something to consider.”
Salka said he understands the importance of getting water on the fire as soon as possible, but still questions the science of the statements.
“I am worried about the detouring that will take place,” Salka said. “We might be two rooms in to the fire by then.” He said that’s gives firefighters more time to rescue people who might be trapped inside, waiting for help.
“I have had times where I have had members of the truck company, giving CPR to a victim, long before any engine company has arrived,” Salka said.
From Alkonis’ perspective, it’s a matter of taking control of a fire as soon as possible to minimize damage to property and to save any victims that may be trapped in a fire.
“As a room gets ready to flashover, in just a matter of seconds, the fire goes from tenable to untenable,” Alkonis said.
Salka said by the time fire starts rolling out any window, the flashover has already occurred, the condition is no longer tenable as it’s free burning with a window for vent. In those cases, he said, in his opinion it’s always better to fight fire from the unburned to the burned.
He said there are too many factors to make a tactic like hit it hard from the yard.
Scientific agencies that test fires, control all aspects of the scenario, from the materials burned, to the size of the structure, flow paths and vents as well as fuel and even the length of time of the burns.
In the real world, Salka said, firefighters have virtually none of that information and none of the control.
“They start a fire in a box and throw a little bit of water in and say ‘holy sh**, that worked pretty good,’” Salka said.
That line of commenting did not set well with Robin Zevotek, a research engineer for Underwriters Laboratories working in the Firefighter Safety Research Institute, who happened to be in the audience watching the moderated session.
Zevotek said he was not speaking officially for the UL, but said all the science backs up early water as an effective method for extinguishing fires.
“If you put the fire out, you’re protecting the people inside,” Zevotek said.
Salka countered that even after the fire is extinguished, the danger is still high with smoke, heat and carbon monoxide, all which are not good for the preservation of health and safety.
“You’ve got to get in there to save people,” Salka said.
Alkonis said the hit it hard from the yard tactic is just that, a tactic that should be considered.
While the debate could have continued for hours, Sendelbach called the match for lack of time and suggested it could be picked up at another time.
“Folks, the grenade is in the middle of the room,” Sendelbach said.