When opening my Flow Path Management Experience courses, I begin by surveying the class to find out how the first due company officers operate with regards to who actually determines where the first line is deployed? (Officer or Nozzleman) Now, I know what the textbooks say and what our operating guidelines recommend but in the majority of cases, the first due line officer is playing the initial role of Incident Command, their focus is on apparatus placement, establishing water supply, directing incoming units, assigning the roles of the ICS, and the list goes on. Meanwhile, our fire attack crew is “dialing in” on the fire attack and awaiting orders from an already overwhelmed officer as to where to begin the engagement.
Let’s face it… the reality is, our nozzle crew sometimes (emphasized not always) finds themselves as the ones making the decision where to place the first line and the size line needed. Especially, in volunteer fire departments where there may be no line or chief officer present. We don’t live in a perfect world do we?The perfect scenario of a coordinated fire attack, in conjunction with, ventilation only occurs within well-disciplined agencies with dedicated riding positions with ample staffing and acceptable repsonse times.
The reality is..coordination between ventiltion and fire attack does not exist in many departments. Co-ordinated fire attack requires discipline….something the fire services lacks. So, if the fire attack crew is making such decisions how well-versed are they at recognizing a potential extreme fire event? Much less understanding the flow path and the dangers it contains?
Making a rapid assessment of the flow path is critical towards an effective and safer fire attack that may prevent the senseless injury to advancing crews in a modern-fueled fire environment.
For your consideration: Ten Ponts To Ponder…
In the first arriving seconds & minutes, gather as much information through size-up, thermal assessments, observation of the fire behavior, and buiding cconstruction as possible in order to gain information about the existing flow path:
1. Assess the inlet and outlet:
Extreme fire events occur in the flow path. Recognition and mitigating a potential flashover makes your fire attack corridor safer. It avoids placing your crew between where the fire is and where it wants to go without protective measures by figuring out where the air is coming from and where it is going.
2. Assess the type of flow path.
-Ventilation Limited? Virtually few, if any, openings readily available to support combustion. (Slow growth fire, maybe in the decay stage prior to the F.D. opening up.)
-Bi-directional flow? (one opening competing for both inlet and outlet) Usually indicates a slower growth fire. Can transition to a uni-directional flow within seconds of opening a door or window failure.
-Uni-directional flow? (A dedicated inlet and a dedicated outlet) Usually indicates as rapidly growing fire due to the abundance of available air and flow path existence.
3. Where is the fire?
In the basement? Living quaters? Sleeping areas? Kitchen… What kind of modern fuels may be present in these areas?
4. Is there an existence of a vertical flow path or thermal column? This will indicate a rapidly expanding fire problem to upper floors, compromised exits, deadly fire gases infiltrating bedrooms, possible trapped occupants, or attic space extension.
5. Conduct the 360 degree walk-a-round using the TIC.
6. Anticipate modern-fueled fires! Expect and plan for a rapid fire progression, earlier flashovers, decreased O2 levels, increased CO levels. Occupants have less time to escape due to faster fires anticipate rescues.
7. Can we Control Openings: (doors, windows, Smoke blockades…)
Research is demosntrating the more ventilation limited we keep a fire; the slower the heat release rates and slower fire growth. Can we slow the fire growth by leaving windows and doors in place?
8. Conduct a Go..No..Go.. Assessment;
Check Temeperatures prior to entering using your TIC: Radio to incoming units the tempratures being encountered before and during the attack. It’s a “No Go” at 400-450 degrees due to the degradation on our PPE.
9. Will a Transitional or Reset Fire Attack serve to slow or reduce the thermal insult to the fleeing occupants or support the VEIS? Will it buy us time until sufficient resources are in place to make the push inward?
10. Based upon interior temperatures, will surface gas cooling the flow path along the fire corridor decrease our chances for an impending flashover and cool the environment providing us an opportunity for escape if it becomes neccssary?
While there are a multitude of other considerations, these suggestions address the size-up from a flow path perspective and how the attack crew can observe, recognize, plan, and mitigate a potential extreme fire event. It should be used in consideration among other size up efforts.