Blog by Christopher J. Naum
Executive Producer of www.buildingsonfire.com
Today’s incident demands on the fireground are unlike those of the recent past. They require incident commanders and commanding officers to have increased technical knowledge of building construction with a heightened sensitivity to fire behavior, a focus on operational structural stability and considerations related to occupancy risk versus the occupancy type.
There is an immediate need for today’s emerging and operating command and company officers to increase their foundation of knowledge and insights related to the modern building occupancy, building construction and fire protection engineering. There is also a need to adjust and modify traditional and conventional strategic operating profiles in order to safeguard companies, personnel and team compositions.
Strategies and tactics must be based on occupancy risk, not occupancy type, and must have the combined adequacy of sufficient staffing, fire flow and tactical patience orchestrated in a manner that identifies with the fire profiling, predictability of the occupancy profile and accounts for presumptive fire behavior.
The dramatic changes in buildings over the past 10 years have resulted inadequate fire suppression methodologies based upon conventional practices that don’t align with the manner in which we used to discern — with a measured degree of predictability — how buildings perform, react and fail under most fire conditions.
We predicate certain expectations that fire will travel in a defined manner and it will hold within a room for a predictable given duration of time. We also assume the fire load and related fire flows required will be appropriate for an expected severity of fire encountered within a given building, occupancy and structural system. We expect that with an appropriately trained staff will be able to perform the requisite evolutions and safely and effectively mitigate a structural fire in any given building type and occupancy.
Past operational experiences, both favorable and negative, gave us experiences that define and determine how we expect similar structures and occupancies to perform at a given alarm in the future. This formed the basis for the naturalistic decision-making process.
Implementing fundamentals of firefighting operations built upon nine decades of time-tested and experience-proven strategies and tactics continue to be the model of suppression operations. These same fundamental strategies continue to drive methodologies in our training programs and academies of instructions.
But are you aware of the defining changes in structural systems and support, the characteristics of materials and the magnitude of the fire-loading package in today’s buildings and occupancies? When was the last time you were out in the street with the companies, or spent some time doing a walk-through of construction or renovations site? Have you asked your commanding officers for insights into what operational demands and risks are being imposed upon them while operating in the street and within the buildings, occupancies and structures that comprise your jurisdiction?
The structural anatomy, predictability of building performance under fire conditions, structural integrity and the extreme fire behavior; accelerated growth rate and intensively levels typically encountered in buildings of modern construction during initial and sustained fire suppression have given new meaning to the term combat fire engagement.
The rules for combat structural fire suppression have changed. It’s no longer just brute force and sheer physical determination that define structural fire suppression operations, although any seasoned command and company officer knows that at times, that’s exactly what gets the job done.
However, from a methodical and disciplined perspective, aggressive firefighting must be redefined and aligned to the built environment and associated with goal-oriented tactical operations that have been defined by strategic processes and executed under battle plans that promote the best in safety practices.
The demands and requirements of modern firefighting will continue to require the placement of personnel within situations and buildings that carry risk, uncertainty and inherent danger. As a result, risk management must become fluid and integrated with intelligent tactical deployments and operations. Today’s incident commanders need to think about the predicative strategic process.
Here are some action steps to consider:
>> Read, comprehend and implement the IAFCs Rules of Engagement for Firefighter Survival and The Incident Commanders Rules of Engagement for Firefighter Safety.
>> Take a tour of your response area, district, community, or city. Take a good look around and begin to recognize the apparent or subtle changes that are affecting your incident operations.
>> Read up on the latest research and technical literature on wind-driven fires, extreme fire behavior, structural ability of engineered lumber systems, fire loading and suppression theory.
>> Take time to personally read a series of the latest NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program LODD reports and relate them to your organizations.
>> Start thinking in terms of Occupancy Risks vs. Occupancy Type and align your operations and deployments to match those risks.
>> Increase your situational awareness of today’s fireground and refine your strategic and tactical modeling.
>> Implement both strategic and tactical patience. Slow down and allow the building to stabilize. Increase survivability ratios while meeting the demands of conducting fire service operations.
>> Reprogram your assumptions and presumptions on building construction and firefighting operations. The buildings have changed, our firefighting has not. What are you going to do about that gap?
If you don’t fully understand how a building truly performs or reacts under fire conditions and the variables that can influence its stability and degradation, then you will be functioning and operating in a reactionary manner that is no longer acceptable within many of our modern building types. This places higher risk to your personnel and lessens the likelihood for effective, efficient and safe operations.
You’re not doing your job effectively and you’re at risk. These risks can equate into insurmountable operational challenges and could lead to adverse incident outcomes. Someone could get hurt, someone could die. It’s that simple. It’s that obvious.
It’s all about understanding the building-occupancy relationships and the art and science of firefighting. At the end of the day, building knowledge equals firefighter safety.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally posted on www.commandsafety.com and www.thecompanyofficer.com.
About the Author
Christopher J. Naum, SFPE, has more than 37 years of field and operations experience and previously worked in command, operations and training capacities. Currently serves as the executive producer for several fire service websites, including www.buildingsonfire.com.