Blog by Ed Hadfield

Its a simple word, fundamentals, and an even simpler idea. As we continue to perfect our methodology in the science of firefighting, we are moving further away from the fundamentals associated with the craft of firefighting.

Bold as that statement might be, we find the reliance on technology — or maybe I should say the crutch of using technology — in a vain attempt to make up for our lack of basic strategies during fireground operations.

This has created a theoretical approach to tactical considerations on the fireground; and in my opinion, the demise of an educational approach to the craft of fireground operations.

Take a look at the basic understanding (or misunderstandings) of fire behavior and the dangers associated with fireground operations. First, we recognize todays occupancies are larger than those built in the 1970s when the western United States experienced exponential growth. The average residential housing unit has increased 75 percent in overall square footage since the boom of the 70s and the thermal insulation values have tripled. This might not seem important, but when you calculate the required fire-flow ratio, based on average square footage, we see required fire-flow factor increases beyond what was previously used by firefighters.

Fire, as we know it and through scientific study, burns at an increased rate creating hostile events, while extreme interior fire behavior and rapid fire progression is being witnessed on what used to be ordinary structure fires.

This change in fire behavior and the increase in rapid fire progression within the enclosure of the occupancy is a direct result of three key factors:

>> Fuel loading within occupancies has doubled since the 1980s.

>> Fuel modeling of these elements has dramatically changed. Fire gases are producing highly volatile, explosive fuels carrying a high density of unburned fuel particles that are suspended within the atmosphere of the enclosure.

>> Going green and the need for higher thermal insulation values in today’s occupancies create a tighter enclosure. This lends itself to the likelihood of rapid fire progression within the enclosure.

Take this all into account and we quickly recognize the need to understand the importance of knowing the basic fundamentals of building profiling, rescue profiling and a comprehensive analysis of fireground operations based upon mission of purpose.

Mission of purpose is a simple concept, but some in the fire service have lost sight of the mission of purpose and have used the we’re killing firefighters card to push an agenda. While it is fact firefighters lose their lives and are injured while performing interior fire operations, many of those deaths are not attributed to a single event. More so, they are a result of a series of events that go unrecognized and unmitigated on the fireground.

These series of breakdowns include a chain of events, often based solely upon human error and failed tactical functions. Simply stated, in some cases its not the big event that killed or injured a firefighter; it was a series of mistakes that lead to the subsequent catastrophic ending.

So with that said, how do we fundamentally address the need to change and create a more efficient working platform so we can carry out our mission of purpose. First, we need to look at a few key items.

Building profile is a fireground concept used by all responding personnel. The concept establishes fireground operations keyed off building profiles by the incident commander. Most occupancies are broken into five categories (Type 1 through Type 5). This is a common understanding in the fire service, but what does it mean to the fireground commander?

Well, it clearly identifies potential fireground setbacks and primary needs of the first alarm resources. Take for instance a Type 1 structure, the obvious hazard is the potential for rapid fire progression within the enclosure due to the limited ability to rapidly ventilate the structure during a coordinated fire attack.

On the flip side, the limited likelihood of the fire transitioning from a compartment or content driven fire to a structural fire and creating a hazardous environment as a result of structural collapse is limited due to the construction features and building components of the occupancy.

The next aspect is vital to understanding the primary functions of fireground decision making. Fireground decision making must be based upon the mission of purpose. The mission of purpose is the basis of your strategic process, which includes Life Safety, Incident Stabilization, and Property Conservation.

Ask any citizen why fire departments exist and the most common answer will be, to save my family from a burning building. This will quickly be followed by, and to keep my home or business from burning down.

This is our mission.

Sure we are all risk agencies, and EMS encompasses a large function of our service to the community. But nothing speaks of mission of purpose like saving lives at the scene of structure fires.

The reason this is so important is simple, it’s because nobody else can do it. When you look at all other activities we are involved with, one could find another entity to function in that capacity should the need arrive. But firefighters hold sole ownership for firefighting and the task of saving lives, homes and businesses.

As previously mentioned, rescue profiling is based upon a few defining factors. First, look at the residential structure. The obsolete concept of assuming no one is home during daytime hours of a residential structure fire, or even worse, assuming no one is inside a burning structure unless there is a person telling you otherwise, is theory that should be struck from fire service text.

All residential structures must be considered occupied until someone clearly confirms the occupancy is non-occupied. This comes in the form of a resident informing the first arriving officer or the primary search group issuing and all clear to the incident commander. Until then, we must operate under the assumption the residential structure is occupied.

While doing so a constant evaluation of changing conditions must be considered by the I/C. A complete Dynamic Risk Assessment is critical within the first five minutes of arrival. The information gathered is critical to the success of the mission.

Items to identify include the following:

Height, Width and Depth of the Structure: Gauging length, width, height or setback will determine line length.

Size and Volume of Structure: Determine the overall size and volume of structure, then the amount of fire involvement. Calculate the area of involvement based upon the time first water will be applied. Remember, 100 square feet of involvement typically requires 30 to 50 GPM of flow. Also note, the average track home in Southern California is 2,200 square feet.

Ventilation Profile: If occupancy is pressurized at the door upon entry, with dense/dark smoke at or below mid-door level, consider vertical ventilation prior to any positive pressure ventilation use. Never utilize positive pressure ventilation prior to the initial attack line and before you have identified the area of involvement.

Softening the Structure: Softening techniques include identification of any fireground setbacks, including bars on windows, gates, metal security screen doors, etc.

When we consider the basic fundamentals of what has been discussed, we can clearly identify the foundation or the bed rock of a successful operation on the fireground. Obviously there are many, many more key ingredients to the success of any operation, but starting with a strong foundation and fundamental approach is just the beginning.

Until next time, stay safe.

About the Author
Ed Hadfield has more than 26 years of fire service experience, rising through the ranks from firefighter to division chief. He is a frequent speaker on leadership, sharing his experiences within the fire service and also with corporate and civic leaders throughout the United States. For more on Hadfield, please check online at