FIFTY YEARS OF FIRE
By Christopher Huston Firefighter II/Officer II/NREMT-B
No longer do we conjure up images of men saving kittens from trees when we think about Firemen. Modern Firefighters are almost machine like, with power tools, electronic devices and clad from head to toe in fire proof armor. The days of riding tail board on open cab pumpers and three quarter coats with hip boots have been replaced with ALS equipped, digitally controlled engines and Bio-Terrorism proof full Structural Firefighting Ensembles. The Firefighters job is the same, protect lives and property with honor, duty and pride but the means by which this is accomplished has progressed just as much as the world around us in the last fifty years.
Modern firefighting came to be post WWII. The five boroughs of 1960's New York with its “taxpayer" and "tenement", kept FDNY busy while Gary Indiana saw the first glimpse of the "Task Force". New strategies and tactics were being tested every day on the fireground to keep up with the volume of fires they were running. Later in the 70's and 80's departments like LA were giving us advancements in ventilation and medical services. Other places like Phoenix Fire were setting us on the path to Incident Management, all while research was starting to be done on the side effects of smoke. A better understanding of the importance of building construction, code enforcement and Public Fire Prevention also came to the forefront. As technology advanced in the 90's so did the fire service. Computer aided dispatch and pre-plans got us on scene quicker to face more instances of flashover. Today's Firefighters carry Thermal Imaging Cameras, Positive Pressure Fans and Multi-gas monitors.
The Fire service basics really haven't changed. We still show up and put water on the fire. What has changed is the fire and the buildings it consumes. If the materials that burn today burned the same way they did back when buckets were the only option to move water, our tactics would never change. Unfortunately this is not the case. To first understand how tactics have evolved we must look at how fire has evolved.
With the Industrial Revolution everything was made from cotton, linens, wool, wood and other naturally occurring fibers. Even the coal and oils we used for fuel were cleaner and less toxic. Although these were highly flammable and caused catastrophic fires, this period did lead us to the age of iron and steel. These industries gave us firefighting tools and equipment, most importantly pumping apparatus.
Fast forward to the mid 1900's when chemistry was conquering the world we live in and the evolution of deadly household items. Plastics and synthetics replaced cotton and wood. Almost everything in the modern home contains some type of carbon based ingredient. End result, toxic gases in every fire. 100 years ago the by-products of a structure fire were smoke, light and heat. The modern structure fire sees a long list of possibilities just in the smoke and of course hotter fires. In regards to the radiant heat and light at today's fires, you must look at Colonial America and its early conflagrations. The stories tell accounts of entire cities and villages burning to the ground because loose embers floated from one thatched roof to another. If we do not consider exposure protection in modern tactics we can certainly see multiple structures becoming involved due to the extreme heat of today's fires. Of course our water supply, equipment and properly trained firefighting personnel would prevent anything that large from happening.
The 1950's and 1960's saw great advancement in tactics. Two very influential people from this era were Chief Lloyd Layman of Parkersburg Fire and Chief C.H. McMillan of Gary Fire. Chief Layman is the man behind the In-direct attack. He presented at FDIC in 1950 “Little Drops of Water” which was based on US Coast Guard studies in the 1940's concerning fires on ships. In summary it was using steam to extinguish a fire using a fog pattern (Little Drops of Water) rather than a smooth stream. More BTU quenching droplets of water put out the fire more effective. Layman also stated "An indirect attack should always be made from positions that will enable personnel to avoid injuries from super-heated smoke and live steam.” continued by stating that "if possible and practical, an indirect attack should be made from positions outside the involved building." His intentions were that fog streams be directed through window openings because of the voluminous quantities of steam created within the fire building. Layman was also the force behind RECEO-VS, which is an acronym for firefighting tactics in order of priority and is the basis for his book “ Fire Fighting Tactics” published by NFPA.
Chief McMillan was the founder of Task Force Tips in Gary Indiana. His constant pressure nozzle allowed firefighters to use a big stream with limited amounts of water. Task Force Tips took Layman's concept even further by allowing the option between straight and fog patterns at a constant flow with more possibilities of tactics. In the late sixties Gary Fire was running from one call to another so quickly that they developed “Task Forces”. These Task Forces went from fire to fire quickly performing searches, knocking down the fire then moved on to the next. Other crews would come later to perform overhaul and clean up.
In 1973 a letter was circulated to all the Officers of the L.A.F.D. The letter discussed a new type of pressurized ventilation that placed a fan outside the buildings on fire to aid in smoke removal. Years later Salt Lake City Firefighters place fans at the door and attack the fire with the aid of these fans. Extensive research in cities like Chicago and New York have been conducted using large fans on the backs of trucks to pressurize entire high rise buildings to aid in Attack, Exposure Protection and Fire Control. These fans are most commonly known as Positive Pressure Fans or PPV Fans.
Modern Tactics – We know proper flows, CAFS, master streams, vent enter search (reinvented at least), TICs, no vics/no risk. 9-11, bio-terrorism, meth labs and HAZ-MAT are changing everything. In the early 1990's L.A.F.D Truck Company pioneer Chief John Mittendorf was credited with the following statement “The priority between fire attack and search/rescue was changing. Controlling the atmosphere and conditions within a structure was more important than search and rescue.” In short “put the fire out and everything gets' better”. He is right. Once the fire gets knocked down or flashover prevented the Rescue Profile increases. Smoke and heat kill occupants not fire. We contain the fire, ventilate and perform our searches under improved conditions we effectively buy the customer more time. We also perform better, more thorough searches and do not tax our already limited manpower. Today's tactics focus on the safety of our personnel just as much if not more so than the residents we serve. The combination of building materials, construction methods, interior finishes, furnishings and the products of combustion create more Hostile Fire Events then ever before. Our tool box of tactics must be well stocked, greased up and ready to deploy. At the end of each run we must ask ourselves “Did we use the proper tactics that not only served our customers best but also were the safest for our crews?” If the answer is no, then our tactics must change. The most important pieces of equipment must be well versed in all tactics, new and old. Those pieces are - our people. The men and women of the American Fire Service are dedicated, willing and able to serve the public and each other. Our tactics should always be chosen in regard to their safety.
The tactics of old do have their place just as new tactics will also fade away. The last fifty years the fire service around the world has seen many changes in tactics. When we consider new tactics we must keep in mind the world around us. The world is in a constant state of change and we must do what we can to stay ahead of the curve. As long as things burn their will be firemen.
The best STRATEGY AND TACTICS we can use are; never stop learning and practice until you cannot get it wrong.
Truck Company Operations by Chief (Ret) John Mittendorf LAFD
Officers Handbook of Strategies and Tactics by Chief (Ret) John Norman FDNY
Fire Fighting Tactics by Chief Lloyd Laymen PFD
IFSTA- Essentials of Fire Fighting 5 th Edition
Task Force Tips product reference guide.
About the author; Michigan Firefighter I&II, EMT-B, Fire Service Instructor, Company Officer I&II certified, Training Officer for Bertrand Township Fire Training Division, a Fire Technician and Instructor at DC Cook Nuclear Plant, state Advocate for Everyone Goes Home and operates a D.I.Y. Firefighter website http://engineco22.net . Currently he is working on an Associates Degree in Fire Science and Fire Officer III. Also an avid participant in the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge. Chris has had articles published in various Fire Service Periodicals and Websites.