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From the Fireground
by Jason Hoevelmann

Into the fire: pros and cons of walking and crawling

There is no right answer when to use either, understanding the advantages and drawbacks of both and fire behavior will lead to the right decision

By Jason Hoevelmann

Stretching a line into a structure is challenging. At a recent class the question was posed to me about how we teach firefighters to enter structures during fire attack. 

Do we require firefighters to crawl or walk in? Is it mandatory to do it one way or the other? These are good questions and there are some considerations before creating an operational guideline or training curriculum dictating one method over the other.

As with any tactic we must consider what our resources are and the way we train our personnel. We must train the way we are going to operate. There has to be a great deal of consideration as to what our objectives are and a risk-versus-benefit analysis regarding all of our tactics.

The texts books all tell us that we should be crawling into any building that is on fire. For the most part this is true. But, I am not a fan of "always" and "never." 

Three factors
Let's take a look at the options as they relate to quickly, safely and efficiently moving the line to extinguish the fire.

First, we need to understand that in today's fire environment things are not what they once were. The interior furnishings are synthetics that burn and reach flashover temperatures much faster than did furnishings years ago.

Second, with the increased use of low-mass, engineered structural building materials, the time for roof truss and floor system collapse is greatly reduced as compare to legacy construction that used true dimensional lumber for structural components.

Third, in many places throughout our country, either due to staffing cuts or a decrease in volunteers, our units are arriving with fewer firefighters to aggressively attack the fire and perform all of the additional tasks that are required for a successful extinguishment on the interior.

With all of these in mind, back to the question at hand: How should we enter and advance the hose line for an interior attack?

It depends
Simply put, we suggest using techniques as conditions allow. But, in order to do that, we must understand fire behavior and the limits of our personal protective equipment.
   
We must remember that the weakest part of our ensemble is the face piece. At temperatures roughly 350 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, face pieces can fail. We also need to understand that in residential structures fires, temperatures at eye level can reach 600 degrees Fahrenheit rather quickly.

The officer must make a complete evaluation of the exterior to determine where the fire is located and whether or not it has vented. A coordinated attack that includes appropriate ventilation is paramount and reduces the amount of heat, smoke and gases encountered by interior crews. The key word is "appropriate" ventilation.

If smoke and heat are above eye level or smoke is light enough to see our feet, I have no issue with crews advancing on their feet. The officer must be aware of conditions and be ready to get low if heat and smoke begins to bank down lower.

Knees-bent crouch
Now, what I suggest is that we don't walk straight up, but rather in a knees-bent crouch that allows us to stay a little lower than a walk and yet gives us a strong stance to move the line fast.

In this position we can quickly advance the line, stay below the smoke line to increase visibility and drop quickly if conditions change. It works and provides for a safe, yet fast advance on the fire.

If conditions don't allow for us to be on our feet, get low and move as fast as possible on hands and knees or duck walk. As with going in on our feet, there are observations we must make when we go in low too. As retired Deputy Chief Vince Dunn stated, the point of no return for when entering a burning building is about five feet if flashover occurs.

Getting low can allow us to enter buildings that are showing signs of flashover. If we don't recognize these signs, even staying low, we will not make it out or get to the fire before the room flashes and temperatures reach more than 1,000 degrees.

Recognize conditions
It all comes down to being able to recognize conditions, training and experience. Also, operate the way your organization dictates and requires.

There is no right or wrong answer to this question. It is about all crews operating efficiently and safely. The ultimate result we are looking for is to put the fire out and to protect any lives that may be in jeopardy.

Firefighting is a hazardous job and we must be prepared. Both methods have risks and can be appropriate and effective. Going in high, or on our feet requires us to closely monitor conditions and maybe to cool the ceiling levels a little quicker as we move.

Going in low may subject us to the effects of longer burn time and increased risk of flashover if ceilings and the compartment are not cooled quickly.

Whichever method you use, train with it and understand the risks and benefits of using it. Keep training and thanks for reading.
   

About the author

Jason Hoevelmann is a deputy chief and fire marshal with the Sullivan (Mo.) Fire Protection District, a combination department, and a career captain and training officer with the Florissant Valley (Mo.) Fire Protection District in North St. Louis County. His experience spans more than 20 years and he has been an instructor for more than 15 years. He is an adjunct instructor for the St. Louis County Fire Academy and is a State Certified Fire Officer II. Jason holds an associate’s degree in paramedic science from East Central College and a bachelor's degree in fire service administration from Eastern Oregon University. He is currently a state advocate for the Everyone Goes Home initiative, a Board Member for the International Society of Fire Service Instructors and on the technical committee for Professional Fire Officer Qualifications for NFPA. He is also co-owner of Engine House Training, LLC.

Chief Hoevelmann can be contacted via e-mail at Jason.Hoevelmann@firerescue1.com.



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