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4 steps to a faster fire attack

Getting water on a fire quick makes a lot of other problems go away, and that’s even more critical given modern fuel loads


Scroll to the bottom of the story for a video illustrating Chief Bowker’s points.

You don’t have to look to far on social media sites these days to find helmet cam or by-stander video of a fire department arriving at the scene of a structure fire. Increasingly, it seems to take way too long for them to get water on the fire.

Yes, there are many variables and fireground factors to consider when choosing the proper attack mode, and that takes a certain amount of time to accomplish. I am concerned, however, that too often arriving firefighters may be missing the opportunity to quickly extend a hard hitting fire attack, that will rapidly gain control or reset the fire.

Rather than getting bogged down with a lengthy tactical discussion, let’s examine the mind-set behind the fast attack and why a fast attack is perhaps more important today than in years past.

Modern fuel loads are producing much faster developing fires, with higher heat-release rates in less time. This is resulting in much less time for the occupants to react and escape, for modern structural components to fail and for firefighters to enter and evaluate for interior operations.

Exterior fire spread due to synthetic building materials, such as vinyl siding, underlayment materials and soffits are directly impacted by winds as low as 10 mph. Wind-driven effects are critical for firefighters to understand, as are the deadly consequences that can result from an overly aggressive interior attack.

According to the latest UL research, flashover is occurring eight times faster than it did 50 years ago. With this in mind, it is imperative that your crews be well trained with a healthy appreciation for the rapid fire spread potential.

Pulling line

The company officer must ensure the crew is being trained in the latest findings by NIST and UL on flow path dangers, door control and the effects of ventilation. The rule today for residential structure fires should be: Big air plus big fire equals big water.

Hose line deployment and advancement of various sized attack lines and appliances, including the blitz attack, is of key importance. That’s the biggest hammer in your toolbox, and crews must be able to put that line or appliance quickly and smoothly into operation when called for.

That’s done by getting out and drilling on the skill. Make your training challenging by visiting problematic sites that will require a pre-incident planned approach. Practice various hose loads and learn new nozzle forward techniques with minimal staffing.

Ask your crew: “How can we become more efficient and get water on the fire faster?” This just doesn’t happen, it takes crew practice and coaching by the company officer.

Here are five application points to consider.

  • Does your department have a policy on using the blitz attack concept?
  • Do your SOGs address wind-driven structure fire dangers and recommended protocols?
  • Do your SOGs address advancing into a structure without a charged line?
  • Do your SOGs require you to secure your own water source before deploying an attack line?
  • Are your firefighters aware of the dangers of exterior fire spread into the attic void?

Here are four ways fire crews can improve their initial fire attack skills.

1. Practice until you are the best.

It takes practice to become a proficient crew, and it takes coaching and leadership by the company officer.

This results in company pride and it builds crew moral. It’s about attitude and why public perception matters on how we perform our jobs.

2. Get out the door fast when responding.

Turning out within one minute is a good goal — whether leaving the station or leaving your home. This doesn’t mean driving like a maniac or blowing through stoplights.

It means have a sense of urgency in responding to and after arriving on scene. The public expects that from you.

I recently witnessed a paid fire department being dispatched via automatic aid to a structure fire; it took five minutes for them to get out the door. That is unacceptable and an indication of bigger problems.

3. Getting water on the fire fast minimizes other problems.

One minute to get water on a fire should be the goal. This may include a transitional attack option or a blitz attack.

Remember, the public is always watching and they have cameras.

4. Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.

By slowly practicing an evolution we learn the mechanics involved until it becomes smooth. A smooth evolution is a faster evolution.

Aggressive firefighting operations have been a hallmark of the American fire service for many decades. Today’s firefighter must possess that same willingness to be aggressive, but have the ability to temper that aggressiveness with common sense and knowledge of 21st century fires and the risks they pose.

Today’s firefighter must be smart first, and aggressive second.

Gary Bowker is a retired fire chief with the U.S. Air Force and retired fire marshal with the City of Winfield, Kansas, now serving as an associate instructor with the Kansas Fire & Rescue Training Institute. He previously served as fire chief with the Sumner County (Kansas) Rural Fire District #10 and has over 40 years in fire service. He has taught at the National Fire Academy, U.S. Department of Defense, and the Butler County Community College. He is nationally certified as a Fire Officer II, Instructor II, Inspector II, Certified Fire & Explosion Investigator. Bowker holds a bachelor’s degree in fire science administration. Connect with Chief Bowker on LinkedIn or via email.