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Go/no-go vertical ventilation: Heading to the roof

ICs must base their decisions on experience, lessons learned and the intel coming in from crewmembers


Tactical ventilation is one of the fundamental skills covered early in our training.

Photo/Chance Craven

This article originally appeared in the FireRescue1 Digital Edition “Go/no-go: Decision-making on the fireground.” Download your copy and find additional resources here.

Tactical ventilation. It’s one of the fundamental skills covered early in our training. We learn the bread-and-butter techniques to ventilate a structure, hopefully providing a safer situation for firefighters and a more life-sustaining environment for anyone still inside the structure.

What we don’t tend to study that early in our careers is the decision-making process about which tactical ventilation technique to use. Should we proceed with vertical ventilation, horizontal ventilation or positive pressure ventilation (PPV)? Which one is right for the job?

While this is not the space to debate which tactic is safer or more effective on the fireground in every possible scenario, it is important to acknowledge that there are individuals who prefer starting a fan over pulling the cord of a chainsaw, or vice-versa, no matter the conditions. That is flawed decision-making, as ICs must base their decisions on experience, lessons learned, and the intel from the scene. This is the only way to make strong go/no-go decisions related to going to the roof.

Sizing-it up

Ensuring that the initial 360 is complete is an essential early step at any incident; however, subsequent 360s and additional size-ups are needed throughout the incident to get a solid grasp on the fire’s location and potential movement through the building.

The officer assigned to complete ventilation is encouraged to conduct their own size-up of the structure via a 360, if possible. Coupling the smoke reading and building construction intel gained by the walk-around with interior reports from the initial company conducting search or fire attack gives the ventilation company solid information to make a sound decision about which tactic to implement.

In my position as a battalion chief, I typically entrust my officers to make the appropriate decision in terms of ventilation. This expectation was shared and drilled into fellow members as well. I often heard the communication that was shared among interior crews and the ventilation company over the radio channel. They would advise command of their intent, and I would either acknowledge the plan (go) or send it in a different direction (no-go) based upon other information obtained, including the fire’s current location.

Ongoing size-ups

A secondary size-up is typically requested after the arrival of our safety officer or would be requested from the company assigned to rapid intervention. This size-up serves as a real-time assessment of conditions. This information is critical, as it allows the IC to reevaluate the tactics that were started with the scene’s initial action plan.

This would prompt the request of Conditions-Actions-Needs (CAN) reports from the operating companies on the fireground, starting with fire attack. A favorable CAN report and the “go” decision would keep the current plan in motion, but an unfavorable report may nudge the decision needle to “no-go” for vertical ventilation.

Roof reports

Timely roof reports from the ventilation company are key in assisting the IC with making the go or no-go decision, especially on commercial occupancies. A proactive company that provided good intelligence back to the IC routinely got the green light for implementing their desired tactics.

After their tactic was complete, another roof report was expected, this time to give the IC an indication on the effectiveness of ventilation.

Request these reports, and let the information guide you on your go/no-go thought process.

A no-go example

Let’s face it, sometimes the fire does not need vertical ventilation. The “always-and-never” readers may disagree, but in many instances, the fire’s location, rapid extinguishment or containment may determine another tactic.

Here’s a simple example: Crews are called to a fire in a two-story dwelling with fire in the first-floor kitchen. With a quick knockdown, the roof of that structure is likely safe from the plunge of a chainsaw’s bar. If the IC is aware of the conditions and receives reliable reports, then it’s a no-go on the vertical vent. Sorry, truckies, the closest horizontal opening is established, and the fans are started instead. In short, it’s a go for the tactics that match the conditions.

Horizontal assist

Vertical ventilation is highly effective when done correctly. However, as effective as the tactic may be, it often takes the addition of horizontal ventilation with PPV to get you to the finish line. The compartmentalized residential occupancy might need that extra support to remove all the smoke from the structure. In addition, your end goal is to remove toxic gases in order to return the atmospheric conditions to normal. Horizontal ventilation may be the best tactic to get you there.

Three factors

The go/no-go decision guide for ICs all comes down to three factors:

  1. What do you see?
  2. What do you hear?
  3. What is currently going on?

Supplement those three conditions with good feedback from key players, and ICs will find themselves in the best positions to make the vertical ventilation go/no-go decision.

Watch Chief Bettinazzi on the Better Every Shift Podcast:

This article, which was originally published in August 2023, has been updated.

Vince Bettinazzi joined the Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Fire Department in 2007. He currently holds the rank of battalion chief and is assigned as a shift commander on C-Shift. Bettinazzi is a member of the department’s Ocean Rescue Team as a certified USLA lifeguard. He completed the NFA’s Managing Officer Program in 2016, and recently obtained his Chief Fire Officer Designation from CPSE. Bettinazzi is a co-host on the “Beyond the Stretch” podcast.