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Training day: Residential fireground tactics

A review of basic fire development, tactical approaches and residential building construction

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Residential fires are the most common fire that your department will experience and should never be taken lightly.

Photo/Keith D. Cullom

The FireRescue1 Academy features courses like “Ventilation” and “Building Construction,” as well as Reality Training videos like “Pre-planning Residential Fire Operations,” providing instruction on fireground operations at these common incidents. Visit the FireRescue1 Academy to learn more and to schedule an online demo.

If you want to start a great conversation with any firefighter, bring up the topic of fireground tactics. Most firefighters have an opinion on the different techniques they use on the job, and are more than willing to offer their perspective. The ideas may vary from East Coast to West Coast, or even within their own department, among companies or even shifts.

Is this environment good for the organization? Definitely not! The entire organization should be on the same page to work efficiently on the fireground. From scene management to line placement, a department should have policies in place, in addition to training to ensure that these policies are being utilized in the most effective manner possible.

Fireground tactics: the basics

When discussing tactics for a residential structure fire, also known as “bread and butter” jobs, organizations should have a strong group of members who have mastered basic firefighter skills long before beginning to talk tactics. Further, it is vital that all department members have a strong knowledge of what the department considers the best tactical direction for residential structures, and are prepared to perform in that manner when arriving on-scene.

Let’s start with the fire basics, as many firefighters have only had a few hours of fire behavior education during recruit school, and it may have been some time since they have reviewed these fundamentals.

There are a five fire stages: ignition, growth, flashover, fully developed and decay. All firefighters should be able to not only name the five stages, but also comprehend them, so they make strong tactical decisions with fire behavior in mind.

When teaching tactics for a residential structure, it is imperative that you cover and explain – in detail – examples of the different stages. With thousands of videos available online to showcase the different stages, there are plenty of visual aids you can employ to illustrate the techniques.

Methods of heat transfer should be covered next, as it defines, in many cases, how you attack the fire as well as your initial line placement. You should ensure that all firefighters have the ability to recognize the three methods of heat transfer: convection, conduction and radiation. Use examples that are simple to explain so students can easily understand the concept, such as using a metal spoon in a cup of hot water to explain how heat is conducted through the spoon, making it so hot that no one can touch the end that is not in the water. Another method shows how a convection oven moves the heated air around the food to cook faster and more evenly by heat transfer. Be sure to stress that convection is one method that allows a fire to start away from the original fire within a house by carrying products of combustion throughout. It is also the most common means of fire spread in a structure.

Early fireground tactics: initial arrival on scene

One of the first decisions that must be made when arriving on scene is what type of firefighting strategy is going to be utilized. What stage is the fire in? How is it spreading throughout the building? With these answers, the first-arriving company officer can then determine an offensive or defensive fire attack, or whether to transition from one to the other. Either way, the company officer should be in the process of gathering data in those first few seconds when arriving on scene, and complete a 360 walk-around of the building, if possible. Once a strategy has been chosen, firefighters can move to more task-level objectives to bring the fire under control and then extinguished.

Fast water on residential structures

As stated, there are many opinions, and firefighters are always glad to share theirs. Fast water is nothing new, as it is just a method to get the fire under control as quickly as possible to save lives. However, the debate begins when you incorporate a transitional attack by applying water from the exterior of the structure in an effort to get water on the fire a quick as you can.

There are many thoughts on this, and it will be up to each department as to how this method is employed. In my experience, using this type of blitz attack on residential fires is often successful. It has proved to be a reliable way to provide a quick knockdown from the outside, allowing firefighters to move to the interior for the final containment and extinguishment.

VEIS: Vent, enter, isolate, search

In a residential structure, VEIS has become very popular with many departments. After making the decision to go offensive, VEIS teams can vent rooms where they believe there is a survivable environment within the house. Once the heated fire gases and smoke have left the room, they can enter and isolate the room by closing the door to separate that area from the rest of the burning structure. The team should focus on a quick primary search for possible victims.

VEIS is a skill that should be taught early, with frequent refresher courses to ensure members continue to have mastery of the skill and the many different elements involved in making it a success.

Type of residential structures

A discussion of tactics is often incomplete without a discussion of building construction.

Neighborhoods in your territory or district can be broken down into specific types of structures. Your district could include a combination of one-story “starter homes” with 1,500–2,000 square-foot layouts, two-story homes with 2,000–4,000 square-foot, or multi-story, high-end “McMansions” of significant size. All of these residential structures require different attack plans, and company officers should understand the different styles that make up their area.

In addition, company officer should consider asking for a walk-through of new construction buildings at different stages of development. A building construction course that covers basic terminology could be helpful as well. New homes are often constructed with cost-saving material that will not stand up to fire as the material used 10 years ago did, so it’s important to understand the types of material and layouts your firefighters could encounter.

The most common fire call

Residential fires are the most common fire that your department will experience and should never be taken lightly. Train as if you are operating in a real-world situation, and never take short cuts when training, such as using minimal gear.

Be safe and train hard!

Chief Keith Padgett serves as the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Academic Program Director with Columbia Southern University within the College of Safety and Emergency Services. A 42-year member of the fire service, Padgett previously served as fire chief of the Beulah Fire District in Valley, Alabama, and as the chief/fire marshal for the Fulton County Fire-Rescue Department in Atlanta. He is presently the Co-Chair of the Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education (FESHE) EMS curriculum workgroup. He also served as a Specialty Educational Board member for the IAFC Executive Fire Officer Program (EFOP) Section as the chair of the Professional Development/Higher Education sub-committee as well as a director-at-large board member on the IAFC’s Safety, Health and Survival Section. Padgett completed the Executive Fire Officer (EFO) Program through the National Fire Academy and has a Chief Fire Officer Destination through the Center for Public Safety Excellence (CPSE). He holds a master’s degree in leadership with an emphasis in disaster preparedness and executive fire leadership and a bachelor’s degree in public safety administration. Connect with Padgett on LinkedIn or via email.