Trending Topics

FRI 2023 Quick Take: How the Amsterdam FD embraced aggressive, cutting-edge tactics

Bart Van Leeuwen, a 27-year veteran of the Dutch fire service, shared international fire tactics and his department’s approach to life safety

Screenshot 2023-08-28 at 2.30.10 PM.png

Bart Van Leeuwen (second from left), a 27-year veteran of the Dutch fire service, shared how the Amsterdam Fire Department has evolved over the years in terms of firefighter safety during a session at Fire-Rescue International 2023.

Photo/Courtesy of Bart Van Leeuwen

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — During an educational session at Fire-Rescue International, Bart Van Leeuwen, a company officer and 27-year veteran of the Dutch fire service, detailed how his department embraced change and new ways of responding to fires and life safety during an educational session at Fire-Rescue International 2023.

Leeuwen donned and showed off his woolen turnout coat to attendees – which he was issued when he joined the Amsterdam Fire Department in the early 2000s – and used the garment as a kicking off point to illustrate the targeted changes made to local firefighting safety protocols and tactics in the decades since.

Top quotes from Leeuwen’s session

  • “There’s no such thing as the ‘European fire service.’”
  • “It serves as an inspiration to look at things differently; it’s about context. Because the places and the way we fight fires is significantly different than how most of you fight fires.”
  • “We never have less than six people on a fire truck – it will never, ever happen.”

Top takeaways from Leeuwen’s session

1. Fire attack

Leeuwen outlined several ways in which the American fire service differed in fireground operations, one of the most prominent perpetuated by a myth that international firefighters “don’t do interior attack.”

On the contrary, Leeuwen outlined several scenarios in which the conditions allow for interior attack and explained the culture of transition created by the Amsterdam Fire Department to incorporate those changes.

Each fire attack option in the quadrant model is designed for different scenarios and outcomes, from exterior defensive operations for 0-minute buildings – buildings deemed not worth saving by insurance companies – to saving lives with an interior offensive.

Leeuwen explained that any of these fire attacks could be utilized on scene, depending on changing conditions.

Screenshot 2023-08-28 at 12.39.02 PM.png


Education cards distributed to Amsterdam Fire Department firefighters to assist with understanding when to conduct each of the quadrant models.

Images/Courtesy of Bart Van Leeuwen

2. Fireground IC structure

Leeuwen also described how the Amsterdam Fire Department handles incident command on scene, which differs from incident command in the U.S.

“What we’ve changed in our system is that a battalion chief shows up, but he’s not taking over the incident immediately,” Leeuwen said. “The system is such that the first two arriving captains should be sufficiently equipped with skills that they can fight a reasonably large fire.”

Screenshot 2023-08-28 at 1.48.31 PM.png

For larger scenes led by a battalion chief, Leeuwen outlined another type of command structure that focuses on scene mentorship.

“If one battalion chief is on scene, is he really capable of seeing everything that needs to be seen?” Leeuwen asked. “Research has shown that is really hard.”

Based on a study of fireground scene leadership operations, situational awareness improved when a second battalion chief asked targeted questions of the incident commander, Leeuwen said. That is the only job of the second BC – to ask questions:

  • “Did you see that?”
  • “Did you think about this?”
  • “Where are your problems?”
Screenshot 2023-08-28 at 1.48.41 PM.png

3. Clean PPE

By wearing his woolen turnout coat to the session, Leeuwen emphasized how far the Dutch fire service had come since he first joined in the early 2000s. Now, he said, at the Amsterdam Fire Department, every call is treated like a hazmat incident, including how PPE is utilized and cleaned.

“We have kits on every fire truck; when you come out of the fire, you take everything off and bag it up,” Leeuwen said. Once back at the station, the bags of gear and PPE go straight to a third-party cleaning facility and the back of the truck is cleaned.

All firefighters are issued two full sets of gear, including helmets and boots, Leeuwen said. Each fire call requires a new set of gear; if crews run more than two calls, a storage facility sends over new gear for each crewmember.

Dirty helmets are not a thing – ever.

Screenshot 2021-09-06 135555.png

Read next:

Firefighters are ditching the dirty gear 'Marlboro Man' look

All members of the fire service must take ownership of setting a new expectation of fire service pride

“Every helmet should be like new,” Leeuwen said. “Yes, we have motorcycle helmets. I can put my helmet on while on the fire truck, put my gloves on and within 2 seconds, I’m fully masked up. When I walk outside, to talk to my fellow company officers, I can step out and take my mask off, have a conversation, and put it back on.”

Leeuwen also took a moment to extol the virtues of the motorcycle helmet vs. the American fire service helmet style.

“I know the NFPA doesn’t allow it yet, but I know you guys have a hard time accepting that [this helmet] is a really cool thing,” Leeuwen said, eliciting a good-natured chuckle from the audience. “It might not look as cool as the helmets you all have, but it’s super comfortable, with an integrated radio and everything.”


Read more from #FRI2023

Dr. Lori Moore-Merrell details 6 focus areas of the National Fire Strategy

The U.S. fire administrator touted the work of the Fire and Life Safety Communicator’s Initiative and the collaborative effort to focus on the fire service’s messaging challenges through #FireServiceOneVoice

Rachel Engel is an award-winning journalist and the senior editor of and In addition to her regular editing duties, Engel seeks to tell the heroic, human stories of first responders and the importance of their work. She earned her bachelor’s degree in communications from Cameron University in Lawton, Oklahoma, and began her career as a freelance writer, focusing on government and military issues. Engel joined Lexipol in 2015 and has since reported on issues related to public safety. Engel lives in Wichita, Kansas. She can be reached via email.