Saturday, August 13, 2011

Maximizing effectiveness on the roof

When you go to the roof, what tools do you bring? The usual answer is the saw, a set of irons, a hook or pike pole, and life-saving rope. Is that all? The tool that might serve us best when conducting roof operations is often left on the rig: the thermal imaging camera (TIC). It should be a mandatory part of the roof tool inventory. First of all, how do you know where to cut your hole? Nineteenth-century thinking such as “bubbling tar”, “a dry spot on a wet day”, or “a place where the snow or ice is melted”, is ineffective and guesswork. Twentieth-century thinking such as “communication with the crews on the top floor” is also a hit or miss and subject to interpretative confusion. The thermal imaging camera will show a heat signature on any type roof (or on a floor above a cellar fire) where you can at least sink an examination hole and evaluate the situation. It is much better then guessing or using outdated methods.

The TIC can also be used to check around soil pipes for heat, check a cornice for potential fire spread, check an exposure roof and scan a roof soffit for heat build-up. Another valuable use is when the smoke condition on the roof is such that visibility is reduced and you are trying to find your way off the roof. In this case, the team using the TIC may be able to scan the roof and “see” where the aerial is or where a fire escape is located to more easily find their egress. It can also be used by an officer to keep track of his or her crews. One word of caution: just like a hole in the floor or a missing step, the presence of a shaft will be difficult to determine with the TIC unless there is heat coming from it. It may just look black on the screen. Be careful – always use common sense safety precautions when working on the roof such as was mentioned in the last installment about probing and keeping the weight off the leading foot. Remember – the tool you do not take with you is often the tool you need most.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Make sure that where you are stepping is there

Always probe with your weight on the back foot.

Gravity never takes a day (or a minute) off. When making those forays across a floor above a fire area, across the roof, or in any area where structural integrity is suspect, personnel should use a tool to probe ahead of them. Don’t, however, let this lead tool give you a false sense of security. When probing with a tool, consciously make an effort to keep your weight off the tool so that you will not fall if something gives way or you encounter a hole in the floor, or in the case of a roof, an unprotected shaft is present.

During hands-on training search operations at the Fire Department Instructors Conference in Indianapolis, we noticed that most firefighters do a good job of probing for floors, but they keep too much weight on the probing hand, foot, or tool. We had areas with floors missing and when the probing tool or body part found that area, the individual usually could not stop from falling forward into the missing floor as his forward momentum carried his body and the tool into the hole. We had to extricate more than a few surprised firefighters from these areas (they had a hood over their head for the evolution). Hopefully it was a lesson learned the hard way, but in a training session and not in the harder environment that is the fireground. Never trust what is in front of you without testing the area. Keep the weight off the leading foot or tool, and you will not experience a gravity-induced rapid downward movement.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Maintaining Perishable Skills

Perishable skills are those skills that depreciate in effectiveness over time if they are not practiced. The fire service is a veritable minefield of perishable skills, some of which, conducted in an inefficient and/or incorrect manner, can have devastating consequences. There are very few “like learning to ride a bike” skills in this business where neglecting them for a period of time still allow them to be performed with a large degree of success when we need them.

The skills in question are not only individual skills, but more often team-based skills, where the outcome depends on the competency of a team of firefighters working in concert with each other to achieve an outcome. Departments that do not reinforce both individual and team-based perishable skills are headed for tactical breakdown. Individual skills such as tying knots, operating aerial equipment, starting and operating a power saw and conducting operations with extrication tools are some of the areas where the disintegration of skill can have severe repercussions in safety and operational completion.

Team-based skills are also perishable, not only due to the corrosion of skill by the individual members, but the loss of coordination of the team as well. Think about a pro football team. All plays are created for success and all players are “the cream of the crop” in the field, but when the timing and efficiency of the team as a cohesive unit is off, the play goes nowhere and the team is unsuccessful. Do you think a fire department is any different and when our plays don’t work due to rustiness, there is more at stake, isn’t there?.

Have you ever watched a fire company raise a ground ladder? Their ability to properly and effectively perform this evolution as a team is quite apparent to anyone watching. This can run the scale from a well-orchestrated, smoothly-run operation to a Three Stooges routine. Hose line stretching, forcible entry, and technical rescue operations are other perishable skill areas that require continuous training and reinforcement of skill. How does your department and its individuals measure up? Are they razor-sharp or rusty? It is up to you as a member of the team and the department to hone your skills and to ensure that your firefighting team is operating at maximum efficiency.

Be safe out there

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Unintended Consequences

As firefighters, we must always consider the unintended consequences of our actions or in many cases, our inactions. Unfortunately, we often do not think that far ahead and live in the now instead of the proactive future. That is why that puddle of water or, worse yet, oil that you saw but stepped around on the apparatus floor caused one of your fellow firefighters to split his or her head open when they slipped on it. No one intends for that to happen, but it often does. That is unacceptable in a business where risk analysis is such a critical; part of the job. This attitude often has larger consequences when they are transferred to the emergency situation.

Consider this situation which took place not so long ago and was related to me. On a Saturday, an engine company we will call Engine 1 responded on a spill that required them to utilize all of their speedy-dry. There was none in storage at their firehouse as it was stored in a central location in the department. It was late so the Company Officer decided to wait to pass the need for more speedy-dry to the next shift on the following morning. He passed the information on, but since it was a Sunday, the Company Officer on that day did not take the ride to one of the other firehouses to secure more speedy-dry for the company. The day passed without incident, but at about 0600 the next morning, they were dispatched to a single engine squad run to the scene of an MVA where a spill of vehicle fluids required speedy-dry. Since they didn’t get it the day before, they had to request an additional engine company, Engine 2, to bring some down from their supply. Engine 2 responded from outside that the Engine 1 district. While this “special-called” Engine 2 was operating at the MVA, a report of a structure fire was transmitted in their first-due area. As Engine 2 was at the scene of the MVA, basically doing the duties that Engine 1 had been called to do and it was rush hour, there was a delay in the arrival of another engine into Engine 2’s first-due area.

The officers did not take into consideration the unintended consequences of failing to secure more speedy-dry in a timely manner, a relatively non-essential item in their view, but the consequences of that failure could have been severe. They did not do their job. The job of a Company Officer (and of all firefighters regardless of rank) is to always do your job and always take into consideration the unintended consequences of your actions, your inactions, and those of others.

Competence vs. recklessmess

Experienced firefighters are worth their weight in gold. They are the “go-to” guys when a difficult task must be completed and can be a valuable tool in assisting in training younger, less experienced members. The trap that we cannot let these human assets fall into is allowing them to let their experience lead to recklessness. Too often, we have seen veterans fall victim to casualties during routine “firefighter I” type operations because they have done it too many times before and it is now routine. There is no routine in this business. We must never let ourselves fall into this trap because at that point what was an asset now becomes a liability with potentially severe consequences for all of us. We need to recognize when our comfort levels are causing us to drift into failure.

Last fall, we had access to an acquired structure in which to conduct training operations. In addition to search and RIC evolutions, we chose to do vertical ventilation on the slightly sloped roof using the cutter’s edge fire service chain saw. One of the things I noticed was that the firefighters who did not have a lot of experience with the saw were deliberately over-cautious in their actions, moving gingerly on the roof and working the saw. On then other hand, we had some who were very experienced and were very comfortable handing the saw, but that competence caused them to be a bit too cavalier in their actions, failing to brake the saw (stop the blade) between cuts and while moving from one area to the next, cutting with one hand, etc. While they were very good at what they were doing, a slip-up caused by their obvious comfort with a very dangerous piece of equipment could have brought severe consequences.

The moral of this story: Don’t let your competence turn you from an asset to a liability. Always operate with respect for your tools and for the conditions, never allowing complacency to affect your performance.

Do you know your rig???

One of the most basic requirements of a firefighter is to know his equipment. Even more basic is to know where it is on the apparatus. There is nothing worse than having to rummage through the compartments for a tool that your officer has ordered and expected you to return with. The consequences of this can run the gamut from embarrassment (and having to have someone show where a tool is that you should have be able to locate in the first place) to lost time in completing an assignment or tactical objective. All roads here lead to tactical breakdown, which leads to a compromise in safety.

You, as an integral part of the company (team) must carry your weight. In fact, your Company Officer will expect you to do your part. To that end, what is your responsibility? As a firefighter in a volunteer department, you should be opening the compartment doors and checking the equipment location every time you are in the firehouse. Before you head to the lounge or take part in an evening drill, get in a little early, open the compartments, take the equipment out, and examine it. In a career department, as soon as you get to the firehouse to begin your shift, you should go through the apparatus, and make sure your gear is in place, ready for response. The cup of coffee can and should wait.

If you are an officer, the aforementioned are expectations that you must set with your subordinates. You cannot expect them to meet these expectations unless you explain them, support them, and enforce them all the time. The fireground is not the place to find out that your personnel are not living up to your expectations. To that end, and in context with this discussion, you must demand and expect that your people know where everything on the apparatus is, what it is used for, how it works, what to do if it doesn’t appear to be working, and, equally important, know its limitations.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Safest, most effective path of least resistance, part 5


Overhaul can be divided into pre-control overhaul and post-control overhaul. Knowledge of building construction to take advantage of the paths of least resistance is critical to both operations. Knowing where to open the building ahead of a spreading fire is the first and most important portion of pre-control overhaul. For instance, knowing where a basement fire in a balloon frame dwelling is likely to spread will cause lines to be positioned in the attic early in the firefight, a strategy not usually pursued in buildings of other type construction. Likewise, in ordinary construction, the building may be a maze of honeycomb-like voids, inviting many different ways for fire to spread in many directions at once. Sometimes, fires will not spread as easily vertically and have to move relatively great distances horizontally before finding a vertical channel. One fire that started in a ceiling light fixture spread through the space above the ceiling, passing over room partitions to the other side of the apartment, where it found a vertical void adjacent to the chimney. It then spread to the upper floors and the cockloft. While it is usually best to check around suspected and known vertical openings (paths of least resistance), don’t be lulled into neglecting horizontal paths of least resistance. Checking above drop and tin ceilings, checking inside soffits, cornices, and facades, pulling ceilings in exposures, and exposing barrier penetrations are all ways to check for horizontal fire spread based on building characteristics.

Post-control overhaul tactics should take advantage of the same building openings as pre-control overhaul. In addition, man-made openings such as light fixtures, plumbing and wiring areas, ductwork, and outlets are all paths of least resistance and must be checked. In addition, the area directly over the fire may allow fire to spread into upper floors even where no man-made openings exist. Conduction, convection, and radiation will be the culprits here. The objective of post-control overhaul is to make sure the fire is out. Keeping in mind the most effective paths of least resistance regarding fire travel will assist in ensuring this objective is met.


Damage can be categorized into two areas. Primary damage is the damage done by the fire. Secondary damage is that damage done by firefighting operations. This includes structural and contents damage conducted as part of fire control as well as water damage suffered as a direct result of suppression agent application. Forecasting the most effective paths of least resistance for fire travel and then moving combustibles from those areas before they can become involved not only reduces the available fire load, but also saves property. Take for example a building that is exposed to a fire occurring in an adjacent building via a shaft between the two. The exposed building is of ordinary construction. It is a warm day so many windows may be open. The most effective path of least resistance for exposure ignition from both radiated and convected heat will be via the open windows. Closing the windows and removing combustibles as well as venting windows opposite the fire to dissipate heat are passive ways to lessen the heat’s impact on the building. Coating the building with water and stretching lines via the interior to the window areas of the exposed rooms is a more dynamic method. Why do we do this? The reason is because the window represents the most effective path of least resistance for fire travel into the building. Therefore, in this case, it must be the first area protected in the exposure.

As stated earlier, water will always seek the paths of least resistance, but in a downward and opposite manner when compared with heat. When planning a property conservation strategy, the officer in charge of the Salvage Group must think like water. He or she must consider all the paths of least resistance in order to divert the water or place equipment aimed at limiting or eliminating water damage prior to the water arriving there. In other words, identifying the most effective paths of least resistance for water runoff before the water actually gets there is a proactive method of reducing secondary damage.


All collapses are gravity-dependent. Once the pull of gravity is stronger than the integrity of the building’s connections, collapse will occur. Buildings will always fall in the path of least resistance. For instance, a building that is connected on one side, but not the other will likely fall into the area where no resistance is given. Lean-over collapses are a perfect example of this principle. The building is likely to lean and collapse into the path of least resistance, which is the adjacent lot or street. Although no one can predict exactly how and when a building will fail, determining the likely paths of least resistance can help establish both collapse zones and safety perimeters.

Collapse rescue is another area where an awareness of the paths of least resistance may pay dividends when developing a rescue plan. Chief Officers developing strategies to rescue collapse victims must, however, take into very serious consideration that the most effective paths of least resistance are oftentimes not the safest paths. Secondary collapse, fire involvement, and utility hazards are just a few of the problems that can complicate a rescue operation and make the most effective path of least resistance unacceptable as a rescue route. Remember that when life is involved, the rule of thumb MUST be to utilize the safest, most effective path of least resistance to accomplish the objective. If the seemingly most effective path of least resistance is unsafe, it no longer satisfies the rule of thumb.

The Incident Commander or Rescue Group Supervisor must weigh the risk of rescuing via unsafe, albeit most effective paths of least resistance versus the time it might take to access victims via safer, but more time-consuming access route. This is a difficult decision to make. Rescuers who become victims are no longer rescuers, but now part of the problem. This same mentality must also apply to confined space, high angle, trench rescue, and other technical rescue incidents. Command must never, under any circumstances, let the risks outweigh the potential gains.


It is interesting (and not surprising) to note that in direct contrast to proper tactics and their relation to the paths of least resistance, improper tactics will also take advantage of paths of least resistance and may lead to unintended consequences. For example, misunderstanding of building construction and the associated dangers of compromised structural components has led to death and injury when failing building components unexpectedly fall. Misplaced hoselines due to improper tactics, lack of training, or lack of information in regard to the location of the fire can push fire into uninvolved areas. Improper and misplaced ventilation operations will also pull fire into uninvolved areas, possibly jeopardizing rescue and attack operations. In addition, improper and uncoordinated positive pressure ventilation will push fire into paths of least resistance, often burning the building down. There are many examples of misuse of the most effective paths of least resistance that have resulted in outcomes quite different than those intended. They must be learned from.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Safest, most effective Path of Least Resistance Pt. 4: Search & Rescue


Most fire victims will attempt to escape the building using the most effective path of least resistance, the stairs and front door. Other paths include, but are not limited to remote doorways, windows, fire escapes, and as a last resort, jumping (absolute path of least resistance and the most dangerous). Many victims are found near doors or windows, having been overcome by the products of combustion that are also looking to follow these same paths. Alternate paths of egress do not take advantage of the paths of least resistance, and as a result, take more time to get out and are far more dangerous, both to the victim and the firefighter. They also take more time. It is much easier and safer to take a victim down the interior stairs than it is to get them down a fire escape, an aerial, or tougher yet, a ground ladder. The rope rescue is at the extreme, eating up personnel and exposing rescuers and victims to deadly risk.

In regard to primary search, some of the tools we can use to assist in maintaining the paths of least resistance out of a building are lifelines and thermal imaging cameras. This is especially true in large area buildings, where these tools are an absolute must. Knowing where paths of least resistance are in advance will save valuable time and will allow rescue teams to focus in on critical areas early in the operation.

One of the most dangerous operations conducted on the fireground are vent, enter, search (V.E.S) operations whereby firefighters utilize ladders, fire escapes, and porch roofs to enter a building’s upper floors to search for and remove victims. In these cases, windows become the most effective path of least resistance for entry. This firefighter created path also creates a potentially deadly situation due to the fact that a path of least resistance for products of combustion opposite the attack line has also been created by the open entry window. For this reason, it is critical that the first action taken by firefighters on V.E.S. missions is to create a barrier between themselves and the fire and the attack team by closing the door to the room that they have entered. If this is not done, fire and the products of combustion can be driven by hose streams toward the open entry window, possibly incinerating the firefighter.

A firefighter was badly burned and suffered traumatic injuries when going to search the upper floors of a burning building. The fire was in the cellar, and there was a rear door leading from the cellar to the main living areas which was open. This was the path the search team took. The fire extended to the first floor and when the line protecting the first floor began to attack that fire they pushed it at the rear stairwell. As a result, the products of combustion were pushed into the paths of least resistance, that being the rear stairs leading to the upper floors. The ensuing fireball chased the firefighter up to the third floor where he was forced to jump out a window. He fell through an awning and narrowly missed an upside down wood picnic table. He suffered severe burn injuries as well as multiple fractures and internal trauma.

It is for this same reason that firefighters should never attempt to enter a fire building via the bulkhead door and stairway from the roof or utilize this artery to get to the roof from the interior. The bad stuff will always seek the most effective path of least resistance, regardless of who is standing in it.

Safest Most Effective Path of Least Resistance pt 3: Ventilation


Almost nowhere on the fireground is the understanding of paths of least resistance more critical than during ventilation operations. Just as proper and timely ventilation can effectively channel fire away from both victims and exposures, so too can misplaced, uncoordinated ventilation create havoc on a building and those still inside, including firefighters.

Contiguous structures with common cocklofts are often destroyed by inadequate ventilation, caused by a failure to take advantage of the most effective path of least resistance. This failure can be often identified by the one completely destroyed structure in the center of the row and the destroyed roof and top floors of all the adjacent buildings to the leeward (and if you really screw up, to the windward) side. The key for success is to vent early over the natural vertical arteries such as scuttles, bulkheads, and skylights. On a lower floor fire, this should be sufficient in regard to vertical ventilation. Opening and examining these natural arteries will take advantage of the most effective path of least resistance and channel the products of combustion upward. If the fire is on the top floor or in the cockloft, in addition to the aforementioned natural openings, cutting the roof as close as directly over the seat of the fire as is safe will also pull the fire up and out of the building. This will slow the horizontal fire spread under the roof. If the fire is not given an opportunity to travel upward (where it wants to go), it will follow the other path of least resistance, horizontally throughout the cockloft.

Lack of ventilation can also cause fire forces to be chased out the building at best and burned at worst. Suppose an attack team is positioned at the door to a burning apartment. To properly coordinate the attack, a vent team should be ready on the building’s exterior, somewhere opposite the nozzle, to remove windows to allow the smoke and heat to exhaust to the exterior, away from the attack team. This is how it is supposed to happen. This coordination of attack is critical. If this attack support is not in place, leaving the products of combustion (and steam) no way out of the structure, the products of combustion will be forced to take the path of least resistance out of the structure, which will now be via the entry point of the attack team. Many firefighters have suffered burn injuries and many buildings have been needlessly destroyed due to this lack of coordination and support.

The wind can also play a major part in influencing the path of least resistance. Wind can make the products of combustion take unusual paths of least resistance in a building that the attack team may not be ready for. Take for example, a fire in a building where the wind is gusting right into the fire apartment. Suppose also that the apartment door has been left open. Instead of allowing the fire to vent out the window, the wind has now changed the path of least resistance. When the attack team gets onto the fire floor and tries to advance down the hall or into the apartment, it may be overwhelmed by fire and heat being blown at them. In this case, the team may have to retreat to the safety of a stairwell while a master stream is used from the outside to knock down the fire, taking advantage of the wind-created path of least resistance. Uncoordinated exterior lines can have the same effect. This is why opposing streams and interior/exterior attacks are so dangerous. Exterior lines, which are usually larger, will always overpower smaller interior lines.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Safest, Most Effective Path of Least Resistance - Attack and Forcible entry issues


It is interesting to note that many of the paths of least resistance for fire spread are also the main routes of attack / egress. This is where the major focus of the firefight is often concentrated. If these common (for lack of a better term) areas are surrendered to the fire, both egress and attack routes will be blocked and need to be altered, complicating the issue. This may turn evacuations into rescues, and delay attack as lines are either abandoned for the need of more water (bigger lines) or re-routed (to alternate routes of attack or to exterior attack positions). Operational modifications take time and place more life in danger, both firefighter and civilian. For this reason, the Incident Commander must be prepared to do whatever is necessary to win the battle for the paths of least resistance in the building.


Forcible entry is an operation where the more common paths of least resistance may be unavailable for one reason or another either due to barriers or safety concerns. Often, the Entry team will have to improvise. Utilizing the mantra of the safest, most effective path of least resistance can often lead to the best (and safest) decision on how to enter a building. For instance, the front door is usually the path of least resistance both into and out of the building. If that door is heavily fortified and the situation is minor, it may be easier and less damaging to enter via a window than to try to defeat the door. Reconnaissance may even reveal a less heavily fortified door at the rear or sides. Although this may not be the closest door to the street, it may still be the most effective path of least resistance. It is easier and quicker to force a wood side or rear door than to waste time and manpower trying to force an impenetrable front door. By the time, the door is forced, it may be the only thing left standing. In the hallways of fire resistive buildings, the door may be steel set in a steel frame, but the wall may be sheetrock or even concrete block. In many cases, especially if a hydraulic forcible entry (rabbit) tool is not available, it is easier and less time consuming to breach the wall, reach in and unlock the door. Be flexible in your decision-making. At a residential high-rise fire in North Bergen, New Jersey, oxygen cylinders that were used for medicinal purposes were exposed to a fire that originated on a couch. When a cylinder exploded, it blew out the sheetrock hallway wall and the glass balcony doors. The steel apartment door was left intact. The explosion took the paths of least resistance.

Safest, Most Efective Path of Least Resistance -- Building Construction

Knowing the building that is on fire is more important than knowing the fire that is in the building. The construction of the building will have a major impact on the characteristics of the spread of the products of combustion and is the key to both understanding and forecasting the most effective paths of least resistance for both fire spread and fire control.

Factors such as the location of the fire in the building in relation to the location of vertical arteries will aid in determining strategy and tactics. For instance, barring any wind condition that might adversely affect fire spread, a fire in an apartment near a window is more likely to vent out that window (creating an autoexposure problem). A fire in proximity to the entry door is likely to vent out the entry door, into the hallway, and up the stairs. These are the paths of least resistance. A fire deeper in an apartment not in proximity to these arteries will also look to spread upward, but may more easily find areas such as bathrooms and kitchens where the largest pipe chases in the building will provide the most effective path of least resistance for fire spread upward.

Understanding the types of building construction and the inherent weaknesses in each will guide the fire strategist in determining tactics regarding where to vent, attack, force entry, conduct overhaul and salvage, as well as predicting how the building is going to fall apart. If you are unclear on building construction and how it influences the fire, you are merely guessing (non-educated guessing) in regard to your operations.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Rules of Thumb: The Safest, Most Effective Path of Least Resistance

To the untrained observer, fire operations, especially during initial phases, may appear to be a disjointed arbitrary set of actions, often bordering on the chaotic. For the undisciplined fire department, this may be more of the rule than the exception. Unfortunately, property loss and civilian and firefighter casualties are often the result.

For the well trained and disciplined fire department operating under a competent Incident Commander, quite the opposite will be true. An effective action plan based on a sound strategy is set into motion through effective communication and coordination. Primary searches are launched in the areas of most peril, attack lines are placed to protect the search, cut off and extinguish the fire, ventilation is conducted quickly and efficiently, allowing even quicker advance of attack lines, and overhaul and salvage operations are carried out so that the structure suffers the least amount of damage possible, in other words, a textbook fire operation.

What is the difference between these two diametrically opposed fireground operations? The simple fact is that textbook fire operations do not just happen by accident. They are a result of training, coordination, and the understanding of the principles that guide the spread of the products of combustion as well as the disposition of the suppression agent used to quench the fire. Knowledge of the enemy is of paramount importance. The fire strategist who can understand the principles that govern the enemy and apply them to the fire situation will more often than not have the upper hand on fire control and understand what it takes to say one step ahead of the incident.

The principles referred to here are governed by the laws of nature. Simply stated, the products of combustion: flame, smoke, heat, and gases will take the most effective path of least resistance upward until they meet a barrier, where they will spread laterally until another vertical channel is found. Then, if they haven’t given up the heat to the surrounding area, they will continue upward. This is why we ventilate natural openings on the roof, to unleash the beast in the most harmless direction.

If one understands and applies strategy and tactics to this rule of thumb, what to do and more importantly, where to do it, begins to come into focus and make more sense. If you are able to figure where the fire will go next, you can take steps to cut it off, in other words, confine it to as close to its area of origin as possible.

Water, our most common weapon against this enemy, will also follow the most effective path of least resistance, although, in the opposite direction. Water will always attempt to seek its level. It will flow vertically downward until it meets a horizontal obstacle like a floor. It will then spread out until it finds a hole or other artery downward and its gravity-influenced path will continue. Understanding this law forms the basis of salvage operations and sometimes surround-and-drown incidents.

The task of the Incident Commander is to intervene on behalf of the fire forces (the Good Guys) using these same paths of least resistance to stop fire damage. Placing personnel armed with the proper resources in these paths of least resistance will often affect the outcome of the fire incident in a positive manner. Fire operations, of course, must incorporate safety into the equation. Safety must always be the overriding concern of all fireground operations. The rule of thumb then, utilizing this concern for safety as the common strategic and operational thread that guides fire operations then becomes “the safest, most effective path of least resistance” to accomplish the objective.

Take for example a second floor fire in a corner building. The front door is on Side A, but there is also a door on Side D. Heavy fire venting from windows have caused power lines to drop in front of the building and are blocking the front door. While the most effective path of least resistance may be the front door, it is no longer the safest due to the presence of the fallen wires. In this case, the safest, most effective path of least resistance is via the door on Side D.

Let’s look at a typical scenario of a four-story multiple dwelling of ordinary construction with a fire on the second floor. The most basic operational goal is to protect the interior stairs. Why do you suppose that is? Because it is not only the most effective path of least resistance for the upward spread of the products of combustion, but also, the safest, most effective path of least resistance for occupant egress. In addition, it is also the safest, most effective path of least resistance for the attack operation. In fact, one of the problems often faced is the logjam encountered as lines are being stretched up the stairs at the same time that occupants are attempting to escape down the stairs. Fighting for and maintaining this artery will afford the greatest amount of occupants the best chance for a speedy evacuation from the building. If for some reason this artery is jeopardized such as by an apartment door left open, allowing the fire to spread into the path of least resistance (the stairwell), evacuation would most likely turn into rescue as occupants become trapped on upper floors or are forced to use other areas of egress, such as fire escapes. In fact, the more occupants must deviate from the most effective path of least resistance out of the building, the more dangerous the situation becomes, the longer it takes and the more personnel required to make it happen.

In the next blogs, we will take a look at some of the common fireground conditions and operations to see how this rule of thumb can be universally applied

Monday, April 25, 2011

Radio show Politics and Tactics coming 5/2

I will be taking part in the radio show "Politics and Tactics" with Frank Ricci and others starting this Monday, May 2 at 7 PM and every other Monday after that. Tune into the show and call in to give your views.
Hopefully, I will have my own show as well soon. It is your show and your opportunity to chime in on what the business is all about and how we are doing. It should be fun. I hope you can all join.

More setting of expectations

As an Officer, what expectations do you set for your subordinates? How do you guide them to do the right thing? When they don't, who is to blame, you or them? How much of thier actions do you take credit or blame for?

The Probie

Once assigned to a company, too many times, Probies do not know what is expected of them. This does everything from allowing them to fall in with "bad seeds" to leaving them to making their own decisions not only in the soft environment of the firehouse, but also in the hard environment. What expectations does your department set for new probationary firefighters?