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?