jump to navigation

A New Collaboration June 3, 2013

Posted by Jim Silvernail in Combat Ready for Suburbia.

I’m thankful to become the newest contributing author for Fire Ops Online. My newest article, Effective vs. Efficient, A Lesson in Creative Fire Tactics is now available through Frank Viscuso’s, my friend and fellow author, website. I’m proud of this outstanding opportunity that Frank has extended to me.

Effective vs. Efficient: A lesson in Creative Fire Tactics

There is absolutely no doubt that there is an epidemic in America. Fire Departments across the nation have braced for budgetary downfalls and major cutbacks from city hall. Fire Chiefs and Commissioners have been forced to tighten the bottom line and even cut companies.

One option we have in suburban America is to use and embrace of the elements of the “quint” concept. The quint concept and partial quint concept have been widely accepted in this demographic due to the lack of adequate resources, lower fire volumes and the pursuit of efficiency. The use of the quint concept system; however, is not limited to suburban application. In fact, more urban agencies are turning to the concept to attempt to solve the problems of budgetary downfalls. Is this trend for everyone?

This subject may be controversial; however, my intent is not to suggest or dictate a better system for your agency. My intent is to stimulate your thought process and to facilitate the assessment of your agency’s needs in relation to tactics and strategies. This is not a time to remain close-minded and to relax with tradition. Those who rest on tradition and history have no future.

Read the rest of this article on Fire Ops Online.

FDIC PennWell Author’s Dinner May 4, 2013

Posted by Jim Silvernail in Combat Ready for Suburbia.
add a comment

FDIC PennWell Author's Dinner

What a fantastic group of professionals!

Flipping the Coin: Fireground Decision Making for Company Officers April 15, 2013

Posted by Jim Silvernail in Combat Ready for Suburbia, Size Up.
add a comment
This article originally appeared on FireEngineering.com, 04/03/2013.

By James L. Silvernail

SFT-FDIC-CoinA few years ago I was privileged to take a truck company class from a prominent truck company author from the West Coast whom I greatly respect. During his lecture he briefly discussed the quint concept and how he did not fully understand it. He also described how being a quint officer was very complicated, requiring years of experience to understand how to implement tactics that achieve a coordinated fire attack without dedicated truck companies. The joke was, “if you are a quint company officer, do you flip a coin upon arrival to determine if you are an engine or truck company?”

I have been an officer in a “modified-quint” concept system for approximately ten years. Honestly, there are times when the decision to commit to engine or truck work is not complicated. However, there are times when this system is tested and it can be a challenge. Without dedicated truck companies, many functions that are essential for a coordinated fire attack can be easily missed or not performed in a timely manner. Unfortunately, this is reality for many of us in suburban America, as well as many urban areas that are turning to this concept in attempt to cut budgets and gain an efficient, economical advantage.

Please notice that I used the term efficient in the paragraph above as opposed to effective. There is a vast difference between the two meanings in these words. Many leaders and policy makers across the country have turned to the elimination of fire apparatus that does not have the ability to pump water for fire extinguishment, i.e. truck and heavy rescue companies. They have found that it is efficient to combine these functions into one apparatus. Rescue engines have replaced the heavy rescue and 75-foot ladders with pumps have taken the place of nonexistent truck companies. Depending on their function at a fire, these apparatus may be expected to conduct either truck company functions or engine work. On paper, this looks extremely efficient in a fire department budget. But is it effective?

In regard to a coordinated fire attack, there is nothing more effective than a timely, coordinated team effort between engine crews and the functions that facilitate or assist these crews (truck work). In a system where well-trained truck companies and engine companies arrive simultaneously or in close proximity, this is almost a guarantee. Both companies know their duties and commit.

Does this mean that systems without truck companies are ineffective? No, but such setups require greater coordination, training, and experience. Many of us who already work under the conditions of this system understand this. The policymakers who decide to transition to this system need to understand that there is more involved than simply removing apparatus from service. The answer is having effective standard operating guidelines, experienced company officers, and training.


Often, the easiest part of the equation is building customized standard operating guidelines (SOGs) and implementing training. The hard part is finding fire officers with the desired leadership attributes and fireground experience. It is no secret that fire activity has seen a decline in the last decade and fire officers do not experience the same amount of fires that they did in the past. This dilemma will continually challenge our industry. The answer is not straightforward; however, we must build upon the experiences of our predecessors and to commit to increased training.

SOGs must be customized for the individual agency and created in regard to agency capability at the company level. What does this mean? You must understand the individual abilities of each fire company and how many fireground functions they can effective deliver in a timely manner. Often, we fail to effectively complete a function because we try to attempt numerous functions simultaneously with limited resources. Is it practical to attempt to deploy two hoselines, locate a fire, force entry, and ventilate with a single three- or four-person engine company? Good Luck!

When designing SOGs for structure fires, certain principles must be adhered to. Fireground functions must be prioritized and generally assigned to incoming resources/units.


  • Situational awareness and size-up must absolutely be the first action on any emergency situation. This includes building awareness, exposure protection, fire involvement, fire conditions, fire location, victim potential/location, extra hazards, just to name a few.
  • Rescue always takes precedence over property conservation; however, with limited resources, our main form of rescue may be line deployment (removing the hazard and placing the nozzle between the victims and the fire).
  • Primary line (flow) placement is a high priority: “No other action taken on the fireground saves more lives than the proper size attack line, stretched to the correct location, and placed into service at the proper time.”
  • Placing a line into service requires facilitating (assisting actions), including locating the fire (including opening interior walls, voids, and ceilings), locating victims, forcible entry, and ventilation.

Because placing a line into service can be an intensive undertaking, consider using the 1 +1 principle. This principle means using two crews per hoseline: an engine crew/hose line crew (who is responsible for hoseline deployment and flow) and a facilitating crew with forcible entry tools. The facilitating crew is responsible for fire location (opening up), forcible entry/egress, victim removal, and can assist with the line stretch. This system allows for the hose crew to concentrate all efforts on the hoseline and allows for interior facilitation and safety net (in the need for interior forcible egress).

  • Have a command and safety structure
  • Provide a safety net for all operating companies; including rapid intervention and rehab.
  • Have a backup line and be prepared to place it into service
  • Complete all incomplete truck company functions, such as utility control, throwing ladders, incomplete forcible entry (removing bars on windows and securing secondary egress points), verifying effectiveness of ventilation, and salvage and overhaul.
  • Have the ability to transport/triage all victims (including fire department personnel).

The term generally was used to describe assigning fireground functions to incoming units. That’s because every fire is not the same. “Let the situation dictate the circumstances and actions.” A good fire officer, especially a quint officer, must be flexible and be ready to implement actions which will most impact the fireground. The best example of this decision making is a rescue situation with limited resources. Does the officer elect to defer line placement in lieu of performing a rescue? It is a difficult situation which has many variables and the decision will require experience and training.

Sitting in the front right seat isn’t easy. It requires skill and the ability to make quick decisions which could impact life or death situations.

  • Have a game plan
  • Be flexible and adapt to the situation
  • Have the experience and training to be able to make these decisions

Don’t simply “flip the coin” on arrival. Have a game plan and know your agency’s SOGs, but also don’t be afraid to deviate when the situation dictates. Know what functions are necessary to impact the operation and commit to implementation.

FDIC is just around the corner! April 10, 2013

Posted by Jim Silvernail in Events.
add a comment


Fire Department Instructor Conference (FDIC) is almost upon us!

Thank you everyone for sharing your insights and experiences. The varied points of view have helped me prepared for my third year delivering Suburban Fire Tactics at FDIC. This year SFT will be a 4-hour pre-conference workshop on Tuesday, April 23, 1:30-5:30 pm. I certainly hope to see you there.

Also – the Suburban Fire Tactics book has arrived!

The completion of the book project has already been incredible. The initial feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Everyone is invited to attend our official launch and first book signing will be 11-noon on Wednesday April 24 and Thursday April 25 at the Pennwell/Fire Engineering bookstore.

If you can’t make it to FDIC this year- please feel free to visit the PennWell website to order a copy. Or if you’d like information on receiving a custom presentation of Suburban Fire Tactics for your department or industry event, please email us.

Gearing up for FDIC March 14, 2013

Posted by Jim Silvernail in Media.
add a comment

In preparation for our FDIC launch of the SFT book, Fire Engineering has released a sneak peek:

SFT CoverSUBURBAN FIRE TACTICS is a guide for suburban-based fire operations. All fire departments share common objectives: to save lives, protect and conserve property, and limit harm to the environment. How urban, rural, and suburban agencies differ is the delivery of tactics and strategies. This new book explains the factors that limit suburban operations and depicts the differences between urban and suburban capabilities.

ISBN 978-1-59370-294-6z

This book will debut at FDIC and Chief Silvernail will be available to sign your copies there!!

If you noticed the reference made in the last line to “Chief” Silvernail instead of Captain, that wasn’t a typo.

Earlier this week was one of those bitter sweet moments in a persons life. I was promoted to Battalion Chief. I leave the best job in the fire service as a Captain to one of the finest Rescue/Engines in suburbia and the United States. However, I look forward to my new journey and accept the new challenges which will come my way.

If you haven’t yet registered for FDIC – tomorrow is the last day for the “Early Bird” registration discount. There are a lot of great learning opportunities at FDIC and I am fortunate enough to again present SFT as a workshop on Tuesday, April 23.

Thank you,


Thoughts from MUFTRI Winter Fire School February 19, 2013

Posted by Jim Silvernail in Combat Ready for Suburbia, Events.

JimatWFSRecently, I had the pleasure of delivering Suburban Fire Tactics at the University of Missouri Fire and Rescue Institute (MU FRTI) Winter Fire School (WFS). If you didn’t attend this event, you missed a great experience and exchange of information!

WFS offered participants and excellent opportunity to develop and discuss ideas. In addition to interacting with students during two deliveries of Suburban Fire Tactics, I was fortunate enough to discuss concepts with fellow instructors, including the crew from Engine House Training.

Some of our hot-discussions involved fire fighter safety:

  • How do you interpret ICS/NIMS for structure fires? Where does the first due officer belong? One student reported when arriving first due with only two firefighters to a structure fire, both firefighters make entry and “leave God at the pump panel.”
  • Is compressed air foam system (CAFS) effective prior to flashover? Will a CAFS line effectively cool down an eminent flashover atmosphere without actually hitting the seat of the fire? Students questioned if CAFS would cool at the ceiling level without actually hitting the body of fire. Is it theory, or is it proven?

What is your opinion of #GodAtThePumpPanel and/or CAFS cooling?

NIST fire researchers gathered data from experimental burns January 29, 2013

Posted by Jim Silvernail in Combat Ready for Suburbia.
add a comment
I wanted to make a quick comment about the work conducted by NIST down in Spartanburg, SC. It is so beneficial to our industry that organizations like this (including ISFSI) are conducting this research. You have to adjust your tactics to the situations and the times. This research is so important to suburban communities (really all fire agencies) who do have limited personnel and resources. Yes, I consider myself an aggressive firefighter and fire officer. But getting caught in a flashover is not aggressive and is not smart, especially if you are an officer (don’t put your people in this situation). The transitional fire attack is a valuable tactic and is definitely apart of Suburban Fire Tactics……Once again, thank you Sean Gray for sharing your article emphasizing this earlier

Things Change: Attack from the Burned Side, Part 2 January 25, 2013

Posted by Jim Silvernail in Combat Ready for Suburbia.

From our fellow suburban friend, Sean Gray, of Cobb County Fire Department (Georgia) and FDIC instructor (Attack from the burned side)….Great stuff, we have a lot in common.

“Things Change”

After “Attack from the Burned Side can Save Lives” was published in Fire Engineering November 2011. A firestorm (no pun intended) of controversy ignited. The article was negatively criticized by the “Old School group” and was applauded by the “New School group”. Some folks told me- “We will just have to agree to disagree”. Well, that adage is fine if were discussing politics or religion in the firehouse. But when it comes down to keeping firefighter’s safe and saving citizen’s property I have a much more passionate opinion. I’m willing do the right thing, even if it takes admitting that I have been doing it wrong for the past 20 years.

Take a look back at where or who you gained your knowledge from, it was probably from some old salty captain or chief that you looked up to when you were a rookie. There is nothing wrong with that. All of us have had someone that took us under their wing. However, where or who did they get their knowledge from? Probably from their mentors and their own experiences, and it continues like this today.

Is it possible that we have just been telling stories all these years?

The American fire service has 150 years of tradition that is unimpeded by progress. We are often not ready to change. Unfortunately, it takes a death or critical injury of a firefighter for someone to ask the question, “How could this have been prevented?”

Let’s review a couple of scenarios that are classic examples of fire tactics that can be changed. Many of you may have been on similar fires to these and may have made the same mistakes. It’s not that we have been doing a bad job. We’ve been doing what we were taught.

Scenario #1

contributed by Sean Gray

Figure 1

The above picture (figure 1) was the result of a c-side deck fire and the initial size up showed smoke in the attic. The first hose lines were sent through the front door after forcible entry and by the time that they pulled ceiling and attempted to extinguish the fire, the roof was beginning to collapse. The point here is that it takes time to force entry, hump hose to the 2nd floor and then pull ceiling to start extinguishment. It’s much quicker to pull a line to the c-side exterior, extinguish the fire on the outside that is extending into the attic. During this time, more units will have arrived and the forcible entry should have occurred while you were extinguishing the C-side fire and maybe even a secondary hose line will be headed to the attic, possibly avoiding the need for aerial master streams.

Scenario #2

contributed by Sean Gray

Figure 2

The fire shown above (figure 2) is an Easy scenario right? Hit it with the deck gun or 2 ½” on the A-side. Unfortunately, because attacking from the UNburned side has been drilled into our heads for so many years. The initial hose lines were stretched through the c-side door. How do you think this looks to the citizen standing across the street watching this fire?

It’s simple. Put WATER on the FIRE as soon as possible. You can make all the excuses in the world for not putting water on the base of the fire, like there was a fence, or a firefighter eating dog, or the rookie did it! Sure there can be extenuating circumstances, that’s the nature of our business but recent studies have shown that anytime water is applied, the hostile environment gets better. It doesn’t matter from which direction the water is applied.

Our hose streams have plenty of reach. Knock it down from a distance and then go inside and finish it off. We are paid to make sound decisions in a moment’s notice. If we make poor decisions it looks unprofessional to the people that we protect. Unfortunately, we are not viewed as the post 9/11 heroes anymore. In 2002, we could burn a house to ground and the citizens would thank us. Those days are gone.

Our fire tactics need to be constantly reevaluated. Let’s get away from the Burned vs. Unburned or the Smooth Bore vs. Fog nozzle arguments. In my mind there is no reason to argue because the engineers can give us the answers.

Thanks to UL and NIST we don’t have to rely on those stories anymore. The American fire service is changing and is now taking a dynamic scientific approach to firefighting, similar to what our brothers in other parts of the world have been doing for years.

For example, take a look at the recent studies performed on Governors Island, NY. The prestigious FDNY is arguably the most respected fire department in the world. If FDNY is willing to bring the science to the street and make changes to the ways that they operate, maybe the rest of us should follow suit. Things do change.

Funny thing- Several of my mentors have told me for years “If you put the fire out, the problems will go away”. I wish would have been listening.

Sean Gray is a 20 year veteran and a Fire Engineer with Cobb County (GA) Fire and Emergency Services Station 19-A shift. He has an Associate’s Degree and is currently working on a Bachelor’s degree in Fire Safety Engineering through the University of Cincinnati. He has taught at FDIC and has been published in Fire Engineering magazine.

Maplewood Memorial Stickers for Sale January 20, 2013

Posted by Jim Silvernail in Media.
add a comment

Ryan Hummert memorial stickers availableFor some of you who are not aware, we had a tragedy in St. Louis County in 2008. A young fireman by the name of Ryan Hummert was murdered on his first fire, exactly in the same fashion as West Webster, NY. I had the privilege of teaching this young man at the fire academy and his assignment was my first, the city of Maplewood.

I have always been very proud of the City of Maplewood. They send a delegation to the West Webster funerals and participated in this tragic event, just like they did in 2008.

To help with this tragedy, they are selling “Ryan Hummert” helmet stickers for $2/sticker. If anyone is interested, please contact Matt Wilcox. Thank you..Jim

Thank you Delaware… January 15, 2013

Posted by Jim Silvernail in Events.

Captain Jim Silvernail presenting SFT to DE State Fire School Annual Officer SeminarThank you to Delaware Fire School and participants of the 2013 Delaware Officer Seminar. Suburban Fire Tactics was presented on January 12 to a great number of firefighters. And thank you Tucker Dempsey for making the initial inquiry of us for this event!

Around the corner, SFT will be presented next at the University of Missouri Fire and Rescue Institute’s Winter Fire School. Registration is still open for this event and we sincerely hope to see you there!

In the meantime – happy hockey season!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,700 other followers