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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.



1. Nick Morgan - January 25, 2013

Over the years I’ve become convinced of this same approach stated by the author. However, old “traditions” die hard because we might have to admit that there is a better way to operate than what we have been doing. Like it was said, not that we were doing things wrong, just doing what we were taught. But now we’re learning many new things, and if we fail to change and adapt our tactics to the fire situations we encounter, both we in the fire service and our citizens whom we’ve sworn to protect become the losers.

2. Todd Ungar - January 25, 2013

Outstanding article, I agree wholeheartedly with the theory that water on the fire is effective and won’t “push” fire throughout the structure. Think of all the potential delays you could encounter stretching to the unburned side: cars, fences and gates, dogs, and simply- a longer stretch with more opportunity to kink the hose or get it snagged on an object you missed on your way up. All the while the fire continues to grow because we are doing nothing to slow its progress. Glad to see this becoming more prominent and accepted as the tactic of choice.

3. Jim Silvernail - January 25, 2013

Sean has been doing some awesome work with Kerber and the guys from UL. In fact he is off to do work on attic fires in a few days with them. I am very thankful he has shared this article and shown his support toward Suburban Fire Tactics.

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