Posts Tagged ‘B-SAHF’

Reading the Fire 18

Sunday, November 17th, 2013

It has been a busy six weeks since my last post with several trips to Chile and around the United States delivering seminars on Practical Fire Dynamics and Reading the Fire along with finalizing the fire district’s budget for 2014. Spending a full-day on B-SAHF and reading the fire at the Springfield Professional Firefighters IAFF Local 333 professional development seminar and working with our fire district’s members on our adaptation of First Due Questions (see FDQ on Facebook and First Due Tactics on the web) provided inspiration to get back to the Reading the Fire series of blog posts.

spfld_oh_practical_fire
Photo by John Shafer, The Green Maltese

Fireground photos and video can be used to aid in developing and maintaining proficiency in reading the Fire using the B-SAHF (Building, Smoke, Air Track, Heat, and Flame) organizing scheme for fire behavior indicators. This post provides an opportunity to exercise your skills using a video segment shot during a live fire training. While live fire training is a considerably different context than an actual incident, this video provides an opportunity to focus on each of the elements of B-SAHF somewhat more closely than in typical incident video.

In this exercise, the focus will be on identifying specific indicators related to stages of fire development and burning regime (rather than anticipating fire development).

In this video, the fire has been ignited in a room (likely a bedroom) on the Bravo/Charlie corner of the building and the video is being taken from the exterior on the same corner. The ventilation profile is uncertain, but there is likely an opening/entry point on Side Alpha.

  1. As you watch the first 0:43 of the video, identify the B-SAHF (Building, Smoke, Air Track, Heat, and Flame) indicators that can be observed and how they change over time.
  2. What are the first visible indicators?
  3. What indicators are visible on and through the window between 0:43 and 0:56? How do condensation of water or pyrolysis products on window glazing aid in determining burning regime and stages of fire development? How might these indicators differ at locations more remote from the fire?
  4. How do the B-SAHF indicators change between 0:56 and 2:40? Why might this be the case?
  5. After 2:40 flaming combustion appears to increase. What might have influenced this change?
  6. By 3:37, the window on the Bravo/Charlie corner is dark and little flaming combustion can be observed. What might this indicate about burning regime and stages of fire development?
  7. At approximately 3:41, how do smoke and air track indicators change. What might this indicate? If there is no change in ventilation profile, how might the smoke and air track indicators change next?
  8. At 4:10 crews on Side Alpha report fire in a front (Side Alpha) room. Why might fire conditions be significantly different on this side of the building than in the original fire compartment? How might extinguishment of the fire in a room on Side Alpha influence fire development in the original fire compartment (Bravo/Charlie corner)?
  9. The lower portion of a window in the fire compartment on the Bravo/Charlie corner is broken out at 4:24. How does this change the B-SAHF indicators observed from this location? What may be inferred from these observations?
  10. Immediately after the lower portion of the window is broken out, a narrow fog stream is applied in a rotating manner through the window. What effect does this have on fire conditions in the room? How did smoke and air track indicators change during the brief water application? What did these changes indicate?
  11. How did smoke and air track indicators change after the brief application of water into the fire compartment?
  12. After the brief application of water through the window, how long did it take for the fire to resume significant growth in the fire compartment (crews operating from Side Alpha delayed fire attack intentionally).
  13. At 7:09, the upper portion of the window on the Bravo/Charlie corner is removed. How does this change in ventilation influence visible B-SAHF indicators and fire behavior?
  14. How do the B-SAHF indicators change as interior crews begin fire attack?
  15. How might taking the glass in the window(s) on the Charlie side of the building have influenced visible B-SAHF indicators and fire behavior?
  16. Had the window in the fire compartment located on Side Charlie (Charlie/Bravo Corner) failed first, what impact would this have had on flow path? How might this have influenced conditions encountered by the fire attack crew entering from Side Alpha?
  17. At approximately 8:40, interior crews begin hydraulic (negative pressure) ventilation through a window in the fire compartment on the Charlie/Bravo corner. How does this tactic integrate with the natural pressure differences created by the wind? What might be a more effective alternative?

Developing world class knowledge and skill takes approximately 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. This equates to almost three hours every day, 365 days per year, for 10 years. If you only practice every third day achieving 10,000 hours in 10 years would require just over eight hours per day and if you only spend 2 hours every third day, it would take over 40 hours to achieve 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.

How are you coming on your 10,000 hours? Keep at it!

Master Your Craft

Ed Hartin, MS, EFO, MIFIreE, CFO

Large Vertical Vents are Good, But…

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

Social Learning

Last week, at the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) Firefighter Safety Research Institute (FSRI) Advisory Board Meeting, we discussed changes in the fire environment over the last 40 years and also explored how to effectively roll out the new UL Vertical Ventilation on-line course. On my flight home, was checking Facebook and found several interesting questions from Colin Patrick Kelley and Scott Corrigan related to my blog post titled Integration which encouraged readers to integrate the tactical considerations and lessons learned from the UL Horizontal and Vertical Ventilation Studies (Kerber, 2010, 2013). Scott had reposted a link to Integration on Facebook and after having a look at the Tactical Integration Worksheet, Colin commented with an interesting question for Scott and I. The fire environment is not the only thing that has changed in the last 40 years! Almost every day, I interact with firefighters from around the world through my blog, social media, VOIP telephone or video, e-mail, and a host of other technological innovations. The tools that allow us to interact with a worldwide network have also changed dramatically (likely as much as the fire environment) in the same timeframe.

Social learning can occur as either a formal, organization-driven process or as an informal employee-driven process…networks of people belonging to all professions, working across time and space, can make informed decisions and solve complex problems in ways they couldn’t dream of years ago. By bringing together people who share interests, no matter their location or time zone, social media has the potential to transform the workplace into an environment where learning is as natural as it is powerful (ASTD, 2011, p. 1-2)

It is important for us to consider how we use formal (e.g., training and education), informal (e.g., company drills and discussions), and social (e.g., use of social media, blogs) learning as part of our professional development as firefighters and fire officers. Take advantage of opportunities for learning in each of these areas. Be curious, think critically, and learn continuously!

large_vents_social_learning

The Questions

Collin explains his perspective and poses a question. Scott replies and redirects the question to me. This type of dialog is an excellent example of how we can use social learning to deepen our understanding and learn from the experience of others.

Colin Patrick Kelley writes: This is great stuff & memory aids are always appreciated by a numbskull like me. But I’m having some trouble. Scott Corrigan or Chief Ed Hartin, can you help me out with one of the categories listed on the Tactical Integration Worksheet? It reads as follows:

Large Vertical Vents are Good, But…. A 4’ x 8’ ventilation opening removed a large amount of hot smoke and fire gases. However, without water on the fire, the increased air supply caused more products of combustion to be released than could be removed through the opening, overpowering the vertical vent and worsening conditions on the interior. Once fire attack returned the fire to a fuel controlled regime, the large opening was effective and conditions improved (Hartin, 2013)

Collin Patrick Kelly continues: I feel like this tactical tidbit is missing a vital piece of info. Hear me out. If we know that horizontal openings (doors & windows) begin as bi-directional ventilation openings or flow paths (high side exhaust and low side inlets )that can and will eventually become almost all exhaust if left alone to burn and track long enough and we also know that vertical openings (cut holes, skylights, scuttles) are always going to start off as Unidirectional Flow paths or ventilation openings ( all exhaust) and will stay this way throughout the fire. Then how did the vertical opening aid in the fires growth? It aided in fire growth because the vertical vent studies were all done with the front door open and therein lies the problem. This front door was the low air inlet that the fire needed for growth. And in fact, during the Governors Island scuttle (vertical vent) test, when they opened the scuttle at the top of the stairs and closed the front door conditions began to get better and this was before a drop of water was sprayed. Temps began to decrease because as Steve Kerber put it “we are releasing more energy than the fire can produce”, in effect, stopping the “wood stove” scenario (another Kerber quote), which is the perfect scenario for fire growth. Low horizontal inlet and then up and out vertically. It stated above that “the increased air supply caused the fire to grow and overpower the vent opening”. I think it is critical to state that door control coupled with vertical vent can be a winning combination and in many instances the least risky and most effective means of ventilation. Was this either of your understandings of the study vs. the Governors Island tests and if so should that one listing contain a bit more specificity in its definition and understanding?

Scott Corrigan replied: Great input and shows you are closely watching [and] not [simply] relying on the footnotes of others. Door control to avoid the intake is key to all entry, when you are not going to apply water. It becomes part of a synchronized intake with you open it with the attack team advancing on the fire, not waiting to see flames, but comfortable flowing the line into smoke. Any tactical ventilation (PPA, Horizontal and Vertical) that is conducted without water application will produce ill results. The key is to continue to understand the cohesion of all the elements and the true coordination of fire attack and tactical ventilation. Sometimes putting a couple of sentences together can lead others see things as less than positive. I have had some great discussions with brilliant people about the “perceived” negatives of vertical ventilation. I think to frame it properly when discussing tactical ventilation is that we all agree (at least we should) that it needs to be in support of fire attack. Kevin Story from Houston says, “Engine work without truck work can suck, Truck work without Engine work can be disastrous.”. Ed Hartin what do you think regarding the Vertical Vent information Colin poses above?

Ian Bolton added to the conversation: You mentioned ‘It aided in fire growth because the vertical vent studies were all done with the front door open and therein lies the problem’ I think what you may be referring to is the possibility of providing an outlet, but without an inlet, perhaps by keeping the front door closed. Well, one thing that is sometimes not considered regarding ventilation is that for smoke/hot fire gases to be able to leave an environment, an equal amount/mass of air needs to replace it. It all goes back to the good old Law of Conservation of Mass from the mid-1700s. Stating that the mass of the system must remain constant over time, as system mass cannot change quantity if it is not added or removed. And of course when we are relating this to ventilation, the mass we are considering is our air/smoke/fire gases etc. So for us to be able to release those hot gases, they will need to be replaced by fresh air, either via a door, window, building leakage or some other means.

The Integration Worksheet accomplished its task as it stimulated thought and discussion about how these various tactical considerations should be integrated. Steve Kerber and I discussed the varied and in some cases misguided interpretation of the study results last week. Both studies presented data that support the effectiveness of coordinated fire attack and ventilation with vertical ventilation being generally more effective than horizontal, but not always necessary for effective operations in private dwellings. Both studies also supported the concept that uncoordinated horizontal or vertical ventilation of a ventilation controlled fire would result in increased heat release rate and worsening fire conditions.

Collin’s post includes a number of statements that frame his question:

  • Horizontal openings (doors & windows) begin as bi-directional ventilation openings or flow paths ( high side exhaust and low side inlets )that can and will eventually become almost all exhaust if left alone to burn and track long enough.
  • Vertical openings (cut holes, skylights, scuttles) are always going to start off as Unidirectional Flow paths or ventilation openings (all exhaust) and will stay this way throughout the fire.
  • [The vertical ventilation opening] aided in fire growth because the vertical vent studies were all done with the front door open… This front door was the low air inlet that the fire needed for growth.

Question: Was this either of your understandings of the [vertical ventilation] study vs. the Governors Island tests and if so should that one listing contain a bit more specificity in its definition and understanding?

The Foundation

It is important to ensure that we share a common understanding of terminology and concepts. The following are important to this discussion of practical fire dynamics and tactical ventilation:

Ventilation: The exchange of the atmosphere inside a compartment or building with that outside the compartment or building. Ventilation is going on all the time, even when there is no fire. Under fire conditions, ventilation may be changed by creation of openings by exiting occupants, fire effects, or by other human action.

Tactical Ventilation: Planned, systematic, and coordinated removal of hot smoke and fire gases and their replacement with fresh air. Actions ranging from opening a door to make entry, breaking or opening a window, or cutting an opening in the roof can all be part of tactical ventilation.

Tactical Anti-Ventilation: Planned, systematic, and coordinated confinement of hot smoke and fire gases and exclusion of fresh air. Closing or controlling the door to limit inflow of air is an anti-ventilation tactic.

Conservation of Mass: The mass of air entering a compartment (single compartment or building) must equal the mass of smoke and air exiting the building. This means that other than in the extremely short term, if smoke is exiting the building, air must be entering. This may be through one or more openings functioning solely as inlets or openings may be functioning as both inlets and outlets (with either a bi-directional flow or alternating (pulsating) flow). However, the mass of the inflow must equal that of the outflow.

mass_energy_transfer

Flow Path: The flow path is the volume between inlet(s), the fire, and outlet(s).

Air Track: While not used extensively in the scientific literature, the term air track as used in 3D Firefighting: Training, Techniques, and Tactics (Grimwood, Hartin, McDonough, & Raffel, 2005) may be used to describe the movement of smoke and air within the flow path. If the flow path is thought of as a road (path), movement of vehicles along the road would be the air track.

Bidirectional Air Track: A bi-directional air track is movement of smoke out and air in along the same flow path or at an opening.

Unidirectional Air Track: A unidirectional air track is movement of air or smoke in a single direction along a flow path or at an opening.

Impact of Differences in Elevation of Openings: As demonstrated in both the horizontal and vertical ventilation tests conducted by UL, the greater the difference in height between the inlet and the outlet, the more effective the ventilation. Given the buoyancy of hot smoke, making an exhaust opening above the height of the inlet increases effectiveness of both horizontal and vertical ventilation. Vertical ventilation resulted in greater gas movement (smoke out and air in) under similar conditions.

Exhaust and Inlet Openings: The relationship of the size of the exhaust opening(s) and inlet opening(s) has a significant effect on the efficiency of tactical ventilation. With natural ventilation, the total area of the inlet(s) should be larger than that of the exhaust opening(s). With equal sized openings, efficiency will vary depending on the temperature of the gases, but at 500o C, efficiency is likely to be approximately 70%. Higher temperatures result in increased efficiency, while lower temperatures result in decreased efficiency. Increasing the size of the inlet to twice that of the exhaust will increase efficiency to approximately 90%. Further increases in inlet size result in diminishing increases in efficiency (Svensson, 2000).

Tactical Considerations: As used in the UL reports on Horizontal and Vertical Ventilation and their accompanying on-line training programs, tactical considerations are things to think about in application of firefighting strategies and tactics based on the results of experimental research in. The tactical considerations are not rules or procedures, but serve to inform our practice and also to raise additional questions to be answered (e.g., do these same considerations apply in other types of buildings or with different building geometry?).

Discussion

The following section addresses Colin’s statements and question.

Bi-Directional Air Track from Horizontal Openings: Collin indicated that horizontal openings begin with a bi-directional air track and as the fire develops transition to almost all exhaust. Horizontal Openings may present a bi-directional air track (smoke out the top and air in the bottom), this is common (but not exclusively) when the opening is at the same level as the fire and is a typical indicator of a ventilation controlled fire. Under these conditions, the area of opening serving as an exhaust increases as the fire develops and temperature of the hot gases exiting through the opening increase. As a result the area of the opening serving as an inlet will decrease. Mass balance is maintained as the cooler outside air is more dense (greater mass per unit volume) than the hot gases that are exiting. So far so good, this is consistent with Colin’s first assumption.

However, several conditions may result in a unidirectional, outward flow of smoke from a horizontal opening. First, if the opening is above the fire and another (lower) inlet is present, the opening may have a unidirectional, outward flow. Second, if the opening is on the leeward (downwind) side and an inlet is present on the windward (upwind) side of the building, a unidirectional, outward flow of smoke may be present. Conversely, these conditions also may result in a unidirectional, inward flow at the inlet opening.

Horizontal openings may also present with a pulsing (inward and outward flow) under extremely ventilation controlled conditions. This air track is an indicator of potential for a ventilation induced flashover or backdraft.

The following video is an excellent illustration of B-SAHF (building, smoke, air track, heat, and flame) indicators, the concept of flow path, anti-ventilation, tactical ventilation, door control, and a host of other interesting things. This test was conducted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Bensenville, IL. The building is a wood frame townhouse with a fire ignited on the first floor. The door on Floor 1, Side Alpha is closed and the window on Side 1, Alpha is open. The door to the second floor room where the open window is located is also open, providing a flow path between the window and the first floor fire. While the second floor window is not a vertical vent, it is above the fire and at different points in the test showed a bi-directional and unidirectional air track.

At the start of the video, the air track is bi-directional and while continuing in this mode, becomes substantially and exhaust opening. Pay close attention at 03:36 as the fire becomes more ventilation controlled and the air tack begins to pulse, alternating between inlet and exhaust. At 03:46, smoke discharge from the window ceases as the opening becomes an inlet (or at least not an exhaust). This condition continues until the door is opened at 04:06. Once the door is opened, the window becomes an exhaust while the door maintains a bidirectional air track, serving as both an exhaust and inlet for the remainder of the test.

Important! Changes in air track are as (or likely even more) important as the direction (in, out, bidirectional, or pulsing (in and out)).

Unidirectional, Outward Air Track from Vertical Openings: Collin states that vertical openings will always going to start off and remain unidirectional (all exhaust) throughout the fire. Two factors influence movement of smoke (and air), differences in density (mass per unit volume) and pressure. Increased temperature (in comparison with ambient temperature of the outside air) reduces the density of smoke, making it buoyant. The same increased temperature in combination with the confinement provided by the building results in (slightly) increased pressure. Both of these factors influence movement of smoke and the tendency of vertical (or the upper area of horizontal) openings to serve as an exhaust.

I agree with Colin that vertical openings generally will serve as an exhaust point throughout the incident. However, the extent to which they do so is dependent on the presence of one or more inlet openings as well as the buoyancy and pressure resulting from the fire’s heat release rate.

The following video was taken as part of a NIST (2003) research project examining structural collapse. While focused on building performance, this video clearly demonstrates another one of the UL tactical considerations; nothing showing means exactly that, nothing. In particular, note conditions at 2:30, 4:40, and 5:30 in the video.

Changes in discharge from existing vertical building openings continues to be an exhaust, but at a significantly diminished flow. Additional detail is provided in the prior CFBT-US blog post Influence of Ventilation in Residential Structures: Tactical Implications Part 3 (Hartin, 2011). For more information on these tests, see Structural Collapse Fire tests: Single Story, Ordinary Construction Warehouse (Stroup, Madrzykowski, Walton, & Twilley, 2003) and additional video on the NIST web site.

It is also important to consider the impact of wind and fire conditions on the function of vertical openings, wind effects or cooling of smoke due to severely ventilation limited conditions may impact on smoke movement and the function of vertical openings as an exhaust.

Integration

Integration of the tactical considerations presented in the Horizontal and Vertical Ventilation Studies requires a deeper look. Each of the considerations must be framed in context. Both studies were experimental in nature, meaning that as many variables as possible were controlled to allow data directly related to ventilation to be collected. In that the fires needed to be extinguished to preserve the structures for subsequent experiments, data on the interrelationships between fire attack and ventilation were also collected. However, tactical operations were not conducted in exactly the same manner as they would on the fireground. Ventilation openings were precut, durable materials were used for window coverings rather than glass, and fire attack was limited to exterior streams. These variations from the typical fireground provided consistency from experiment to experiment and between series of tests (e.g., horizontal and vertical) that allowed valid and reliable analysis of data related to ventilation and exterior fire attack.

There are a number of tactical considerations identified in the Horizontal and Vertical Ventilation Studies that are interrelated (see the Tactical Integration Worksheet):

You Can’t Vent Enough (Horizontal) & Large Vertical Vents are Good, But…(Vertical): Ventilation (either horizontal or vertical) presents a bit of a paradox. Hot smoke and fire gases are removed from the building, but the fresh air introduced provides oxygen to the fire resulting in increased heat release rate.  In the horizontal ventilation study, each successive increase in horizontal ventilation released additional smoke, but also provided an increased air supply to the fire. In the vertical ventilation study, a 4’ x 8’ ventilation opening removed an even larger amount of hot smoke and fire gases. However, without water on the fire to reduce the heat release rate and return the fire to a fuel controlled regime, the increased air supply caused more products of combustion to be released than could be removed through the opening, overpowering the ventilation openings and worsening conditions on the interior. Once fire attack returned the fire to a fuel controlled regime, the large opening was effective and conditions improved. This held true in all experiments in both studies!

Coordination (Horizontal) & Coordinated Attack Includes Vertical Ventilation (Vertical): The Horizontal Ventilation Study identified that the window of time between increased ventilation and transition to conditions that were untenable for both building occupants and firefighters was extremely short. This held true with vertical ventilation as well. Vertical ventilation is the most efficient type of natural ventilation, it not only removes a large amount of smoke, but it also introduces a large amount of air into the building (the mass of smoke and air out must equal the mass of air introduced). If uncoordinated with fire attack, the increase in oxygen will result in increased fire development and heat release. However, once fire attack is making progress, vertical ventilation will work as intended, with effective and efficient removal of smoke and replacement with fresh air.

Gaining Access is Ventilation (Horizontal) & Control the Access Door (Vertical): If a fire is ventilation limited, additional oxygen will increase the heat release rate. The entry point is a ventilation opening that not only allows smoke to exit, but also provides additional atmospheric oxygen to the fire, increasing heat release rate and speeding fire development. Keep in mind that the entry point is a ventilation opening and don’t open it until ready to initiate fire attack. Controlling the door after entry (closed as much as possible while allowing the hose to pass) slows fire development and limits heat release rate. Once the fire attack crew has water on the fire and is limiting heat release by cooling the door can and should be opened as part of planned, systematic, and coordinated tactical ventilation.

Expanded Tactical Considerations

Colin was correct in his assertion that the statement “Large Vertical Vents are Good, But…” needs a bit more detail. Each of the tactical considerations presented in the UL Horizontal and Vertical Ventilation studies needs to be integrated with one another along the operational context of your department. Some of the considerations will be the same, regardless of if you are a member of FDNY or Central Whidbey Island Fire & Rescue, others will be different. Large organizations with substantial resources will be challenged by coordination (what must be done concurrently or in close sequence) while smaller organizations with fewer resources are challenged to a greater extent by sequence (what comes first, second, and third). However, regardless of the context, the fire dynamics remains the same.

The following tactical considerations related to vertical ventilation are based in part on the research results and tactical considerations developed by the UL Firefighter Safety Research Institute, ongoing study of practical fire dynamics, and fireground operations, over the last 40 years.

  • The air track from vertical ventilation openings in or directly connected to the involved area of the building is most likely to be unidirectional, and outward.
  • The air track from horizontal ventilation openings above the fire is likely to be unidirectional, outward, may be bidirectional (out at the top and in at the bottom), or may be pulsing (in and out).
  • The air track from horizontal openings on the same level as the fire is likely to be bidirectional, but may be unidirectional, outward or inward or it may be pulsing (in and out).
  • The air track from horizontal openings below the level of the fire is likely to be unidirectional, inward, but may present differently depending conditions.
  • Air track is influenced by the location and size of openings, the distance of the opening from the fire, wind conditions, the burning regime (fuel or ventilation controlled), and if ventilation controlled, the extent to which ventilation is limited. As with all of the B-SAHF (building, air track, heat, smoke, and flame), air track must always be considered on context.
  • Larger vertical ventilation openings will release a larger amount of smoke and a correspondingly large volume of air will be introduced into the building.
  • With natural tactical ventilation, if the area of the inlet or inlets is small in relation to the exhaust opening, the movement of both smoke and air will be constrained and ventilation will be less efficient. Correspondingly if the area of the inlet or inlets is large movement of smoke and air will be more efficient.
  • When using natural tactical ventilation, the inlet area should whenever possible be two or three times the size of the exhaust opening (note that this is reversed when using positive pressure ventilation).
  • If the fire is in a fuel controlled burning regime, effective vertical tactical ventilation will provide a lift in the smoke level and slow fire development even if fire attack is delayed. This was commonly seen in the legacy fire environment, but is unlikely in the modern fire environment due to the high heat release rate of modern fuels and fuel loads found in today’s buildings.
  • If the fire is ventilation controlled (most likely in the modern fire environment) and either horizontal or vertical tactical ventilation is performed absent fire attack, the lift (if it occurs) will be momentary as increased heat release rate and smoke production will likely overwhelm the size of the ventilation opening.
  • If the fire is ventilation controlled, the effectiveness of vertical tactical ventilation on improving conditions is dependent on concurrent application of water onto the fire. Note that this requires effective fire attack, not simply a charged line at the door or being advanced into the building. Once ventilation openings are created, the clock is ticking on increased heat release rate.
  • Coordinating fire attack and vertical tactical ventilation requires close communication between companies assigned to fire attack and those assigned to ventilation. Communication when water is being applied to the fire is critical. However, it is also important to evaluate observed conditions in conjunction with reports from the interior.
  • If using existing vertical openings such as skylights, scuttles, or roof bulkheads, it may be necessary to delay opening until the hoseline is in place and operating.
  • Vertical ventilation through cut openings takes longer than using existing openings and as such hoselines may be in place and operating before the hole is completely cut. However, it is important for company or team performing ventilation to verify that this is the case before opening the cut hole.
  • Effective coordination between fire attack and ventilation requires that command and company officers have a good idea of how long specific tactical operations take in different types of buildings and with varied construction types. If you don’t know, it is time to get dirty and find out!

Closing Thoughts

Remember that “training and learning are not the same thing… Training is an outside in approach to providing quantifiable content” (ASTD, 2011, p. 3) many firefighters and firefighters correctly perceive that training is what is done to you. Learning on the other hand; “is an inside out process that originates with the learner’s desire to know” (ASTD, 2011, p. 3). Training and learning are both important! Social learning does not replace training, it may overlap and reinforce training, but it can also enable the transfer of knowledge in a way that training cannot.

I would like to thank Colin Patrick Kelley, Scott Corrigan, and Ian Bolton for engaging in a bit of Social Learning and helping me do the same! Be curious (but not simply in a passive way, ask questions), think critically (ask questions and probe, consider “so what”, “now what”, and why as critical tools in your toolbox), and learn continuously (learning is an inside out process that starts with you).

Stay up to date with the latest UL research with the fire service by connecting with the Firefighter Safety Research Institute on the web or liking them on Facebook. Integrate this information with what you currently know and engage in deliberate practice to master your craft!

Deliberate Practice

References

American Society of Training and Development. (2011) Social learning. Retrieved August 24, 2013 from http://www.astd.org/Certification/For-Candidates/~/media/Files/Certification/Competency%20Model/SocialLearning1.ashx

Grimwood, P., Hartin, E.,  McDonough, J., & Raffel, S. (2005) 3D firefighting: Training, techniques, and tactics. Stillwater, OK: Fire Protection Publications.

Hartin, E. (2013) Integration [blog post]. Retrieved August 24, 2013 from http://cfbt-us.com/wordpress/?p=1926

Hartin, E. (2011) Influence of Ventilation in Residential Structures: Tactical Implications Part 3. Retrieved August 25, 2013 from http://cfbt-us.com/wordpress/?p=1666

Kerber, S. (2010). Impact of ventilation on fire behavior in legacy and contemporary residential construction. Retrieved July 17, 2013 from http://www.ul.com/global/documents/offerings/industries/buildingmaterials/fireservice/ventilation/DHS%202008%20Grant%20Report%20Final.pdf.

Kerber, S. (2013). Study of the effectiveness of fire service vertical ventilation and suppression tactics in single family homes. Retrieved July 17, 2013 from http://ulfirefightersafety.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/UL-FSRI-2010-DHS-Report_Comp.pdf

Stroup, D. Madrzykowski, D., Walton, W., & Twilley, W. (2003) Structural collapse fire tests: Single story, ordinary construction warehouse. Retrieved August 25, 2013 from http://www.nist.gov/customcf/get_pdf.cfm?pub_id=861215

Control the Door and Control the Fire

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

A pre-arrival video of a July 23, 2013 residential fire posted on YouTube illustrates the impact of ventilation (making an entry opening) in advance of having a hoseline in place to initiate fire attack. The outcome of increased ventilation mirrors the full scale fire tests conducted by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) during their Horizontal Ventilation Study (see The Impact of Ventilation on Fire Behavior in Legacy and Contemporary Residential Construction or the On-Line Learning Module).

Residential Fire

63 seconds after the front door is opened, the fire transitions to a fully developed fire in the compartment on the Alpha/Bravo Corner of the building and the fire extends beyond the compartment initially involved and presents a significant thermal insult to the firefighters on the hoseline while they are waiting for water.

sequence_0000_to_0320

A More Fine Grained Look

Take a few minutes to go back through the video and examine the B-SAHF (Building, Smoke, Air Track, Heat, and Flame) Indicators, tactical actions, and transitions in fire behavior.

0:00 Flames are visible through a window on Side Bravo (Alpha Bravo/Corner), burning material is visible on the front porch, and moderate smoke is issuing from Side Alpha at low velocity.

0:30 Flames have diminished in the room on the Alpha/Bravo Corner.

1:18 An engine arrives and reports a “working fire”. At this point no flames are visible in the room on the Alpha/Bravo Corner, small amount of burning material on the front porch, moderate smoke is issuing at low velocity from Side Alpha and from window on Side Bravo

1:52 A firefighter kicks in the door on Side Alpha

2:02 The firefighter who opened the door, enters the building through the Door on Side Alpha alone.

2:08 Other members of the engine company are stretching a dry hoseline to Side Bravo.

2:15 Increased in flaming combustion becomes visible through the windows on Sides A and B (Alpha/Bravo Corner).

2:31 The firefighter exits through door on Side Alpha and flaming combustion is now visible in upper area of windows on Sides A and B (Alpha/Bravo Corner).

2:49 Flames completely fill the window on Side Alpha and increased flaming combustion is visible at the upper area of the window on Side Bravo. The engine company is now repositioning the dry hoseline to the front porch

2:55 The fire in the compartment on the Alpha/Bravo Corner is now fully developed, flames completely fill the window on Side Alpha and a majority of the window on Side Bravo. Flames also begin to exit the upper area of the door on Side Alpha.

3:07 Steam or vapors are visible from the turnout coat and helmet of the firefighter working in front of the window on Side Alpha (indicating significant heat flux resulting from the flames exiting the window)

3:25 Steam or vapors are visible from the turnout coat and helmet of the firefighter on the nozzle of the dry line positioned on the front porch (also indicating significant heat flux from flaming combustion from the door, window, and under the porch roof).

3:26 The hoseline on the front porch is charged and the firefighter on the nozzle that is positioned on the front porch begins water application through the front door.

Things to Think About

There are a number of lessons that can be drawn from this video, but from a ventilation and fire control perspective, consider the following:

  • Limited discharge of smoke and flames (even when the fire has self-vented) may indicate a ventilation controlled fire.
  • Ventilation controlled fires that have already self-vented will react quickly to additional ventilation.
  • Control the door (before and after entry) until a hoseline is in place and ready to apply water on the fire
  • Application of water into the fire compartment from the exterior prior to entry reduces heat release rate and buys additional time to advance the hoseline to the seat of the fire.
  • Use of the reach of the stream from the nozzle reduces the thermal insult to firefighters and their personal protective equipment.

Also see Situational Awareness is Critical for another example of the importance of understanding practical fire dynamics and being able to apply this knowledge on the fireground.

Ed Hartin, MS, EFO, MIFireE, CFO

Developing Door Control Doctrine

Monday, June 17th, 2013

Door Control Doctrine

As discussed in my last post, doctrine is a guide to action rather than a set of rigid rules. Clear and effective doctrine provides a common frame of reference, helps standardize operations, and improves readiness by establishing a common approach to tactics and tasks. Doctrine should link theory, history, experimentation, and practice to foster initiative and creative thinking.

contro_the_door

One way to frame the discussion necessary to develop doctrine that is applicable to a range of circumstances, is to use a series of scenarios presenting different conditions and examine what is similar and what is different. Ideally, firefighters will work together to integrate this theoretical discussion with their experience to develop sound doctrine based on their own context (e.g., staffing, building and occupancy types).

Fireground Scenarios

Important! Not all of the tactics presented in the questions are appropriate and others may be appropriate in one context, but not necessarily in another. For example, a lightly staffed engine may not have the option of offensive operations until the arrival of additional resources (barring a known imminent life threat), where a company with greater staffing may have greater strategic and tactical flexibility. These questions focus on the impact of strategic (offensive or defensive) tactical options on fire dynamics.

Scenario 1: The first arriving company arrives to find a small volume of smoke showing from around windows and doors and from the eaves on Side Alpha with low velocity, no air inlet is obvious. Performing a 360o reconnaissance, the officer observes similar smoke and air track indicators on other sides of the building and that all doors and windows are closed. Several windows on Side Alpha (Alpha Bravo Corner) are darkened with condensed pyrolysis products and the home appears to have smoke throughout (smoke logged).

How do you think the fire will develop between arrival and initiation of offensive fire attack (assuming that adequate resources are on-scene for offensive operations) assuming no change in ventilation prior to fire attack.

The fire is likely in a ventilation controlled, decay stage. If the ventilation profile does not change prior to entry (e.g., doors are kept closed, windows remain intact), the heat release rate (HRR) from the fire will continue to decline and temperatures within the building will drop (but may still be fairly high when entry is made).

How would opening the front door prior to having a charged line at the doorway on Side Alpha impact fire development?

Increased ventilation will result in a significant and potentially rapid increase in HRR. The proximity of the door to the fire compartment and temperature in the fire compartment at the time that ventilation is increased will have a direct impact on the speed with which the fire returns to the growth stage (but still remaining ventilation controlled). The closer the air inlet to the fire and the higher the temperature, the more rapidly the fire will return to the growth stage.

How would horizontal ventilation of the fire compartment (Alpha/Bravo Corner) impact fire development if performed as soon as the hoseline is deployed to the (still closed) doorway on Side Alpha?

As noted in the answer to question 2, increased ventilation will result in an increase in HRR. As windows in the fire compartment are in closer proximity to the fire, taking the windows potentially will result in a more rapid return to the growth (but still ventilation controlled) stage. It is also important to consider that a window cannot be unbroken; selecting this ventilation option does not provide an option for changing you mind if you do not like the result.

What would be the impact on fire behavior if the engine company advanced the first hoseline to the windows; took the glass and applied water to the burning fuel inside the fire compartment prior to making entry through the door? How might this change if offensive fire attack was delayed (e.g., insufficient staffing for offensive operations)?

This is an interesting question! Research by UL, NIST, and FDNY has shown the positive impact of exterior application of water into the fire compartment in reducing heat release rate. However, as noted in the answer to the preceding question, a window cannot be unbroken. If this is simply a contents fire in the compartment where the window is broken and water is applied, the result is likely to be favorable with a temporary reduction in HRR due water applied on burning fuel. However, if the fire extended to other areas of the building which shielded from direct attack at this point of application, effectiveness of exterior application from this single location is likely to be limited.

How would opening the front door and horizontal ventilation of the fire compartment (Alpha/Bravo Corner) impact fire development if performed as soon as the hoseline is deployed to the doorway on Side Alpha?

Advice on coordination of tactical ventilation and fire attack has typically stated, don’t vent until a charged hoseline is in place. This is good advice, but requires a bit of clarification.

“As soon as the hoseline is deployed to the doorway” may simply mean that a dry line has been stretched and firefighters are donning their self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) facepieces while waiting for water. The fire will begin transition back to the growth stage as soon as tactical ventilation is performed. Depending on the time required for the firefighters to mask up, the line to be charged, air bled off, pattern checked, and the charged line advanced to the fire compartment(s), the HRR may increase significantly and conditions are likely to be quite a bit worse than if the door and window had remained closed until the hoseline was in place to begin offensive fire attack from the interior.

If tactical ventilation is performed after the line is charged and firefighters are ready to immediately make entry and quickly advance to the fire compartment, it is likely that the effect of increased ventilation will be positive. There may be some increase in HRR, but it is likely to be minimal due to the short distance and simple stretch from the front door to the fire compartment(s). Once direct attack has begun to control the fire, the increased ventilation will improve conditions inside the building.

Assuming that sufficient resources are on-scene to permit an offensive attack, when should the entry point be opened? Assuming that the door is unlocked, how should the fire attack crew approach this task?

Tactical size-up is critical for the crew assigned to offensive fire attack. This includes assessment of B-SAHF (Building, Smoke, Air Track, Heat, and Flame) indicators, forcible entry requirements, and assessment of fire attack requirements (e.g., flow rate, length of line, and complexity of the stretch).

The door should remain closed until the crew on the hoseline is ready to make entry; hoseline charged, air bled off, nozzle function and pattern checked, SCBA facepeices on, on-air. Check to see if the door is unlocked, but control the door (closed) and check conditions inside (visible fire, level of the hot upper layer, presence of victims inside the doorway) by opening the door slightly. The firefighter on the nozzle should do this check while the tools firefighter opens and controls the door. If hot smoke or flames are evident, the nozzle firefighter should cool the upper layer with one or more pulses of water fog (depending on conditions). The door should be closed while the crew assesses the risk of entry (e.g., floor is intact and fire conditions will permit entry from this location). If OK for entry; the crew can open the door and advance the line inside, while cooling the upper layer as necessary.

See Nozzle Techniques & Hose Handling: Part 3 for additional information on door entry procedure.

Once the hoseline is deployed into the building through the door on Side Alpha for offensive fire attack, should the door remain fully open or closed to the greatest extent possible? Why?

Ideally, the door will be closed after the hoseline is advanced through the doorway to limit the air supplied to the fire. How this is accomplished will depend on staffing. The door may be controlled by the fire attack crew or it may be controlled by the standby crew (two-out).

As discussed in the prior post Influence of Ventilation in Residential Structures: Tactical Implications Part 2, when the door is open, the clock is ticking! In the ventilation controlled burning regime, increased ventilation results in an increasing HRR as the fire returns to the growth stage. The timeframe for increased HRR is dependent on the proximity of the inlet to the fire, configuration of the building, and temperature in the fire area (higher temperature results in faster increase in HRR). Closing the door (even partially) slows the increase in HRR. Once the attack line begins direct attack, the door can be opened as part of planned, systematic, and coordinated tactical ventilation.

Assuming that this is a contents fire and horizontal ventilation will be appropriate, when and where should it be performed (describe the flow path from inlet to exhaust)?

As with most questions, the answer here is “it depends”. There are a few missing bits of information that are important to horizontal tactical ventilation. Wind direction and the location of potential openings. To keep things simple, assume that there is no wind and that the only potential openings in the fire compartment are two windows on Side Alpha at the Alpha/Bravo Corner.

Once direct attack has commenced, horizontal tactical ventilation can be performed from Alpha (doorway) to Alpha (windows in the fire compartment). As the top of the door and tops of the windows are likely to be approximately at the same level, there a bi-directional flow path (smoke out at the top and air in at the bottom) is likely to develop. However, the bottom of the door is lower than the windows which will provide increased air movement from the door to the fire compartment.

In discussing this question (and the entire topic of door control for that matter), some firefighters will undoubtedly raise the question of positive pressure attack (PPA) or positive pressure ventilation (PPV). These tactics may provide an effective approach in this scenario, but developing comprehensive tactical ventilation doctrine requires examination of all of the options to control both smoke and air movement, so we are starting with a look at anti-ventilation and tactical ventilation using natural means.

Scenario 2: The first arriving company arrives to find smoke showing with moderate velocity and a bi-directional air track (smoke out the top and air in the bottom) from an open door on Side Alpha. A moderate volume of smoke is also pushing from around windows and from the eaves on Side Alpha. Several windows on Side Alpha (Alpha Bravo Corner) are darkened with condensed pyrolysis products and a glow is visible inside in the room behind these windows. Performing a 360o reconnaissance, the officer observes similar smoke and air track indicators on other sides of the building and that all doors and windows with the exception of the door on Side Alpha are closed. Returning to Side Alpha, the officer observes that the velocity of smoke from the open door has increased and flames at the interface between the smoke and air as it exits the doorway. The home appears to have smoke throughout (smoke logged).

How do you think the fire will develop between arrival and initiation of offensive fire attack (assuming that adequate resources are on-scene for offensive operations) assuming no change in ventilation prior to fire attack.

The fire is in a ventilation controlled burning regime (indicators include the limited ventilation provided by the single opening at the front door and flames at the interface between the smoke and air at the door). The open door will likely provide sufficient ventilation for the fire to continue its growth and extension from the compartment of origin along the flowpath to the front door.

How would the officer closing the front door prior to having a charged line at the doorway on Side Alpha (e.g., when performing the 360) impact fire development?

Based on the reported observations during 360o reconnaissance, the only significant ventilation opening is the front door. The bi-directional air track indicates that this opening is serving as both an inlet and outlet. Closing the door will reduce the air supply to the fire and will reduce the HRR and slow worsening conditions outside the fire compartment. Ideally this would be done prior to starting the 360o reconnaissance.

Assuming that sufficient resources are on-scene to permit an offensive attack and the door was closed during the 360, when should the entry point be opened? How should this task be approached?

As in Scenario 1, the door should be opened only when the crew on the hoseline is ready to make entry; hoseline charged, air bled off, nozzle function and pattern checked, SCBA facepeices on, on-air. The same door entry procedure described in Scenario 1 should be used as if the door had been closed on arrival.

How would horizontal ventilation of the fire compartment (Alpha/Bravo Corner) impact fire development is performed as soon as the hoseline is deployed to the open doorway on Side Alpha?

The outcome of tactical ventilation of the fire compartment will depend on sequence and timing. If the door remained open during initial size-up and while the line was being stretched, he fire would have continued to grow (limited by ventilation provided by the doorway and interior configuration of the building). Additional ventilation in this case would result in a rapid increase in HRR. If the door had been closed during the 360, the increase in HRR on ventilation of the windows would likely be somewhat slower as the HRR and temperature in the fire compartment would have dropped once the door was closed. In either case, HRR will increase while the charged line is being stretched from the entry point to the fire compartment. This is not necessarily a problem if the stretch is quick and the flow rate of the hoseline is adequate. It is essential that the crews stretching the line and performing ventilation understand the influence of their actions on fire behavior and are not surprised at the result.

Once the hoseline is deployed into the building through the door on Side Alpha for offensive fire attack, should the door remain fully open or closed to the greatest extent possible? Why?

As noted in Scenario 1, closing the door to the greatest extent possible after the line is inside will slow fire development until the hoseline is in place to begin a direct attack.

Assuming that this is a contents fire and horizontal ventilation will be appropriate, when and where should it be performed (describe the flow path from inlet to exhaust)?

The same basic approach would be taken as in Scenario 1. Once direct attack has commenced, horizontal tactical ventilation can be performed from Alpha (doorway) to Alpha (windows in the fire compartment).

Scenario 3: The first arriving company arrives to find smoke showing with moderate velocity and a bi-directional air track (smoke out the top and air in the bottom) from an open door on Side Alpha. A moderate volume of smoke is also pushing from around windows and from the eaves on Side Alpha. Flames are visible from several windows on Side Alpha (Alpha Bravo Corner) with a bi-directional air track (flames from the upper ¾ of the window with air entering the lower ¼). Performing a 360o reconnaissance, the officer observes similar smoke and air track indicators on other sides of the building and that all doors and windows with the exception of the two windows and door on Side Alpha are closed. Returning to Side Alpha, the officer observes that the velocity of smoke from the open door has increased and flames at the interface between the smoke and air as it exits the doorway. Flames from the windows on Side Alpha are similar to when first observed. The home appears to have smoke throughout (smoke logged).

How do you think the fire will develop between arrival and initiation of offensive fire attack (assuming that adequate resources are on-scene for offensive operations) assuming no change in ventilation prior to fire attack.

The fire is likely in a ventilation controlled burning regime (indicators include the limited ventilation provided by the openings at the front door and windows. Existing ventilation will likely be sufficient for the fire to continue its growth and extension from the compartment of origin along the flowpath to the front door. As there are multiple ventilation openings (more cross sectional area), HRR is greater and as a result fire development and spread will be much more rapid than in Scenario 2.

How would the officer closing the front door prior to having a charged line at the doorway on Side Alpha (e.g., when performing the 360) impact fire development?

As the windows in the fire compartment have failed and are serving as ventilation openings (in addition to the front door), the fire will likely remain in a ventilation controlled growth stage even if the door is closed. However, closing the door will still reduce the air supply to the fire and will slow fire growth. In addition, elimination of the flow path between the fire compartment and front door will reduce heat transfer along this flow path.

Assuming that sufficient resources are on-scene to permit an offensive attack and the door was closed during the 360, when should the entry point be opened? How should this task be approached?

As in Scenarios 1 and 2, the door should be opened only when the crew on the hoseline is ready to make entry; hoseline charged, air bled off, nozzle function and pattern checked, SCBA facepeices on, on-air. The same door entry procedure described in the prior scenarios should be used.

How would horizontal ventilation of the fire compartment (Alpha/Bravo Corner) impact fire development if performed as soon as the hoseline is deployed to the open doorway on Side Alpha?

As the windows in the fire compartment have already failed, some ventilation of the fire compartment has already occurred. In that the fire is ventilation controlled, any additional ventilation will significantly increase HRR. With a ventilation controlled growth stage fire and high temperature in the fire compartment, the HRR will increase rapidly.

Once the hoseline is deployed into the building through the door on Side Alpha for offensive fire attack, should the door remain fully open or closed to the greatest extent possible? Why?

As in the previous two scenarios, the door should be closed to as great an extent possible after the hoseline is advanced inside the building. This will limit air to the fire, slow fire development, an reduce the flow path between the fire and the front door.

Assuming that this is a contents fire and horizontal ventilation will be appropriate, when and where should it be performed (describe the flow path from inlet to exhaust)?

As the windows in the fire compartment have already failed, they will continue to provide ventilation. Once a direct attack has been initiated, the front door may be opened to increase air flow and the efficiency of the horizontal ventilation from Side Alpha to Side Alpha.

As noted in the previous post, these questions were all based on a similar fire (different development based on the ventilation profile at the time of the first company’s arrival) in the same, simple building, a one story, wood frame dwelling. It is important to examine other levels of involvement and ventilation profiles in this building as well as other types of buildings and fire conditions with similar questions. Also give some thought to the impact of door control when using vertical ventilation in coordination with fire attack.

Additional Examples

The following video of pre-arrival conditions and initial fireground operations provides an additional opportunity to consider the impact of ventilation and the importance of door control.

Video 1: In the first video, the door is closed when the fire department arrives, but the fire has self-vented through a window on Side Delta.

 

How might effective door control have influenced fire development and the safety of companies operating at this incident?

Video 2: In this video, the front door is open when the fire department arrives and it appears that the fire may have self-vented on Side Charlie.

How might effective door control have influenced fire development and the safety of companies operating at this incident?

Video 3: In the last video, the front door is partially open and existing ventilation includes a window on Side Alpha and one or more openings on Side Charlie.

 

How might effective door control have influenced fire development and the safety of companies operating at this incident?

My next post will come back to the final set of questions regarding door control doctrine posed in Close the Door! Where You Born in a Barn?

Close the Door!
Were You Born in a Barn?

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

Coming and going as a little kid, I frequently would forget to close the door to the house and my mother would say; close the door! Were you born in a barn? What does this have to do with firefighting operations? As it turns out, it has significant impact!

close_the_door

Research conducted by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY) points to the importance of close coordination of tactical ventilation (including opening a door to gain access) and fire attack. While doors are not ordinarily considered a firefighting tool, this post examines door control as an essential element in firefighting operations.

The Fire Environment-A Quick Review

Modern homes have a high fire load (both in mass and heat of combustion of common building contents), are better insulated and more energy efficient, and are larger and have large open, undivided living spaces.

These conditions often result in rapid fire development and transition from a growth stage, fuel controlled burning regime to decay stage, ventilation controlled burning regime prior to the arrival of the fire department. Increased ventilation (without concurrent fire control) will result in increased heat release rate, returning the fire to the growth stage and rapid transition through flashover to a fully developed stage of fire development.

A number of factors influence the speed with which heat release rate accelerates when the air supplied to a ventilation controlled fire increases. These include building and compartment size and geometry, thermal conditions, and size and location of the ventilation openings.

  • In general, fires in smaller compartments will react more quickly, but compartmentation and complex geometry will slow air movement from the inlet to the fire, and resulting increase in HRR.
  • Introduction of air close to the fire will influence HRR more quickly than air introduced at a distance.
  • Exhaust openings that are above the fire (horizontal or vertical) will increase HRR more quickly and to a greater extent than those at the same level (but may be more effective in improving conditions when fire control is established)
  • Larger openings (or multiple smaller openings) will increase HRR to a greater extent and more quickly than smaller (or fewer) openings.

Conditions on Arrival

A critical element of size-up is identification of the current ventilation profile of the building. Remember that ventilation (exchange of the atmosphere inside the building and that outside the building) is always going on to one extent or another. Assessment of the ventilation profile is based on the Building, Smoke and Air Track elements of B-SAHF (Building, Smoke, Air Track, Heat, and Flame) Fire Behavior Indicators (FBI). Starting with Building factors, consider the nature of current ventilation openings:

  • No significant ventilation openings (normal building leakage only)
  • One or more doors may be open
  • One or more windows may be open
  • Some combination of door(s) and window(s) may be open

In addition to the ventilation openings, it is important to consider if they are exhaust openings, inlets, both exhaust and inlet, and what is visible; flames or smoke:

  • Nothing showing (remember that this means nothing, the fire may be ventilation controlled and in the decay stage, but interior temperatures may be above 425o C (800o F) even when little or nothing is showing from the exterior.
  • Smoke showing from ventilation openings (consider the direction of the air track at each opening, in, out, bi-directional, or pulsing)
  • Smoke and flames showing from ventilation openings (as with smoke, consider the direction of the air track)

Structural Firefighting is Simple

OK this is a bit of an overstatement (actually more than a bit). Generally, there are only two things that firefighters can do to influence fire behavior; change the ventilation or absorb the energy being released by the fire. Read each of the following three scenarios and consider the questions posed. While examining door control, this anti-ventilation tactic is not used alone so there are a few questions that address fire control tactics (which will be the subject of a subsequent post).

Scenario 1: The first arriving company arrives to find a small volume of smoke showing from around windows and doors and from the eaves on Side Alpha with low velocity, no air inlet is obvious. Performing a 360o reconnaissance, the officer observes similar smoke and air track indicators on other sides of the building and that all doors and windows are closed. Several windows on Side Alpha (Alpha Bravo Corner) are darkened with condensed pyrolysis products and the home appears to have smoke throughout (smoke logged).

  1. How do you think the fire will develop between arrival and initiation of offensive fire attack (assuming that adequate resources are on-scene for offensive operations) assuming no change in ventilation prior to fire attack.
  2. How would opening the front door prior to having a charged line at the doorway on Side Alpha impact fire development?
  3. How would horizontal ventilation of the fire compartment (Alpha/Bravo Corner) impact fire development if performed as soon as the hoseline is deployed to the (still closed) doorway on Side Alpha?
  4. What would be the impact on fire behavior if the engine company advanced the first hoseline to the windows; took the glass and applied water to the burning fuel inside the fire compartment prior to making entry through the door? How might this change if offensive fire attack was delayed (e.g., insufficient staffing for offensive operations)?
  5. How would opening the front door and horizontal ventilation of the fire compartment (Alpha/Bravo Corner) impact fire development if performed as soon as the hoseline is deployed to the doorway on Side Alpha?
  6. Assuming that sufficient resources are on-scene to permit an offensive attack, when should the entry point be opened? Assuming that the door is unlocked, how should this task be approached?
  7. Once the hoseline is deployed into the building through the door on Side Alpha for offensive fire attack, should the door remain fully open or closed to the greatest extent possible? Why?
  8. Assuming that this is a contents fire and horizontal ventilation will be appropriate, when and where should it be performed (describe the flow path from inlet to exhaust)?

Scenario 2: The first arriving company arrives to find smoke showing with moderate velocity and a bi-directional air track (smoke out the top and air in the bottom) from an open door on Side Alpha. A moderate volume of smoke is also pushing from around windows and from the eaves on Side Alpha. Several windows on Side Alpha (Alpha Bravo Corner) are darkened with condensed pyrolysis products and a glow is visible inside in the room behind these windows. Performing a 360o reconnaissance, the officer observes similar smoke and air track indicators on other sides of the building and that all doors and windows with the exception of the door on Side Alpha are closed. Returning to Side Alpha, the officer observes that the velocity of smoke from the open door has increased and flames at the interface between the smoke and air as it exits the doorway. The home appears to have smoke throughout (smoke logged).

  1. How do you think the fire will develop between arrival and initiation of offensive fire attack (assuming that adequate resources are on-scene for offensive operations) assuming no change in ventilation prior to fire attack.
  2. How would the officer closing the front door prior to having a charged line at the doorway on Side Alpha (e.g., when performing the 360) impact fire development?
  3. Assuming that sufficient resources are on-scene to permit an offensive attack and the door was closed during the 360, when should the entry point be opened? How should this task be approached?
  4. How would horizontal ventilation of the fire compartment (Alpha/Bravo Corner) impact fire development if performed as soon as the hoseline is deployed to the open doorway on Side Alpha?
  5. Once the hoseline is deployed into the building through the door on Side Alpha for offensive fire attack, should the door remain fully open or closed to the greatest extent possible? Why?
  6. Assuming that this is a contents fire and horizontal ventilation will be appropriate, when and where should it be performed (describe the flow path from inlet to exhaust)?

Scenario 3: The first arriving company arrives to find smoke showing with moderate velocity and a bi-directional air track (smoke out the top and air in the bottom) from an open door on Side Alpha. A moderate volume of smoke is also pushing from around windows and from the eaves on Side Alpha. Flames are visible from several windows on Side Alpha (Alpha Bravo Corner) with a bi-directional air track (flames from the upper ¾ of the window with air entering the lower ¼). Performing a 360o reconnaissance, the officer observes similar smoke and air track indicators on other sides of the building and that all doors and windows with the exception of the two windows and door on Side Alpha are closed. Returning to Side Alpha, the officer observes that the velocity of smoke from the open door has increased and flames at the interface between the smoke and air as it exits the doorway. Flames from the windows on Side Alpha are similar to when first observed. The home appears to have smoke throughout (smoke logged).

  1. How do you think the fire will develop between arrival and initiation of offensive fire attack (assuming that adequate resources are on-scene for offensive operations) assuming no change in ventilation prior to fire attack.
  2. How would the officer closing the front door prior to having a charged line at the doorway on Side Alpha (e.g., when performing the 360) impact fire development?
  3. Assuming that sufficient resources are on-scene to permit an offensive attack and the door was closed during the 360, when should the entry point be opened? How should this task be approached?
  4. How would horizontal ventilation of the fire compartment (Alpha/Bravo Corner) impact fire development if performed as soon as the hoseline is deployed to the open doorway on Side Alpha?
  5. Once the hoseline is deployed into the building through the door on Side Alpha for offensive fire attack, should the door remain fully open or closed to the greatest extent possible? Why?
  6. Assuming that this is a contents fire and horizontal ventilation will be appropriate, when and where should it be performed (describe the flow path from inlet to exhaust)?
  7. Assuming that this is a contents fire and horizontal ventilation will be appropriate, when and where should it be performed?

These questions were all based on a similar fire (different development based on the ventilation profile at the time of the first company’s arrival) in the same, simple building, a one story, wood frame dwelling. It is important to examine other levels of involvement and ventilation profiles in this building as well as other types of buildings and fire conditions with similar questions. Also give some thought to the impact of door control when using vertical ventilation in coordination with fire attack.

Door Control Doctrine

Doctrine is a guide to action rather than a set of rigid rules. Clear and effective doctrine provides a common frame of reference, helps standardize operations, and improves readiness by establishing a common approach to tactics and tasks. Doctrine should link theory, history, experimentation, and practice to foster initiative and creative thinking.

Given what we know about the modern fire environment and the influence of both existing and increased ventilation on ventilation controlled fires, what guidance should we provide to firefighters regarding door control? The following questions are posed in the context of a residential occupancy (one or two-family home, garden apartment unit, townhouse, etc.).

  1. If the door to the fire occupancy is open when the first company arrives, should it be (immediately) closed by the member performing the 360o reconnaissance? If so why? If not, why not?
  2. If the door should be closed immediately there any circumstances under which it should not? If there are circumstances under which the door should not be closed, what are they and why?
  3. If the door is closed on arrival (or you closed the door during the 360o reconnaissance) when and how should it be opened for entry? Think about tactical size-up at the door, forcible entry requirements, and the actual process of opening the door and making entry? How might this differ based on conditions?
  4. After making entry should the door be closed to the greatest extent possible (i.e., leaving room for the hoseline to pass)? If so why? If not, why not?
  5. If the door should be closed to the greatest extent possible, who will maintain door control and aid in advancement of the line? How might this be accomplished with limited staffing?
  6. If you are performing search, should doors to the rooms being searched be closed while searching? If so why? If not, why not? Are there conditions which would influence this decision? If so, what are they?
  7. Should the doors to rooms which have been searched be closed after completing the primary search? If so why? If not, why not? Are there conditions which would influence this decision? If so, what are they?
  8. How else can doors be used to aid in fire control or the protection of occupants and firefighters? Give this some thought!

Review The Influence of Ventilation in Residential Structures Part 2 for additional information on the influence of ventilation and door control as an  anti-ventilation tactic.

I plan on posting my thoughts on the questions posed in this post next week. However, it would likely make this much more interesting if you post your perspectives (or additional questions) as a comment!

Ed Hartin, MS, EFO, MIFireE, CFO

What’s on Side C

Sunday, May 19th, 2013

The importance of the initial Incident Commander conducting 360o reconnaissance (or quickly obtaining information about conditions on sides of the building that are not visible) has been repeatedly emphasized in National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Death in the Line of Duty reports. This is important to assess both building and fire conditions. However, the building was there prior to the alarm of fire. Situational awareness (SA) does not only apply on the fireground, it must begin well before response. In structural firefighting, the built environment (including the building, its contents, and surroundings) are the ground we fight on and in. Situational assessment and size-up must be ongoing.

View from the Street

The Knead & Feed (see photo below), is an excellent restaurant in Coupeville, WA that serves breakfast and lunch. At first glance this building appears to be an older, one-story, wood frame, commercial with the Delta Exposure being a two-story building of similar construction. Given the age of the buildings, it would be reasonable to assume that they are of balloon frame construction. Looking beyond the building you can see Penn Cove, which provides an excellent view from the back of the restaurant.

need_and_feed_side_a_small

Reconnaissance on Side C

However, the view in this photo begs the question, what’s on Side C? Access to Side C is via an exterior stairway on Side Bravo. Descending this stairway provides access to another kitchen and dining area in the Basement which is not accessible from the interior of the restaurant on Floor 1. Continuing down the stairway, provides access to a bakery at the Basement 2 level. The stairway then continues down to the beach, providing access to Side C…provided that it is low tide.

need_and_feed_side_c_small

Obviously you get a considerably different picture from Side C! However, this is only the beginning of the story.

The Rest of the Story

It may appear that the small, one-story section of building between the Kneed and Feed restaurant and Exposure Delta is part of the exposure due to the color of the building on Side Alpha and the roof line on Side Charlie. However, this assumption would be incorrect as this is the main kitchen for the Kneed and Feed Restaurant.

need_and_feed_side_a_small_annotated

There is no interior access between Floor 1 and the Basement (in either the Kneed and Feed or Exposure Delta). The Basement and Basement 2 levels of the Kneed and Feed are accessed from the exterior on Side Bravo. The Basement of Exposure Delta (apartment unit) is accessed from the exterior on Side Delta. The second floor of Exposure Delta is accessed from the interior.

Continuing down to the Basement level, the section of the building below the main kitchen contains an unprotected stairwell that is open to the underside of the Basement of Exposure Delta and the void space under the wood sidewalk that runs in front of the restaurant and Exposure Delta. The Basement and Basement 2 levels are interconnected this stairway (non-fire rated doors provide access between the stairway and the Basement and Basement 2. This stairway is framed in at the Basement level, but simply enclosed by wood slats at the Basement 2 level.

need_and_feed_side_c_small_annotated

Strategic and Tactical Implications

This building presents considerable challenges due to its construction, configuration, attached exposure on Side Delta, and limited access. The following questions provide a starting point for discussion of strategic and tactical implications for this building and its most significant exposure:

  1. How might the construction and configuration of this building and exposure impact on the B-SAHF (building, smoke, air track, heat, and flame) indicators presented during a fire? How might this vary based on location (Floor 1, Basement, Basement 2)?
  2. How might the open stairwell between the Kneed and Feed and Exposure Delta impact on fire development and spread if the fire originated at one of the basement levels, or within the stairwell itself? How might communication between the stairwell and the wooden sidewalk on Side A impact firefighting operations (note that the sidewalk and void space below extends beyond the access points for Sides Bravo and Delta).
  3. How would the open framing under the Basement of Exposure Delta impact on potential for fire spread from the Kneed and Feed to Exposure Delta (particularly if a fire originated on the Basement or Basement 2 level)
  4. How would tidal conditions impact on access to Side Charlie for firefighting operations or placement of ladders for rescue or secondary egress from the Kneed and Feed or Exposure Delta (particularly the apartment unit in the Basement of Exposure Delta).
  5. What strategies and tactics would provide the safest and most effective approach to confining and extinguishing a fire in each level of this building?
  6. Given the significant threat to Exposure Delta should a fire occur in the Kneed and Feed, what strategies and tactics would be most effective in evacuating the occupants of this building and preventing extension?
  7. Given the multiple occupancies (restaurant, retail, and residential), how would time of day impact on firefighting operations in this building and exposure?

While this building is in my response area, you have challenging buildings in yours as well. Time to find out what’s in your patch! When on a medical response, automatic alarm, performing fire inspections, or just eating breakfast, take the time to look around and ask yourself what if…. Building Factors are the first element in B-SAHF and they are present prior to the fire. Pre-incident planning either on a formal basis (best choice) or informally as an individual or company is essential to safe and effective incident operations.

Thanks!

I would like to extend a special thank you to the owners and staff of the Kneed and Feed for providing the opportunity to learn about their building. While challenging from a firefighting perspective, this is one of the best places to have breakfast or lunch (but particularly breakfast) in our District! If you are on Whidbey Island, stop in for a meal, but bring your appetite.

Smoke is Fuel: Recognizing the Hazard

Sunday, May 12th, 2013

There has been an increasing awareness that smoke is fuel and that hot smoke overhead results in thermal insult (due to radiant heat transfer) and potential for ignition. However, the hazard presented by smoke as gas phase fuel can extend a considerable distance from the current area of fire involvement.

Reading the Fire

Print a copy of the B-SAHF Worksheet. Use the worksheet to document observed fire behavior indicators as you watch the first six minutes of the following video of an apartment fire that occurred on May 10, 2013 at the corner of Park Creek Lane and Hill Park Court in Churchville, NY. In particular, focus on fire behavior indicators that may point to changes in conditions. Don’t focus too much on the flame indicators presenting from the area involved, but pay particular attention to Building, Smoke, and Air Track indicators.

The following satellite photo and view of the Alpha/Delta Corner prior to the fire are provided to help orient you to the incident location. You can also go to Google Maps Street View and do a walk around on Sides Alpha (Hill Park Court) and Delta (Park Creek Lane) to view all four sides of the building.

satellite_photo_parklands

alpha_delta_parklands

The following time sequence from the video of this incident illustrates the conditions immediately prior to and during the explosion. The extremely rapid increase in heat release rate during the explosion was not sustained (a transient event) as evidenced by conditions illustrated at 06:25.

time_sequence_parklands_annotated

Building Factors

This building is of Type V construction with a wood truss roof system. In a large apartment building such as this, the trussloft is typically subdivided with draft stops comprised of gypsum board applied to one (or both) sides of a truss to stop rapid spread of fire within the trussloft. Draft stops should be thought of as speed bumps rather than a barrier (such as a firewall that extends through the roofline). While draft stops slow fire and smoke spread, they do not stop it completely and it is common for smoke to spread beyond the fire area despite the presence of draft stops.

draft_stop

The small dimension framing materials used in truss construction have a high surface to mass ratio, increasing the speed with which they can be heated and increasing pyrolysis products in the smoke when heated under ventilation limited conditions.

plot_parklands

Note: The possible location of the draft stops is speculative as specific information regarding the construction of this building was not available at the time of this post. However, draft stops may be provided between the trussloft between units or based on the size of the trussloft without regard to the location of walls between units. Preplan inspections provide an opportunity to examine building factors that may be critical during an incident!

Smoke and Air Track Indicators

An important air track indicator in this incident was the strong wind blowing from the Alpha/Bravo Corner towards the Charlie/Delta Corner. The wind may have had some influence on ventilation in the trussloft above Exposures Bravo and Bravo 2, and definitively influenced other Smoke and Air Track indicators.

From the start of the video light colored smoke is visible at the peak of the roof above Exposure Bravo and Bravo 2, indicating that smoke had infiltrated areas of the trussloft that had not yet become involved in fire. Smoke that is light in color may be comprised of pyrolysis products and air and may be to lean or too rich to burn or it may be explosive See the video Smoke on the Firegear website for a good discussion of the characteristics of smoke (note that this video is currently undergoing validation).

The volume and color (smoke indicators), velocity and direction (air track indicators) above exposure Bravo 2 vary considerably from the start of the video until shortly before the explosion that occurred at 06:12 in the video. At 02:52 a firefighter entered Exposure Bravo 2 and a short time later at 03:47 a hoseline (dry) was stretched into this exposure and charged. It is unknown from watching the video if the firefighters on this line advanced to Floor 2 or if they took any action to change the ventilation profile (other than opening the door on Floor 1, Side Alpha). The exited after the explosion, but without haste, so it is likely that they were not on Floor 2 at the time of the explosion.

Smoke Explosion

Smoke explosion is described in a number of fire dynamics texts including Enclosure Fire Dynamics (Karlsson and Quintiere) and An Introduction to Fire Dynamics (Drysdale). However, Enclosure Fires by Swedish Fire Protection Engineer Lars-Göran Bengtsson (2001) provides the most detailed explanation of this phenomenon. Paraphrasing this explanation:

A smoke or fire gas explosion occurs when unburned pyrolysis products and flammable products of combustion accumulate and mix with air, forming a flammable mixture and introduction of a source of ignition results in a violent explosion of the pre-mixed fuel gases and air. This phenomenon generally occurs remote from the fire (as in an attached exposure) or after fire control.

In some cases, the fire serves as a source of ignition as it extends into the void or compartment containing the flammable mixture of smoke (fuel) and air.

Conditions Required for a Smoke Explosion

The risk of a smoke explosion is greatest in compartments or void spaces adjacent to, but not yet involved in fire. Infiltration of smoke through void spaces or other conduits can result in a well-mixed volume of smoke (fuel) and air. Smoke explosion creates a significant overpressure as the fuel and air are premixed and ignition results in a very large energy release. Several factors influence the violence of this type of explosion:

  • The degree of confinement (more confinement results in increased overpressure)
  • Mass of premixed fuel and air within the flammable range (more premixed fuel results in a larger energy release)
  • How close the mixture is to a stoichiometric concentration (the closer to an ideal mixture the faster the deflagration)

Potential Smoke Explosion Indicators

It is very difficult to predict a smoke explosion. However, the following indicators point to the potential for this phenomenon to occur:

  • Ventilation controlled fire (inefficient combustion producing substantial amounts of unburned pyrolysis products and flammable products of incomplete combustion)
  • Relatively cool (generally less than 600o C or 1112o F) smoke
  • Presence of void spaces, particularly if they are interconnected
  • Combustible structural elements
  • Infiltration of significant amounts of smoke into uninvolved compartments in the fire building or into exposures

Preventing a Smoke Explosion

As it is difficult to predict a smoke explosion, there are challenges to preventing their occurrence as well. However, general strategies would include 1) preventing smoke from accumulating in uninvolved spaces or 2) removing smoke that has accumulated remote from the fire (e.g., in attached exposures), or 3) a combination of the first two approaches.

Tactics to implement these strategies may include:

  • Pressurizing uninvolved spaces with a blower to prevent infiltration of smoke. This involves use of a blower for anti-ventilation by applying pressure without creating an exhaust, similar to what is done to pressurize a highrise stairwell. It is essential to check for extension prior to implementing this tactic!.
  • Horizontal ventilation of attached exposures to remove smoke, checking for extension, and then pressurization with a blower to prevent continued infiltration of smoke. If fire extension is found, pressurization without an exhaust opening must not be implemented!

Additional Resources

The following previous posts on the CFBT-US Blog may also be of interest in exploring the smoke explosion phenomena.

References

Bengtsson, L. (2001). Enclosure Fires. Retrieved May 12, 2013 from https://www.msb.se/RibData/Filer/pdf/20782.pdf .

 

“Flashover Training”

Saturday, April 6th, 2013

This week’s questions focus on training firefighters to recognize, prevent, and if necessary react appropriately to flashover conditions. Casey Lindsay of the Garland, Texas Fire Department sent an e-mail to a number of fire behavior instructors regarding how they conduct “flashover training”

One of the challenges we face in discussing fire behavior training, particularly live fire training is the result of variations in terminology. Differences exist in the way that live fire training props are described and in fire control techniques. For this discussion, CFBT-US defines the type of prop pictured below as a “split level demo cell”. This terminology is derived from the original purpose of this design as conceived by the Swedish Fire Service in the 1980s. The split level cell is intended for initial fire behavior training focused on observation of fire development. As used in the United States (and some other parts of the world) it is described as a “flashover simulator” or “flashover chamber”. This provides a disconnect in context as this prop is not intended and does not subject the participants in training to flashover conditions, but simply provides an opportunity to observe fire development through the growth stage and recognize some potential cues of impending flashover.

DSC_0013

Note: The prop illustrated above is a Split level cell at the Palm Beach County Fire Training Center.

Container based props can be configured in a variety of ways for both demonstration and fire attack training. Most commonly single compartment cells are single level or split level design. Multiple compartment cells are arranged in a variety of ways with containers placed in an “L”, “H” or other configuration.

Do you currently teach firefighters that “Penciling control techniques can be used to give firefighters additional time to escape a flashover”?

We define penciling as an intermittent application using a straight stream as compared to pulsing which uses a fog pattern or painting which is a gentle application of water to hot surfaces. We do not teach penciling, pulsing, or painting as a technique to give firefighters additional time to escape flashover. We use gas cooling (short or long pulses) and coordination of fire attack and ventilation to control the environment and prevent or reduce the potential for firefighters to encounter flashover. However, long pulses (or continuous application) while withdrawing is taught as a method of self-protection if fire conditions exceed the capability of the crew engaged in fire attack.

In response to Casey’s questions, Jim Hester, with the United States Air Force (USAF) presents an alternative perspective:

No! We do not teach penciling or 3D Fog attack anymore. We did temporarily after receiving our training as instructors in the flashover trainer. We gave the technique an honest look and conducted research using Paul Grimwood’s theories. We decided there are too many variables. For example; what works in a room and contents [fire] will not work in heavy fire conditions inside a commercial. The last thing we want is someone penciling any fire, inside any structure, that requires constant water application until the fire is darkened down. That’s what we teach.  Open the nozzle for as long as it takes to get knock down and then shut the nozzle down. [It is as] simple as that. If you take that approach, even in the flashover trainer you will alleviate confusion or misapplication of your fire stream.

While I have a considerably different perspective, Jim raises several good points. I agree that there are many variables related to fire conditions and room geometry. If firefighters are trained in lock step manner that short pulses are used to control the temperature overhead, there will definitely be a challenge in transitioning from the container to a residential fire and even more so when confronted with a commercial fire. However, if firefighters are introduced to the container as a laboratory where small fires are used to develop understanding of nozzle technique, rather than a reflection of real world conditions, this presents less of an issue.

As Jim describes, fire conditions requiring constant application in a combination attack with coordinated tactical ventilation, may not be controlled by short pulses. However, when cooling hot smoke on approach to a shielded fire, constant application of water will likely result in over application and less tenable conditions (too much water may not be as bad as too little, but it presents its own problems).

Most firefighters, even those that advocate continuous application, recognize that a small fire in a trash can or smoldering fire in a upholstered chair or bed does not require a high flow rate and can easily be controlled and extinguished with a small amount of water. On the other hand, a fully developed fire in a large commercial compartment cannot be controlled by a low flow handline. To some extent this defines the continuum of offensive fire attack, small fires easily controlled by direct application of a small amount of water and large fires that are difficult to control without high flow handlines (or multiple smaller handlines). There is not a single answer to what is the best application for offensive fire attack. Shielded fires require control of the environment (e.g., cooling of the hot upper layer) to permit approach and application of direct or combination attack. Fires that are not shielded present a simpler challenge as water can be brought to bear on the seat of the fire with less difficulty.

Nozzle operators must be trained to read conditions and select nozzle technique (pulsed application to cool hot gases versus penciling or painting to cool hot surfaces) and fire control methods (gas cooling, direct attack, indirect attack, or combination attack) based on an assessment of both the building and fire conditions.

What flashover warning signs do you cover during the classroom portion of flashover training?

We frame this discussion in terms of the B-SAHF (Building, Smoke, Air Track, Heat, and Flame) indicators used in reading the fire (generally, not just in relation to flashover).

B-SAHF_PHOTO

Building: Flashover can occur in all types of buildings. Consider compartmentation, fuel type, and configuration, ventilation profile, and thermal properties of the structure. Anticipate potential for increased ventilation (without coordinated fire control) to result in flashover when the fire is burning in a ventilation controlled regime (most fires beyond the incipient stage are ventilation controlled). Note that these indicators are not all read during the incident, but are considered as part of knowing the buildings in your response area and assessing the building as part of size-up.

Smoke: Increasing volume, darkening color and thickness (optical density), lowing of the level of the hot gas layer.

Air Track: Strong bi-directional (in at the bottom and out at the top of an opening), turbulent smoke discharge at openings, pulsing air track (may be an indicator of ventilation induced flashover or backdraft), and any air track that shows air movement with increasing velocity and turbulence.

Heat: Pronounced heat signature from the exterior (thermal imager), darkened windows, hot surfaces, hot interior temperatures, observation of pyrolysis, and feeling a rapid increase in temperature while working inside (note that this may not provide sufficient warning in and of itself as it is a late indicator).

Flame: Ignition of gases escaping from the fire compartment, flames at the ceiling level of the compartment, isolated flames in the upper layer (strong indicator of a ventilation controlled fire) and rollover (a late indicator).

How do you incorporate the thermal imaging camera into your flashover class?

We do not teach a “flashover” class. We incorporate learning about flashover (a single fire behavior phenomena) in the context of comprehensive training in practical fire dynamics, fire control, and ventilation (inclusive of tactical ventilation and tactical anti-ventilation). Thermal imagers (TI) are used in a variety of ways beginning with observation of small scale models (live fire), observation of fire development (with and without the TI) and observation of the effects of fire control and ventilation.

Do you allow students to operate the nozzle in the flashover chamber?

We use a sequence of evolutions and in the first, the students are simply observers watching fire development and to a lesser extent the effects of water application by the instructor. In this evolution, the instructor limits nozzle use and predominantly sets conditions by controlling ventilation. If necessary the instructor will cool the upper layer to prevent flames from extending over the heads of the participants or to reduce the burning rate of the fuel to extend the evolution. Students practice nozzle technique (short and long pulses, painting, and penciling) outside in a non-fire environment prior to application in a live fire context. After the initial demonstration burn, students develop proficiency by practicing their nozzle technique in a live fire context.

When working in a single level cell rather than a split level cell (commonly, but inaccurately referred to as a “flashover chamber” or “flashover simulator”) we expand on development of students proficiency in nozzle technique by having them practice cooling the upper layer while advancing and importantly, while retreating. In addition, students practice door entry procedures that integrate a tactical size-up, door control, and cooling hot gases at the entry point.

Do you maintain two-in/two-out during flashover chamber classes?

We comply with the provisions of NFPA 1403 and provide for two-in/two-out by staffing a Rapid Intervention Crew/Company during all live fire training.

What is your fuel of choice for the 4×8 sheets (OSB, Particleboard or Masonite)?

We have used a variety of fuel types, but commonly use particle board. OSB tends to burn quickly, but can be used if this characteristic is recognized. We have also used a low density fiberboard product (with less glue) which performs reasonably well. The key with fuel is understanding its characteristics and using the minimum quantity of fuel that will provide sufficient context for the training to be conducted. I recommend that instructors conduct test burns (without students) when evaluating fuel packages that will be used in a specific burn building or purpose built prop (such as a demo or attack cell).

Do you have benches or seating in the flashover chamber?

No, firefighters are expected to be in the same position that they would on the fireground, kneeling or in a tripod position. When we work in a demo cell (“flashover chamber”) with benches, we keep the students on the floor.

Do you teach any flashover survival techniques, other than retreat/evacuate?

We focus first on staying out of trouble by controlling the environment. Second, we teach firefighters the skill of retreating while operating the hoseline (generally long pulses to control flames overhead). There are not really any options other than control the fire of leave the environment (quickly)! This is similar to James Hester’s answer of continuous flow, with a sweeping motion (long pulses can be applied in a sweeping manner, particularly in a large compartment). It is important to understand that a short pulse is extremely short (as fast as you can open the nozzle) and a long pulse is anything else (from several seconds to near continuous application, depending on conditions).

Refer to the series of CFBT Blog on Battle Drills for additional discussion developing proficiency in reaction to deteriorating conditions.

Additional Thoughts

Our perspective is that discussion of flashover should be framed in the context of comprehensive fire behavior training, rather than as a “special” topic. Practical fire dynamics must be integrated into all types of structural firefighting training, in particular: Hose Handling, Fire Control, and Tactical Ventilation (but the list goes on). When working with charged hoselines, take the time to practice good nozzle technique as well as moving forward and backward (do not simply stand up and flow water when performing hose evolutions). In fire control training (live fire or not), practice door control, tactical size-up, and door entry procedures. When training on the task activity of tactical ventilation (e.g., taking glass or cutting roof openings), make the decision process explicit and consider the critical elements of coordination and anticipated outcome of you actions.

FDIC

Plan on attending Wind Driven Fires in Private Dwellings at Fire Department Instructors Conference, Indianapolis, IN on Wednesday April 24, 2013 in Wabash 3. Representing Central Whidbey Island Fire & Rescue, Chief Ed Hartin will examine the application of NIST research on wind driven fires to fires in private dwellings. http://viagraonlinestore.org/ order discount viagra online This workshop is a must if the wind blows where you fight fires!

wind_driven_fires_private_dwellings

 

Explosion at Harrington NJ Commercial Fire

Monday, March 11th, 2013

Updated with Additional Video

On March 10, 2013 five Harrison, New Jersey firefighters were injured in an explosion while working at a commercial fire at 600-602 Frank E. Rodgers Boulevard. The fire originated in a two-story commercial building at the corner of Frank E. Rodgers Boulevard North and Davis Street and extended into Exposures Charlie and Delta, two-story residential buildings.

Figure 1. Alpha/Bravo Corner and Exposure Charlie

600-602 Frank E. Rodgers Boulevard

Image from Google Maps, click on the link to walk around using Street View.

Reading the Fire

Before watching the video (or watching it again if you have already seen it), download and print the B-SAHF Worksheet. Using the pre-fire photo (figure 1) and observations during the video, identify key B-SHAF indicators that may have pointed to potential for extreme fire behavior in this incident.

Important! Keep in mind that there is a significant difference between focusing on the B-SAHF indicators in this context and observing them on the fireground. Here you know that an explosion will occur, so we have primed the pump so you can focus (and are not distracted by other activity).

Backdraft or Smoke Explosion

While smoke explosion and backdraft are often confused, there are fairly straightforward differences between these two extreme fire behavior phenomena. A smoke explosion involves ignition of pre-mixed fuel (smoke) and air that is within its flammable range and does not require mixing with air (increased ventilation) for ignition and deflagration. A backdraft on the other hand, requires a higher concentration of fuel that requires mixing with air (increased ventilation) in order for it to ignite and deflagration to occur. While the explanation is simple, it may be considerably more difficult to differentiate these two phenomena on the fireground as both involve explosive combustion.

  1. Did you observe any indicators of potential backdraft prior to the explosion?
  2. Do you think that this was a backdraft?
  3. What leads you to the conclusion that this was or was not a backdraft?
  4. If you do not think this was a backdraft, what might have been the cause of the explosion?

For more information in Backdraft, Smoke Explosion, and other explosive phenomena on the fireground, see:

Back at it!

I would like to say thanks to all of you who have sent e-mail or contacted me on Facebook inquiring about the status of the CFBT-US blog. The last several years have been extremely busy at Central Whidbey Island Fire & Rescue and my focus has been almost exclusively on the fire district. However, I am renewing my commitment to developing knowledge of practical fire dynamics throughout the fire service and will endeavor to return to posting on a regular basis. In addition, I am working on a series of short (10-minute) drills on fire dynamics that will be cross posted on the CFBT Blog and the Fire Training Toolbox.

Ed Hartin, MS, EFO, MIFIreE, CFO

Explosions During Structural Firefighting

Sunday, March 4th, 2012

Video of several incidents involving explosions during structural firefighting operations have been posted to YouTube in the last several weeks. Two of these videos, one from New Chicago, IN and the other from Olathe, KS involve residential fires. The other is of a commercial fire in Wichita, KS.

When a video shows some sort of spectacular fire behavior there is generally a great deal of speculation amongst the viewers about what happened. Was it a smoke (fire gas) explosion, backdraft, flashover, or did something else happen? Such speculation is useful if placed in the framework of the conditions required for these phenomena to occur and the Building, Smoke, Air Track, Heat, and Flame (B-SAHF) indicators that provide cues of to current fire conditions and potential fire behavior.

Occasionally, what happened is fairly obvious such as flashover resulting from increased ventilation under ventilation controlled conditions. However, the phenomena and its causal factors are often much more of a puzzle.

Download and print three copies of the Get More Info B-SAHF Worksheet.

Residential Fire-Olathe, KS

Limited information was posted along with this pre-arrival video of a residential fire in Olathe, KS. The home was unoccupied when the fire occurred.

Watch the thirty seconds (0:30) of the video. First, describe what you observe in terms of the Building, Smoke, Air Track, Heat, and Flame Indicators; then answer the following five standard questions (based only on what you observe during the first thirty seconds of the video)?

  1. What additional information would you like to have? How could you obtain it?
  2. What stage(s) of development is the fire likely to be in (incipient, growth, fully developed, or decay)?
  3. What burning regime is the fire in (fuel controlled or ventilation controlled)?
  4. What conditions would you expect to find inside this building?
  5. How would you expect the fire to develop over the next two to three minutes

Watch remainder of the video and consider the following questions:

  1. Did fire conditions progress as you anticipated?
  2. What changes in the B-SAHF indicators did you observe?
  3. What may have caused the explosion (consider all of the possibilities)?
  4. Were there any indications that may have given warning of this change in conditions?

Residential Fire-New Chicago, IN

Companies from New Chicago and Hobart were dispatched to a reported house fire at 402 Madison in New Chicago, IN on February 17, 2012.

Watch the thirty seconds (0:30) of the video. First, describe what you observe in terms of the Building, Smoke, Air Track, Heat, and Flame Indicators; then answer the following five standard questions (based only on what you observe during the first thirty seconds of the video)?

  1. What additional information would you like to have? How could you obtain it?
  2. What stage(s) of development is the fire likely to be in (incipient, growth, fully developed, or decay)?
  3. What burning regime is the fire in (fuel controlled or ventilation controlled)?
  4. What conditions would you expect to find inside this building?
  5. How would you expect the fire to develop over the next two to three minutes

Watch remainder of the video and consider the following questions:

  1. Did fire conditions progress as you anticipated?
  2. What changes in the B-SAHF indicators did you observe?
  3. What may have caused the explosion (consider all of the possibilities)?
  4. Were there any indications that may have given warning of this change in conditions?

Commercial Fire-Wichita, KS

Wichita Fire Department on scene of a working building fire in large, non-combustible commercial building. Extreme heat and fire conditions cause an unknown cylinder to explode.

Keep in mind that gas cylinders and other closed containers can result in explosions during structural firefighting operations. Unlike backdraft and smoke explosion, the only clue may be building factors related to occupancy (and this may not be a good indicator when operating at a residential fire).

Wichita Fire Department on scene of a working building fire in a large metal structure. Extreme heat and fire conditions cause an unknown cylinder to explode. If you listen close, you can hear it vent before it goes off. Concussion actually cuts out my audio for just a couple seconds. No one was injured.

Video by Sean Black Photography http://seanblackphotography.smugmug.com/

Firefighter Safety

Potential for explosions related to extreme fire behavior such as backdraft and smoke explosion may be recognized based on assessment and understanding the B-SAHF (Building, Smoke, Air Track, Heat, and Flame) indicators. Other types of explosions such as those resulting from failure of closed containers (e.g., containing liquids or gases) may be a bit more difficult as this potential is likely to be present in most types of occupancies. However, commercial and industrial occupancies present greater risks.

Recognizing that even with sound experienced judgment, there may be undetected hazards on the fireground. Managing the risk requires developing a solid knowledge base and skills and operating within sound rules of engagement such as the IAFC Rules of Engagement for Structural Firefighting. However, considering the hazards presented by rapid fire progression and potential for changes in conditions following explosive events, I would add the following:

  • Base your strategies and tactics on current and anticipated fire behavior and structural stability.
  • Ensure that members correctly wear complete structural firefighting clothing and SCBA when working in the hazard zone and practice good air management. Buddy check before entry!
  • Crews operating on the interior should have a hoseline or be directly supported by a crew with a hoseline. If conditions deteriorate, a hoseline allows self-protection and provides a defined egress path.
  • Have well practiced battle drills for tactical withdrawal and abandoning the building (depending on conditions). See Battle Drill, Battle Drill Part 2, and Battle Drill Part 3.

Next…

My next post will address the impact of a closed door on tenability during a residential fire as the ninth tactical implication identified in the UL study on the Impact of Ventilation on Fire Behavior in Legacy and Contemporary Residential Construction.

Subsequent posts will come back to the Olathe, KS and New Chicago, IN residential fires to examine potential impacts on fire behavior and explosions that resulted during these incidents.

Ed Hartin, MS, EFO, MIFIreE, CFO