Archive for July, 2013

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.


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

UL Vertical Ventilation Study
Tactical Implications

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

Even as a member of the technical panel on the UL Vertical Ventilation Study, it will take some time to fully digest all of the data presented in the Study of the Effectiveness of Fire Service Vertical Ventilation and Suppression Tactics in Single Family Homes (Kerber, 2013). However, the tactical implications presented in this report provide an excellent starting point to understanding the influence of vertical ventilation on fire behavior and other important findings in this research project. UL will also be releasing an on-line training program in the near future that will provide a user friendly approach to exploring this information.

Read the Report and 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.


Tactical Implications

A number of the tactical implications identified in the vertical ventilation study replicate and reinforce those identified when UL studied the effect of horizontal ventilation. Other implications are specifically focused on vertical ventilation. The following summary examines and expands slightly on the tactical implications presented in Study of the Effectiveness of Fire Service Vertical Ventilation and Suppression Tactics in Single Family Homes (Kerber, 2013).

The Fire Environment Has Changed: While many firefighters, particularly those who have less than 15 or 20 years of service have never known a fire environment fueled by synthetic materials with rapid fire development and ventilation limited fire conditions. However, many of the tactics in use today were developed when the fire environment was quite different. Decades ago the fire environment was predominantly fueled by natural materials; fires had a lower potential heat release rate, and remained fuel controlled much longer. Changes in the fire environment require reevaluation and shift of tactics to meet these changes.

Control the Access Door: 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. Controlling the door 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.

Coordinated Attack Includes Vertical Ventilation: While vertical ventilation is the most efficient type of natural ventilation, it not only removes a large amount of smoke, 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.

Large Vertical Vents are Good, But… 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. A 4’ x 8’ ventilation opening removed a large 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 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.

Location of the Vertical Vent? It Depends! The best location for a vertical ventilation opening depends on building geometry, location of the inlet(s) and resulting flow path. Often this is not known with certainty. If ventilation and fire attack are coordinated, venting over the fire provides the most efficient flow of hot smoke, fire gases, and air. However, while not mentioned in this report on vertical ventilation, working above engineered wood roof supports that are involved in fire or may have been damaged by the fire presents considerable risk. Surprisingly vertical ventilation remote from the fire provided some positive effects, but this was dependent on geometry. One of the important lessons in this tactical implication is that the effects of vertical ventilation are not only dependent on the location of the exhaust opening, but also on the location of the inlet and resulting flow paths created within the building.

Operations in the Flow Path Present Significant Risk: In UL’s tactical implication titled Stages of Fire Growth and Flow Path, Steve Kerber states “the stage of the fire (i.e. ventilation or fuel limited)”. This may be a bit confusing as the stages of fire development are typically described as ignition or incipient, growth, fully developed, and decay. Burning regime may be used to describe the conditions of fuel or ventilation controlled (although this term is used in the text 3D Firefighting, it is not as commonly used in fire dynamics literature). The location of the inlet and exhaust openings, distance between the inlet opening and the fire, shape of the inlet and exhaust openings, the interior geometry of the building and its contents all impact on flow path and the availability of oxygen for fire growth. Firefighters must consider both the upstream (between the inlet and the fire) and downstream (between the fire and the exhaust) elements of the flow path. Operations in the downstream segment of the flow path are hazardous due to the flow of hot gases and smoke, increasing convective heat transfer and potential for fire spread in this space.

Timing is (Almost) Everything: Why do we perform tactical ventilation? While firefighters can typically provide a list of potential benefits, one of the most important is to improve interior conditions for both firefighters and victims who may still be in the building. When effective tactical ventilation is coordinated with fire attack, the fire environment becomes cooler, visibility is increased, and useful flow paths are created that remove hot smoke, fire gases, and steam ahead of hoselines. However, tactical ventilation completed significantly before fire attack is having an effect on the fire can result in increased heat release rate and fire growth. Additional considerations that impact or are impacted on by timing of tactical ventilation include:

  • The fire does not react to additional air (oxygen) instantaneously
  • The higher the interior temperatures the faster the fire reacts
  • The closer the inlet opening is to the fire the faster it reacts
  • The higher the exhaust opening the faster the fire reacts
  • The more smoke exhausted from the building the more air that is introduced (the mass of air in must equal the mass of smoke and air that is exhausted)
  • The more air (oxygen) the faster the fire reacts

Reading The Fire: The UL report on vertical ventilation refers to “Reading Smoke”. While smoke is a critical category of fire behavior indicators, firefighters must consider all of the B-SAHF indicators (Building, Smoke, Air Track, Heat, and Flame) when reading the fire. The key point made in the UL vertical and horizontal ventilation reports is that nothing showing means exactly that. Nothing! As a fire becomes ventilation controlled, temperature decreases, reducing pressure in the building and as a result visible smoke indicators on the exterior often are substantially diminished or absent. When little or no smoke are observed, the fire should be treated as if it is in the ventilation limited, decay stage until proven otherwise.

Closed Doors=Increased Potential for Survival: As with UL’s horizontal ventilation experiments, the vertical ventilation experiments further demonstrated that closed doors increase victim survivability. . In each experiment a victim in the closed bedroom would have had survivable conditions and would have been able to function well through every experiment and well after the arrival of fire companies. In the bedrooms with open doors, potential victims would be unconscious if not deceased prior to fire department arrival or as a result of fire ventilation actions.

Softening the Target: In many cases, the fire has self-vented prior to the arrival of the first company (note that self-vented should not be confused with adequate, planned, systematic, and coordinated tactical ventilation). Tactical implications presented in Impact of Ventilation on Fire Behavior in Legacy and Contemporary Residential Construction (Kerber, 2010) indicated that a self-vented fire most likely will most likely be ventilation controlled and will respond quickly to any increase in ventilation.

Even with a ventilation location open the fire is still ventilation limited and will respond just as fast or faster to any additional air [oxygen]. It is more likely that the fire will respond faster because the already open ventilation location is allowing the fire to maintain a higher temperature than if everything was closed. In these cases rapid fire progression is highly probable and coordination of fire attack with ventilation becomes even more important (Kerber, 2010, p. 301).

Data on the effects of water application from the exterior during the vertical ventilation experiments reinforced the conclusions drawn from those conducted during the horizontal ventilation study. Regardless of the point of application, water quickly applied into the fire compartment improved conditions throughout the entire building. In the vertical ventilation experiments water applied from the exterior for approximately 15 seconds had a significant impact on interior conditions increasing potential for victim survivability and firefighter safety. During size-up consider the fastest and safest way to apply water to the fire. This could be by applying water through a window, through a door, from the exterior or from the interior.

You Can’t Push Fire with Water: During the vertical ventilation study, UL continued examination of the question; can water applied from a hoseline push fire? Data from this study continues to support the position that application of water does not push fire. However, discussion during the study pointed to several situations that may give the appearance of fire being pushed.

  • A flow path is changed with ventilation and not water application
  • A flow path is changed with water application
  • Turnout gear becomes saturated with energy and passes through to the firefighter
  • One room is extinguished, which allows air to entrain into another room, causing the second room to ignite or increase in burning (see Contra Costa LODD: What Happened? for an example of this phenomena)

Direct Attack is Important on Fires in Large Spaces: While large open floor plans in many modern homes presents a fire suppression challenge, open floor plans also permit application of water to burning fuel from a distance. This tactical recommendation points to the importance of using the reach of a hose stream to advantage. It is not necessary to be in the fire compartment to begin effective suppression. If an involved room is in line of sight, water can be applied to burning fuel with good effect.

Important! While not addressed in this tactical implication, the emphasis on direct attack does not diminish the importance of cooling the hot smoke and gases (fuel) in the upper layer as a control (not fire extinguishment) measure, particularly when the fire is shielded and not accessible for direct attack.

Ventilation Doctrine

Just as with door control (an anti-ventilation tactic) it is important to extend the concept of consistent doctrine to the broader context of tactical ventilation and anti-ventilation strategies and tactics. This doctrine is likely to differ based on context (e.g., building sizes and types and firefighting resources), but the fire dynamics framework will likely be quite similar. Future posts will work to examine the vertical ventilation study in more detail and to also integrate the tactical implications from this study with those from the earlier vertical ventilation study. These two important studies don’t answer all of the questions, but provide a good start.


Kerber, S. (2010). Impact of ventilation on fire behavior in legacy and contemporary residential construction. Retrieved July 17, 2013 from

Kerber, S. (2013). Study of the effectiveness of fire service vertical ventilation and suppression tactics in single family homes. Retrieved July 17, 2013 from

Door Control Doctrine

Sunday, July 7th, 2013

The last several weeks have brought a number of interesting things in the area of fire dynamics and firefighting operations. Before getting back to the question of Door Control Doctrine, take a few minutes to have a look at the ALIVE on-line interactive training program by the NYU Poly Fire Research Group and the recently released research report Study of the Effectiveness of Fire Service Vertical Ventilation and Suppression Tactics in Single Family Homes

ALIVE On-Line Interactive Training

NYU Poly Fire Research Group has teamed up with the FDNY, Chicago Fire Department (CFD) the Bloomington Fire Department (BFD), the Eagan Fire Department (EFD), and the Eden Prairie Fire Department (EPFD) to develop a web-based, interactive firefighter training program – ALIVE (Advanced Learning through Integrated Visual Environments).


A recently released training module addresses the implications of fire dynamics and lightweight/engineered construction on firefighting operations in residential occupancies. Narrated by FDNY Lieutenant John Ceriello, this training program provides an excellent integrated review of current research conducted by UL, NIST, FDNY & the CFD and its application to fireground operations. The on-line training is available for use on a PC as well as an iOS and Android app. Have a look and share this important training with others!

UL Vertical Ventilation

Underwriters Laboratories Fire Service Research Institute (UL FSRI) recently released the research report Study of the Effectiveness of Fire Service Vertical Ventilation and Suppression Tactics in Single Family Homes.


In conjunction with with the previous study on horizontal ventilation, this report provides a solid look at the capabilities and limitations of tactical ventilation in a residential context. Download a copy of the report and review the tactical implications (or read the entire report if you are extremely ambitious). The outcomes of this research will be explored in detail in upcoming CFBT-US blog posts.

Visit the UL FSRI web site and Facebook Page for regular updates on UL’s ongoing research with the fire service!

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.).


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?

In general, if the door is open it should be closed as soon as possible. In the modern fire environment, most fires beyond the incipient stage will be ventilation controlled when the first company arrives. Closing the door until the first line is ready to enter will limit air flow to the fire and reduce heat release rate.

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?

If the fire is not ventilation controlled, closing the door will not have a positive impact. However, it is unlikely to have a negative effect as well. If occupants remain inside (or have gone back in through the open door in an effort to rescue others), an argument could be made that closing the door might make it more difficult for them to find the exit. However, under ventilation controlled conditions, the increased air supply will quickly make conditions untenable and the flow path between the open door and the fire will result in fire spread along this path, further reducing tenability and potential for safe occupant egress. The short answer is no. If the door is open, close it.

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?

When the door is opened, the clock is ticking on increased heat release rate (HRR). The door should remain closed until a charged hoseline is in place and the crew on the hoseline is ready to make entry for fire attack.

The door entry procedure should include assessment of B-SAHF indicators and forcible entry requirements (if the door is closed and locked). If forcible entry is required, it may be forced before the crew is ready to enter, but should be controlled in a closed position after it is forced. The door may be opened briefly and partially to assess conditions and if necessary to cool the hot upper layer prior to entry, but should generally remain closed until the crew on the hoseline enters the building.

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?

If the fire is shielded from direct attack from the door, it should be closed after entry to limit air flow to the fire and reduce the flow path between the entry point and the fire. Limiting air flow will slow the increase in HRR. Limiting the flow path (it cannot be eliminated by closing the door completely due to the space required to pass the hoseline) will reduce the risk of fire spread towards the entry point.

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?

This is a significant question! As always, it depends. With a four person crew, one member may control the door with a two person team working inside. With smaller crew sizes, the standby team (two-out) may be able to control the door. If operating with limited staffing (three) in rescue mode, the apparatus operator may need to add door control to their rather substantial list of critical tasks after charging the attack and standby lines).

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?

In the past, firefighters may have been trained to “vent as you go” when searching. The concept was that venting the rooms being searched would improve tenability and increase visibility. However, horizontal ventilation also creates a flow path between the fire and the ventilation opening. If the opening serves as an inlet (due to vertical position in relation to the fire or wind effects), it may improve conditions in the room, but has the potential to worsen fire conditions due to increased HRR. If the opening serves as an outlet, a flow path for fire spread is created, which will potentially worsen conditions in the room being searched.

Closing the door to the room being searched allows the searcher to tactically ventilate the room if necessary while preventing a flow path between the fire and the room being searched.

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?

As with closing the door, it depends. Tactical ventilation must be planned, systematic, and coordinated. If the fire is being controlled (water on the fire) and the location of the opening in the compartment which has been searched is advantageous and part of the ventilation plan, leaving the door open is necessary. If the location is not advantageous and part of the plan, it should be closed.

How else can doors be used to aid in fire control or the protection of occupants and firefighters? Give this some thought!

As seen in the UL horizontal and vertical ventilation research projects, a closed door provides an area of refuge for both building occupants and if necessary for firefighters. Be mindful of potential areas of refuge while working inside, particularly if you are not on a hoseline, or in the event that water supply in your hoseline is compromised.

LA County Fire Department adopts door control doctrine! In a recent video posted on the LA County Fire Department Training Division web site, Battalion Chief Derek Alkonis explains the department’s door control doctrine and how this integrates into residential fire attack with three and four person engine companies. While the use of straight streams in an effort to cool hot gases overhead differs considerably than the use of pulsed water fog advocated by CFBT-US, this video provides an excellent example of effective door control and integration of tactical anti-ventilation, fire control, and tactical ventilation.