Reading the Fire 2

Deliberate Practice

As discussed in my posts on Outstanding Performance and Reading the Fire improving proficiency requires sustained deliberate practice!

Application of the B-SAHF (Building, Smoke, Air Track, Heat, & Flame) organizing scheme for critical fire behavior indicators to photographs or video of structure fires provides an excellent opportunity to develop your knowledge of fire behavior and skill in reading the fire.

Commercial Fire

Download and print the B-SAHF Worksheet and then view the first 8 seconds of the following video of conditions on Side C of a commercial fire. First, describe what you observe in terms of the Building, Smoke, Air Track, Heat, and Flame Indicators. Second, answer the following five questions:

  1. What additional information would you like to have?
    How could you obtain it?
  2. What state(s) of fire development is the fire likely to be in (incipient, growth, fully developed, or decay)? Remember that fire in adjacent compartments can be in a different stage of development?
  3. What burning regime is the fire in (fuel or ventilation controlled)?
  4. What conditions would you expect to find inside this building? Is this likely to be a survivable environment for unprotected occupants? For firefighters?
  5. How would you expect the fire to develop over the next two to three minutes?

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Back the video up to the beginning, watch the first 15 seconds, and review your answers on the B-SAHF worksheet. Did any of your answers change based on the additional information provided by the view of Side A?
After completing the B-SAHF exercise, view the remainder of the video. Did you successfully predict the fire behavior that occurred? This video provides excellent examples of smoke and air track indicators. However, sometimes the indicators of potential for extreme fire behavior might not be so obvious. Under these circumstances, you will need a higher level of skill to anticipate fire development.

Make it a Habit!

As Geoff Colvin emphasizes in Tallent is Overrated the quantity and quality of deliberate practice is the major determinant in expertise at all levels from novice to expert. Developing skill in reading the fire requires practice. Additional B-SAHF exercises will be posted on a regular basis at Also check the CFBT-US Resources page for additional information on Reading the Fire!

Consider making B-SAHF exercises a regular part of your training schedule. During a recent Compartment Fire Behavior Training (CFBT) Instructor course conducted at Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue we used B-SAHF drills each morning to help the participants develop skill in reading the fire. However, these drills are equally appropriate for recruit firefighters. Understanding fire behavior and the ability to read the fire and anticipate changes in fire development are critical for everyone working on the fireground!

Ed Hartin, MS, EFO, MIFireE, CFO

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