Posts Tagged ‘Fire Control’


Sunday, October 20th, 2013

CFBT-US has just taken delivery of two Low Pressure Fognails manufactured by Waterfog AB, in Sweden. Fognails are small piercing nozzles with a flow rate of 70 lpm at 8 bar (18.49 gpm at 116 psi). Low Pressure Fognails have a maximum working pressure of 20 bar (290 psi) which will allow operation at pressures well above 100 psi for reduced droplet size and a somewhat higher flow rate For example, the Fognail will deliver approximately 91 lpm at 12 bar(24.28 gpm @ 200 psi). These Fognails will be used in field trials conducted by Central Whidbey Island Fire & Rescue (CWIFR).

The Fognail shaft is 17 mm (0.67 in) in diameter and 530 mm (20.75 in) long and is pointed on one end with a reinforced striking surface on the other end. Water enters the Fognail through a pipe welded to the shaft just ahead of the striking surface. A 25 mm (1 in) threaded connection is provided. The threads are standard 1 in IPT (iron pipe thread). As received from the factory, the Fognail is fitted with a stainless steel ¼ turn valve which may receive and adapter for any type of hose connection.


Waterfog AB

The Fognail shaft is 17 mm (0.67 in) in diameter and 530 mm (20.75 in) long and is pointed on one end with a reinforced striking surface on the other end. The Fognail shaft has coarse, straight cut threads on the shaft to assist in holding the Fognail in place when flowing water. Water enters the Fognail through a pipe welded to the shaft just ahead of the striking surface. A 25 mm (1 in) threaded connection is provided. The threads are standard 1 in IPT (iron pipe thread). As received from the factory, the Fognail is fitted with a stainless steel ¼ turn valve which may receive and adapter for any type of hose connection.

Fognails are typically inserted through the roof or an exterior wall. The initial opening is created using a spike hammer and the Fognail is then driven into place. CFBT-US decided to forgo the spike hammer as a Halligan or pick head axe could be used and serves multiple purposes.


Alternately, a battery operated hammer drill with both wood an masonry bits provides a quick and effective alternative for creating an access point for a Fognail

Attack and Restrictor

There are two types of Fognail, Attack and Restrictor. Both types of Fognail have a pointed tip, but the location and size of the orifices differ based on application. The Attack Fognail has 16 orifices at the tip and produces a 30o Fog Cone with a reach of 8 m (26.25 ft). The Restrictor has 32 orifices at the tip designed to provide impinging streams that produce a circular pattern of water fog 10 m (32.81 ft) in diameter and projecting a distance of 5 m (16.40 ft).


CFBT-US has modified the standard Attack and Restrictor Fognails by replacing the quarter turn valve at the nozzle inlet with a 1 in Iron Pipe Thread (IPT) x 1 in National Standard Thread (NST) Adapter to allow the Fognail to be supplied by 1 in hose equipped with NST couplings. Use of a short section of 1 in hose allows greater flexibility and reduces the weight of the charged line exerted on the back of the Fognail when it is in use. As modified by CFBT-US, the short section of 1 in hose is extended off a break-apart combination nozzle on a 1-3/4 in hoseline using a 1-1/2 in NST x 1 in NST adapter. The nozzle shutoff is used to control water flow to the Fognail.


Concept of Operations

Fognails are used to introduce water in the form of small droplets into enclosed areas without the need for a large opening that would increase ventilation and the flow of air to the fire. Given the small droplet size from this nozzle, it is likely that water applied through a Fognail has the effect of gas cooling (vaporization while traveling through hot gases) and indirect attack (vaporization on contact with surfaces).

Tactical Flow Rate for Indirect Attack

Tactical flow rate requirements can be estimated using a variety of methods (most of which are used in training, but not on the fireground). The most useful method in considering the extinguishing capability of Fognails is the Iowa Formula, which was developed for the indirect method of fire attack. This formula determines the flow (in gallons) required for 30 seconds in order to achieve fire control (not extinguishment).

Iowa Flow Formula

If the flow rate from a Fognail is estimated as 20 gpm (76 lpm) and the Iowa Formula is solved for volume (Length x Width x Height), a single Fognail can control a fire in a compartment having a volume of 2000 ft3 (56.63 m3) with a 30 second application. With a ceiling height of 8’, this would be a 250 ft2 (23.23 m2) compartment. Note that control in a larger volume may be possible with a longer application (e.g., 60 seconds).

For more information, see Estimating Required Fire Flow: The Iowa Formula.

Fognail Tactics

Fognails are not intended to be used as the sole method of water application in firefighting, but are integrated with other offensive or defensive firefighting tactics, depending on the circumstances. Consider the use of Fognails as a fire control (not extinguishment) tool.

Attic Fires: Fognails provide several options for dealing with attic fires. One or more Restrictor Fognails may be inserted in the roof if it is stable enough to work on. Alternately, a combination of Restrictor and Attack Fognails may be used to cover a larger area or volume of attic space.


As an alternative to working from the roof Attack Fognails may also be used through the eaves (existing or drilled openings) or from the gable ends of the roof.

Fognails may also be used defensively to develop a barrier to fire spread to uninvolved areas of a larger attic space. In this application, multiple Fognails are placed to produce a dense barrier of water fog to serve as a fire break. Note that this may not be an absolute barrier and should be supported by interior handlines to check for extension.


Fires in Void Spaces: Fognails provide an effective tactic for controlling fires in void spaces. In this application, Fognails may be inserted into the void space from the exterior or interior. However, if used on the interior, crews placing the Fognail(s) must be protected by a standard handline.


Unvented Compartment Fires: When a compartment fire has self-vented, a brief application of water from the exterior may be the fastest way to reduce the heat release rate (HRR). In other cases, it may be faster to directly initiate an interior attack. However, when staffing is limited and there is no known imminent threat to live (i.e., reported or visible occupants), operation from the exterior may be the only acceptable option. Under these circumstances, firefighters may be presented with a challenging decision. If water cannot be applied into the fire compartment from a door, do they break a window to allow exterior application of water? Breaking a window provides access for water application, but also increases ventilation. In addition, unlike a door which may be closed after water application, a window cannot be unbroken and the increased ventilation may allow fire growth in areas beyond the reach of the stream applied through the window.


Use of a Fognail allows firefighters to introduce water into the fire compartment without increasing ventilation. In this case the Fognail (or nails) would be inserted through the exterior wall or window frame into the fire compartment. If multiple compartments are involved, multiple fog nails may be required or the initial fog nail may be move from one location to another.

Next Steps

CWIFR will be training in the use of Fognails and will conduct live fire training designed to provide members with an opportunity to use Fognails under realistic conditions. More information to follow as it develops!


Tactical Integration

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

Each of the UL ventilation studies has generated a list of tactical considerations, many of which overlap or reinforce one another. It is useful to revisit the tactical considerations developed in the horizontal ventilation study and to integrate these with those resulting from the vertical ventilation research project.


Download the Tactical Integration Poster as an 11″ x 17″ PDF document and post it to stimulate discussion of the concept of tactical integration and how research with the fire service can be integrated into our standard operating guidelines, work practices, and fireground operations.

Download the Tactical Integration Worksheet provided as an 11” x 17” PDF document and work through the commonalities and differences in these two sets of tactical considerations. Also take a few minutes to think about how this information has (or should) inform your operations on the fireground.

Stay up to date with the UL Firefighter Safety Research Institute and the latest research being conducted with the fire service by connecting with the Firefighter Safety Research Institute on the web or liking them on Facebook.


I am currently in Jackson Hole, Wyoming attending a Underwriters Laboratories Firefighter Safety Research Institute Advisory Board meeting and yesterday had a preview of the on-line training program focused on the results of the Study of the Effectiveness of Fire Service Vertical Ventilation and Suppression Tactics in Single Family Homes. The on-line training materials produced by the institute continue to improve, providing a higher level of interactivity and multiple paths through the curriculum. Learners can choose a short overview, the full program, or the full program with additional information for instructors that can be used to enhance training programs integrating the on-line program with classroom and hands-on instruction.

UL hopes to have the on-line vertical ventilation training program up and running within the week and I will update this post with information on how to access the course as soon as it becomes available.

Stay up to date with the UL Firefighter Safety Research Institute and the latest research being conducted with the fire service by connecting with the Firefighter Safety Research Institute on the web or liking them on Facebook.

Theory and Practice

Sunday, August 11th, 2013

Recently I have been following a series of discussions on Facebook on the relative merits of compressed air foam (CAF) versus water as an extinguishing agent. Some of my colleagues profess that CAF is superior in all respects and in all applications for extinguishment by cooling. Others point to the limited ability to cool hot gases when dealing with a shielded compartment fire as a major problem with CAF and where water is the superior agent for fire control.


Knowledge and Belief

As I have followed and occasionally participated in this discussion about CAF and water, I began to think about why we believe what we do (and the difference between belief and knowledge). Some of us are zealots who are fanatically committed to a particular perspective. In this case, belief does not require evidence (or evidence is seen through a lens that supports existing belief and all else is dismisses or disregarded). Some of us are skeptics who instinctively doubt, question, or disagree with generally accepted conclusions. Some of us accept information provided from sources that we consider authoritative, while others think critically, weighing evidence in deciding if a claim is always true, sometimes true, partially true, or false regardless of the source.

Historical Perspective

It is interesting that the fire service in the 21st century is engaged in a concerted effort to integrate theory and practice, research with the fire service conducted by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) as well as universities, government agencies, and fire services from around the world. We continue to struggle with moving from practical knowledge based on observation and information passed from earlier generations of firefighters to evidence based practice where practical decisions are made based on research that is valid and reliable. There may be some lessons in the 19th century writing of Massey Shaw, the first Chief Fire Officer of the Metropolitan London Fire Brigade:

In a new profession, all measures are necessarily in some degree tentative. It is only the superficial and half-educated who, in such cases, announce everything in detail beforehand, and thus find themselves, for years afterwards, working in a false position, endeavoring, contrary to experience and their improved information, to justify announcements made by them while laboring under that most unsatisfactory, but perhaps most common, form of ignorance, which consists of practical knowledge, absolutely alone, without the aid of theory, and which is consequently to a great extent antagonistic to all useful developments.

To those who have not studied the principles of true and useful progress, this statement may seem a paradox, but it really is nothing of the kind. Theoretical knowledge is essentially progressive; it suggests new modes of doing everything; and, even where absolutely new odes are proved to be impracticable, it suggests modifications and alterations of existing modes, an devises schemes for meeting every possible objection which can be urged. Practical knowledge alone, unaided by theory, is, on the contrary, from its very nature, obstructive to the last degree’ it makes objections to everything not actually proved to demonstration, and, in short, considers nothing possible that has not been already accomplished. Then there are the innumerable imperfect combinations of theory and practice, which, as long as they remain imperfect, produce the worse consequences of all.

How often do we see a man, eminently practical in all respects, and whose opinion on any practical matter connected with his ordinary business is worthy of the highest consideration, suddenly seized with an idea, which, being unaided by education, develops itself into a theory of the wildest kind, involving those who follow it in utter ruin – and all because the supposed theory turns out to be no true theory at all, and nothing better than the excrescence of an uneducated or eccentric intellect. And again, how often do we see theory along, however sound in itself, utterly prostrate and rendered worthless, through flying too wildly for want of the obstructive and steadying power of practice (Shaw, 1868, vii)

Moving Beyond Simple Experience

Kurt Lewin, a social psychologist observed “There is nothing so practical as a good theory” (Lewin, 1951, p. 169). He expands on this idea, observing that theory makes it possible to move beyond simple collection and description of facts by characterizing what is behind those observations. Theory helps us make sense of practical experience.

As firefighters and fire officers in the 21st century, we need to move beyond simple experience and integrate a sound understanding of the theory of fire dynamics and fire control. Similarly, we need to be wary of theory alone, and integrate practical experience with scientific research and underlying theoretical concepts. Both are necessary, but neither is sufficient.

Be curious, think critically, and learn continuously!


Lewin, K. (1951). Field theory in social science. New York: Harper Brothers.

Shaw, M. (1868) Fire protection: A complete manual of the organization, machinery, discipline, and general working of the fire brigade of London. London: Charles and Edwin Layton

ISFSI Single Family Dwelling Fire Attack

Saturday, August 3rd, 2013

The International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI) in conjunction with the South Carolina Fire Academy and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have released an on-line training program addressing firefighting operations in single family dwellings.


This training program is comprised of five modules examining current research on fire dynamics and firefighting tactics and its application to operations in single family dwellings.

  • Module 1: Introduction
  • Module 2: Current Conditions
  • Module 3: Ventilation
  • Module 4: Suppression
  • Module 5: Size-Up and Decision Making

ISFSI did an effective job of integrating their own research conducted in South Carolina along with current research from NIST, FDNY, and UL in developing and for the most part have provided an effective learning experience that is well worth the four hours needed to complete the training. Visit the ISFSI learning management system (LMS) at to complete this course (and ISFIS’s building construction course as well).

Important lessons emphasized in Single Family Dwelling Fire Attack include:

  • The fire environment has changed, resulting in faster fire development and transition to ventilation controlled conditions.
  • Under ventilation controlled conditions, increased ventilation will result in increased heat release rate and temperature.
  • In the modern fire environment, ventilation and fire attack must be closely coordinated. Particularly if resources are limited fire attack should often precede ventilation to minimize the adverse impact of ventilation without concurrent fire attack.
  • Exterior attack can speed application of water into the fire compartment and frequently will have a positive impact on conditions.
  • Speedy exterior attack can be an effective element of offensive operations.
  • Smoke is fuel and presents a significant hazard, particularly at elevated temperatures. Hot smoke overhead should be cooled to minimize potential for ignition.
  • Ongoing size-up needs to consider current and projected fire behavior as well as structural conditions.

While a solid training program, Single Family Dwelling Fire Attack could do a better job of explaining the differences between direct and indirect fire attack and how gas cooling impacts the fire environment to reduce the flammability and thermal hazards by the hot upper layer. The following posts expand on the challenges presented by shielded fires and application of gas cooling:

Single Family Dwelling Fire Attack does a solid job of addressing size-up and decision making, but firefighters and fire officers need to develop a more in-depth understanding of reading the fire. The following posts provide an expanded look at this important topic:

One great feature in Modules 3, 5 and 5 of Single Family Dwelling Fire Attack are brief video presentations by Dan Madrzykowski on Ventilation, Suppression, Size-Up and Decision Making which are also available on YouTube. The video on Ventilation is embedded below as a preview:

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

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.

A Response to: Nozzle Selection:
Are We Defeating the Enemy?

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

Jason Sowders recently wrote an post on the Fire Engineering in support 150 gpm (570 lpm) as the minimum flow rate for interior structural firefighting and the use of solid (or if not solid, at least straight) streams for interior fire attack. I commented on-line that many of the conclusions stated in Jason’s post was not supported by scientific evidence or the experience of many of the world’s fire services. Have a look at Jason’s post: Nozzle Selection: Are We Defeating the Enemy? and give some thought to what he has to day. What do you agree with, what do you disagree with, and why?

I commend Jason on presenting his perspective in a public forum. While I don’t agree with many of the things that he has to say, putting ideas in a public space allows discussion and argument (using this term in its most positive sense) to improve our knowledge and understanding. Today more than ever, we have access to a tremendous amount of information via the internet and print publications. Some of this information is correct and some is not. To make things even more complicated, some of it is based on commonly held belief resulting from observation of the world around us, that seems quite logical and some of it is based on science which is sound but may seem to conflict with our practical experience. How do we sort through these statements, claims, and arguments?

  • Think about what you know?
  • How do you know this?
  • What are your assumptions and biases (this may be the most difficult question)?
  • What resources are available to help you develop a deeper understanding?

Military Metaphor

Jason begins his post by asserting that warfighting involves precision, well thought out methods of attack and overwhelming force to obliterate the enemy. Both statements have an element of truth, but the military metaphor for structural firefighting while useful in some contexts has significant limitations. Consider the differences between a ground offensive in a war and a special operations mission to capture or kill a terrorist leader. Both have elements of precision and well thought out methods, but the later does not use overwhelming force to obliterate the enemy, but employs the force necessary to accomplish the task while minimizing collateral damage.


Jason states that we are in a war and that fire has already invaded our homes, ready to show itself in a very “hostile” manner. The major fallacy in the use of military action or warfare as a metaphor for firefighting is the tendency to anthropomorphize the fire, ascribing humanlike characteristics such as thought and intent. An uncontrolled fire is not alive, it is not hostile, and it is not trying to kill either firefighters or civilians it is simply a physical and chemical phenomena that presents a hazard to life and property in either the natural or built environment.

Chief Fire Officer Paul Young of the Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue Service asked two important questions during a presentation at an Institution of Fire Engineers presentation several years ago: Are we participating in an individual struggle with a dangerous enemy? Or are we part of a disciplined, organized, and coordinated attack on an increasingly well understood chemical reaction?

These points do not diminish the hazards presented by the modern fire environment, but frame a fundamental difference in perspective about our work. One is dramatic, exciting, and focused to a greater extent on an emotional response (which is necessary, but not sufficient) and the other recognizes that our work while difficult, physical, and requiring emotional strength, must be based on integration of scientific evidence and experience developed in the field.

Heat Release Rate

Jason asserts that the heat release rate of today’s fuels is catching firefighters off guard and that they need to be treated as highly flammable fuels. While this is true to some extent, the term flammability generally refers to ease of ignition (e.g. flash point of liquids, ignition temperature, etc.) rather than heat of combustion (potential energy) or heat release rate (HRR). Jason’s statement that “heat makes more heat” is nonsense at face value in that heat (thermal energy in transit cannot multiply itself. Chemical potential energy in fuel can be transformed to thermal kinetic energy, but it can neither be created or destroyed (law of conservation of energy). However, if the point is that HRR does not (generally) increase in a linear manner, but frequently increases in an exponential manner, is generally correct.

Understanding the concept of heat release rate is critical to understanding and recognizing the hazards presented in the fire environment as well as the capabilities of water as an extinguishing agent.

Flow Rate

Jason asserts that flow rates below 150 gpm (768 lpm) are inadequate for interior structural firefighting without supporting this argument with specific evidence. While I agree that a 1-3/4” hoseline with a flow rate of 150 gpm (570 lpm) is a reasonable choice for interior structural firefighting, there are many fire service agencies around the world that are quite effective with much lower flow rates. How can this be? Context is critical and it is important to consider building characteristics, fuel loading, and tactical framework. That said, it is interesting that the New South Wales Fire Brigades in Australia (who has similar buildings and fuel loads to those found in North America) typically makes entry to residential fires with a flow rate that is five times lower than 150 gpm (570 lpm). This large fire brigade serving both the city of Sydney and smaller communities is effective in fire control while having a firefighter fatality rate that is considerably lower than the US fire service. This is likely due to a combination of factors, but their typical flow rate and use of 38 mm (1-1/2”) hoselines does not seem to have a negative impact on their fire suppression performance.

Jason provides an example of the effect of reducing line pressure on 200’ a 1-3/4” handline from 170 psi to 130 psi (to reduce nozzle reaction); stating that this would reduce the flow rate from 150 gpm (570 lpm) to 115 gpm (435 lpm) and that this would be “woefully inadequate and not a safe practice” as you would be simply containing the fire, not extinguishing it.

The first part of this argument has an element of truth. Reducing the line pressure on a handline reduces flow rate. However, depending on the type of nozzle, there may be other impacts as well. An automatic nozzle will maintain its design pressure with reduced flow rate (as long as the flow is within the nozzle’s flow range). If the nozzle is a standard combination nozzle with a designed nozzle pressure of 100 psi (689 kPa) as evidenced by the original 170 psi (1172 kPa) nozzle pressure in this example, reducing the line pressure not only reduces flow rate, but also increases droplet size and velocity of the stream; which further degrades performance. However, this leaves the question of what flow rate is “adequate” for structural firefighting. As with most questions, the answer is it depends.

Before starting a discussion of the adequacy of given flow rates, it is important to provide a bit of context (as this is not a debate just for the sake of argument, it is important for us to understand not only what we do, but why we do it).

Jason states that a flow rate of 115 gpm (435 lpm) will is inadequate and unsafe and that it will only contain the fire and not extinguish it (without stating fire conditions). Consider the cooling capacity of 115 gpm (435 lpm); this flow rate has a theoretical cooling capacity of 18.87 MW (7.26 kg/s x 2.6 MJ/kg = 18.87 MW). Given that this cooling capacity cannot be achieved in a practical sense it may be reasonable to say that the efficiency of hand held fire streams varies considerably, but as a point of illustration, consider an efficiency of 50% (half of the water is vaporized to steam). In this case, the cooling capacity of 115 gpm (435 lpm)  would be 9.43 MW. As a point of comparison, tests of a fully furnished modern living room conducted by Underwriters Laboratories resulted in a heat release rate of slightly less than 9 MW (Kerber, 2012) and could be readily controlled and extinguished with a flow rate lower than 150 gpm (570 lpm).

I have no argument with establishing a minimum flow rate for 1-3//4” handlines (and actually use 150 gpm as the standard for the agency where I serve as Fire Chief). However, not all fires require 150 gpm (768 lpm) and in other cases 150 gpm (570 lpm) is inadequate. Safety is not driven by flow rate, but by appropriate or inappropriate use of a given flow rate depending on conditions. At a minimum, the flow must at least meet the critical flow rate (minimum to extinguish the fire) and more likely should be somewhat higher to reduce the time to extinguishment. Drastically exceeding the critical flow rate has considerably less impact on time to achieve extinguishment, but has a significant impact on the total volume of water used (which in rural contexts can be limited and in any context results in unnecessary fire control damage). If this resulted in increased firefighter safety, this might be a reasonable tradeoff, but I have not seen evidence that this is the case.

Fire Streams

Jason’s use of Lloyd Layman’s work as an illustration of how water fog is used in firefighting is misleading. Indirect attack is only one way in which a combination nozzle can be used in structural firefighting. Jason is correct in that indirect attack involves production of a large volume of steam to cool and inert a fire compartment or compartments and that this method of fire attack should not be used in compartments occupied by firefighters (or savable victims).

Jason states “the fog stream has a much larger surface ratio and little if any of the broken stream makes contact with solid surfaces or fuel source. Remember, our goal is to apply water to the fuel source, not to just cool off the thermal layer.” While, a fog stream has a much larger surface area than a straight or solid stream, the remainder of this statement presents a number of problems.

First it is important to distinguish between a fog stream and a broken stream (which are quite different). A fog stream has much smaller droplets (which appears to be Jason’s point) while a broken stream (such as that produced by a Bresnan distributor) has much larger droplets.

Jason’s second point that little if any of the water makes contact with solid surfaces of the burning fuel is in direct conflict with his claim that the fog pattern produces a large volume of steam to fill the compartment (as in Layman’s indirect attack). Due to the substantial energy required to heat water to its boiling point (specific heat) and vaporize it into steam (latent heat of vaporization) and the relatively low specific heat of the hot gases; water vaporized in the upper layer actually reduces the total volume of hot gases and steam in the compartment. Water vaporized on hot surfaces does not take appreciable energy from the hot gases and the volume of steam produced is added to the total volume of the upper layer, resulting in the lowering of the bottom of the layer and making conditions less tenable. For a more detailed discussion of gas cooling see my prior post Gas Cooling, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5. If in fact the water is not reaching hot surfaces, it would not have the effect that Jason describes. If it does reach the surfaces, resulting in the effect described, a fog pattern actually does cool hot surfaces and burning fuel. The fact of the matter is somewhere between these two extremes. Effective use of a combination nozzle allows for cooling of gases when this is the goal and cooling of hot surfaces and burning fuel when position allows direct attack.

I agree with Jason’s third point, that the goal is to “apply water to the fuel source, not just to cool off the thermal layer” [emphasis added]. However, if faced with a shielded fire and direct attack is not possible from the point of entry, it is necessary to cool the hot upper layer to reduce potential for ignition of the hot smoke (fuel) and reduce the thermal insult to the firefighters below. This requires a stream that is effective at cooling the gases (rather than only or primarily surfaces). Once it is possible to apply water directly onto the burning fuel, this is critical as gas cooling is not an extinguishing technique, but simply a way to more safely gain access to the seat of the fire. For additional discussion of shielded fires and application of gas cooling see my previous post Shielded Fires and Part 2.

It is indisputable that a fog pattern can be used to create a negative pressure at an opening such as a window or door to aid in ventilation and that a solid stream held in a stationary position and projected through the same opening will create less of a negative pressure and have less impact on ventilation. However, it is incorrect to state that the fog stream will always have this effect and thus will have a negative impact if used for interior firefighting. Development of the increased air movement described requires that the stream be positioned in an opening to create a negative pressure, thus influencing air flow. Intermittent operation on the interior does not produce the same result.

Jason Sowders states “Let’s leave ventilation to the truck companies. Our main focus for the initial stretch should be extinguishment.” I have no argument that the main focus of the first line stretched should be confinement and extinguishment of the fire. However, engine companies have a significant impact on ventilation (and are an essential part of this essential tactic) in that all openings created in the building (including the door that the line was advanced through) are ventilation openings. For more on the entry point as ventilation, see my earlier post Influence of Ventilation in Residential Structures: Tactical Implications Part 2 and the last several posts on door control; Close the Door! Were You Born in a Barn? and Developing Door Control Doctrine.

Jason also states “We have been fooled for many years believing that a curtain of water between you and the fire is protection. What is occurring is that you are pushing heat, fire, smoke, and other products of combustion out in front of you.”

There are several interesting issues with these claims. First, if a fog pattern did not provide effective protection from radiant heat, fog streams would be ineffective protection when dealing with exterior flammable gas fires. However, this is not the issue here. As demonstrated in tests conducted by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) on Horizontal (Kerber, 2011) and Vertical Ventilation (Kerber, in press) as well as additional tests conducted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY) (Healey, Madrzykowski, Kerber, & Ceriello, 2013), water does not push fire (for more information see the UL Report and On-Line Training Program Impact of Ventilation on Fire Behavior in Legacy and Contemporary Residential Construction. When a stream is operated continuously as in a combination attack where the stream (fog, straight, or solid) is rotated to cover the ceiling, walls, and floor and water is vaporized on contact with hot surfaces and burning fuel, steam is produced and the air flow developed by the stream aids in pushing these gases away from the nozzle and hopefully, towards an exhaust opening (half of the ventilation equation). Coordination of fire attack and ventilation is always important, but in this case ventilation in front of the hoseline is critical to safe and effective extinguishment. This is true regardless of the type of nozzle and stream used.

Jason cites the disruption of the hot upper layer in the fire environment as a problem presented by application of water fog into the hot gases. He further asserts that a straight or solid stream will provide a more rapid knockdown by reaching the seat of the fire without premature conversion to steam or being carried away by convection currents. As with many of the other arguments in Jason’s post, there is an element of truth here, but not the entire story.

As discussed above, application of water in a manner to produce steam on contact with hot surfaces will in fact disrupt thermal layering (regardless of the type of stream), this has given rise to empirical (observed) evidence that application of water fog into the hot upper layer has adverse consequences. However, if applied at a flow rate and/or duration that results in vaporization in the hot upper layer, conditions improve. Penetration is often cited as an advantage of straight or solid streams. This is true, provided that the stream can be directly applied to the burning fuel. Reach of the stream becomes particularly important when working in large compartments that are well involved. In many cases, firefighters must gain access to the fire compartment prior to being able to make a direct attack on burning fuel and thus may have need first cool the hot gas layer on approach and then make a direct attack. These two tasks may be efficiently accomplished using a combination nozzle to cool hot gases with pulsed application of water fog and a straight stream for direct attack.

Jason emphasizes that solid stream nozzles produce a superior stream in comparison to that produced by a combination nozzle set on a straight stream. The primary rationale stated in this argument is that the stream is denser and droplets produced when the solid stream is deflected off the ceiling or walls are larger and have sufficient mass to reach the burning fuel without being vaporized in the hot gases or carried away by convection. As with several other of Jason’s arguments, this has an element of truth. Larger droplets are effective for direct attack due to their mass and smaller surface area, increasing the amount of water reaching the burning fuel. The effects of convection on a straight stream from a combination nozzle are far less pronounced in a compartment than they are when attempting a defensive direct attack on a large fire with a significant convection column.

Most Fire Departments

Jason asserts that “Most fire departments throughout the country are aware of the harmful effects of fog application and are teaching their recruits to use straight stream water application for interior structural firefighting”. I am uncertain if most fire departments are teaching that only straight or solid streams should be used for interior firefighting operations. However, I would dispute that fog application is “harmful”. There are potentially harmful effects of inappropriate water application regardless of the type of stream. Firefighters must understand water as an extinguishing agent and develop mastery in the use of their primary weapon (to use the military metaphor), the nozzle. Firefighters today are more aware of the need to cool hot smoke (fuel) in the upper layer, it is essential to understand the capabilities and limitations of each type of fire stream

Constant Change

Jason concludes with the statement “We must be ready for battle with effective hoseline selection, nozzle selection, and flow rates…. It is our duty to be proactive when it comes to the constant changes our profession brings.”  I agree completely! However, our strategies, tactics, and doctrine must be evidence based, must have a sound theoretical foundation and be supported by both scientific research and practical experience. Unfortunately, our profession continues to struggles to integrate these elements and is saddled with conclusions based on experience without understanding. Theory and scientific research does not trump experience, neither does experience trump scientific knowledge. Both are essential!

The issues of flow rate and stream selection are not one sided, there is evidence for the effectiveness of both water fog and solid stream application for control of fires in today’s fire environment. It is easy to examine the evidence and choose the facts that support our preconceived ideas (regardless of your perspective). It is much more difficult to objectively evaluate the evidence and determine what conclusions are actually supported. We must continue to ask why and question our assumptions!

Ed Hartin, MS, EFO, MIFireE, CFO


Healey, G., Madrzykowski, D., Kerber, S., & Ceriello, J. (2013). Scientific research for the development of more effective tactics; Governors Island experiments July 2012 [PowerPoint]. Gaithersburg, MD: National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Kerber, S. (2011). Impact of ventilation on fire behavior in legacy and contemporary residential construction. Retrieved July 16, 2011 from

Kerber, S. (2012). Analysis of changing residential fire dynamics and its implications on firefighter operational timeframes. Retrieved June 26, 2013 from

Sowders, J. (2013) Nozzle Selection: Are We Defeating the Enemy? Retrieved June 26, 2013 from–are-defeating-the-enemy-.html?sponsored=firedynamics

FAQ-Fire Attack Questions: Part 4

Sunday, May 5th, 2013

This post will finish up with Captain Mike Sullivan’s Fire Attack Questions. In the coming weeks I will explore the research conducted by UL, NIST, and FDNY on Governors Island last summer (see the video of a presentation on this research at FDIC later in this post). If you have questions or topics that you would like to see addressed in the CFBT-US Blog, please comment on the post or send me an e-mail.

In your Blog about gas cooling you mention combustion products and pyrolysis products. Combustion products being light heat and smoke but can you elaborate on pyrolysis products, are they just the gasses that are off gassing from the fuel?

Smoke is a complex aerosol comprised of gases, vapors, and particulates resulting from pyrolysis and incomplete combustion along with entrained air. So, smoke is comprised of both chemical products of pyrolysis (thermal decomposition of fuel) and combustion products. The chemical composition of smoke is extremely complex and depends on both the type(s) of fuel and conditions under which it is burning, predominantly limitations on ventilation and oxygen concentration.

Smoke is toxic, with incomplete combustion of organic fuels producing substantial amounts of carbon monoxide and nitrogen containing materials producing hydrogen cyanide. As smoke is a product of pyrolysis and incomplete combustion, it also contains a substantial percentage of unburned fuel, as such, smoke is fuel.

I have read that if smoke is venting from a building then there will be air entering from somewhere. During basement fires where the fire is below the neutral pressure plane you will often see smoke exiting from the front door from top to bottom of the doorway with no apparent entry of air (no neutral pressure plane) and no other vent opening. Could you comment on this?

The mass of smoke exiting from the building must equal the mass of the oxidized fuel and the mass of air entering the building as mass can neither be created or destroyed (law of conservation of mass) as illustrated below.

compartment fire mass exchange

If you see smoke exiting from an opening with a unidirectional air track (out), air is entering somewhere else. Likely, air is entering from multiple locations without presenting an obvious indicator as to the flow paths involved.

Controlling the flow path in this case, involves closing the door. This acts in the same manner as closing the damper in a wood stove. Restricting the exhaust will slow intake of air and reduce the heat release rate until water can be applied (preferably making access through an exterior doorway at the basement level or applying water through a window to further reduce heat release prior to an interior attack.

Recent research by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Fire Department of the City of New York on Governors Island showed that closing an open front door reduced the heat release rate from a basement fire. Battalion Chief George Healey, Dan Madryzkowski, Steve Kerber, and Lieutenant John Ceriello provided an excellent presentation on this research at the 2013 Fire Department Instructors Conference. I strongly recommend viewing the presentation (embedded below)!

Scientific Research for the Development of More Effective Tactics

The following video recording provides an excellent overview of research conducted by UL, NIST, and FDNY on Governors Island to develop an understanding of fire dynamics in the modern fire environment and the influence of firefighting tactics on firefighter safety and effective fire control and ventilation operations.

This presentation was a seminal event in the US Fire Service that emphasized the importance of understanding fire behavior and the connection between solid research (both in the lab and in the field) with operational strategies and tactics. The research is solid, but it is important that all of us understand that it does not answer all of the questions and we should consider context when attempting to apply specific findings in general terms. For example:

  • The suppression elements of the Governors Island tests were conducted using solid stream nozzles as that is the predominant type of nozzle used by FDNY. Tests showed that positive impact can be had using this type of nozzle. An important finding, but it was not intended to address the question of where are solid streams more effective than fog patterns (and where fog patterns are more effective).
  • Tests were conducted on the Vent, Enter, Isolate, and Search (VEIS) tactic. Evidence points to the importance of controlling the flow path by closing the door. This does not mean that this is or is not an appropriate tactic under all circumstances or in all contexts, it simply addresses the importance of controlling the flow path.

The fire service owes a tremendous debt to UL, NIST, and FDNY (and in particular George, Dan, Steve, and John) for their commitment to improving firefighter safety and the effectiveness of firefighting operations. In order to maximize the value of this critically important research, it is essential that we explore the findings and underlying data and make sense of how this information can improve firefighting operations in our communities. More on this in subsequent posts!

Ed Hartin

FAQ-Fire Attack Questions Part 3

Saturday, April 27th, 2013


Thursday morning saw a sea change in perspectives on fire behavior in the United States! Over 2500 people were in the big room at FDIC to hear BC George Healey (FDNY), Dan Madryzkowski (NIST), Steve Kerber (UL), and LT John Ceriello (FDNY) talk about fire research conducted on Governors Island in New York.


This excellent presentation emphasized the importance of understanding fire behavior and the influence of flow path and provided several key tactical lessons, including:

  • Importance of control, coordination, and communication between crews performing fire attack and those performing tactical ventilation
  • The effectiveness of anti-ventilation such as closing the door (even partially) on slowing fire development
  • Effectiveness of water quickly applied into the fire compartment (from any location, but in particular from the exterior) in slowing fire progression
  • The demonstrated fact that flow path influences fire spread and not application of water. You can’t push fire with water applied into the fire compartment.
  • Importance of cooling the hot smoke (fuel) in the upper layer

Several years ago, who would have thought that a presentation on fire dynamics and research would have drawn this number of people to a presentation at FDIC. Kudos to FDNY, NIST, and UL for their ongoing work in developing an improved understanding of fire dynamics and firefighter safety.

FAQ (Fire Attack Questions) Continued

I had the opportunity to visit with Captain Mike Sullivan with the Mississauga Ontario Fire Department while at FDIC and we are continuing our dialog with another series of questions related to the characteristics of water fog and its use of a fog pattern for self-protection when faced with rapid fire progression in a structure fire.

The next three questions deal with using a fog stream for protection. In the IFSTA Essentials of Firefighting 5th edition it states that “wide fog patterns can also protect firefighters from radiant heat”, however in the IFSTA Essentials of Firefighting 3rd edition it states “In the past, water curtain broken stream nozzles were commonly used for exposure protection. However, research has indicated that these nozzles are only effective if the water is sprayed directly against the exposure being protected”. This tells me that fog patterns cannot protect from radiant heat.


Another question for which the answer is “it depends”. Both statements are correct (in context). Water droplets reduce radiant heat by absorbing energy and scattering the radiant energy. The effectiveness of these mechanisms depends on droplet size, wavelength of the radiation, geometric dimensions of the water spray, and density of the fog pattern. To put this in context, firefighters use a water spray for protection when approaching a flammable gas fire. In this context, the high density of the spray in proximity of the nozzle is quite effective. In contrast, application of a water spray between a fire and exposure is likely to be much less dense, and thus less effective in protecting the exposure than simply applying water to the exposure to keep its temperature <100o C.

In the past there was a belief (which some still believe) that if you find yourself in a bad situation in a house fire you can simply switch to a wide fog and it develops an “umbrella of protection from the heat and fire”. I believe this to be false. What I do think has happened in the past is that firefighters have found themselves in a room with extreme rollover or even had pockets of unburned gas igniting around them. When they used this technique they didn’t protect themselves with an umbrella of fog protection but they cooled the smoke layer and made the situation better.

This also is an interesting question, there are incidents where firefighters have opened the nozzle when caught in rapid fire progression and have survived (not necessarily uninjured), likely due to the cooling effects of the water spray. However, I would agree that this does not provide “an umbrella of protection” like a force field that provides complete protection. The benefit is likely by cooling of the hot gases above and potentially controlling some of the flaming combustion in the immediate area. However, as continuous application will likely not only cool the hot upper layer, but also generate a tremendous amount of steam on contact with compartment linings, the environment will not be tenable in the long term. However, this environment is likely more survivable than post-flashover, fully developed fire conditions.

Much the same as in driving or riding in fire apparatus, the best way to avoid death and injury in a crash is to not crash in the first place. If firefighters recognize worsening fire conditions, they should cool the upper layer to mitigate the hazards presented, if this is ineffective, withdrawing while continuing to cool the upper layer is an essential response.

My last comment on this; and this is where I am not really sure. If you are in a situation where you need to back out quickly, would it work to use a fog stream to push the heat away as you are reversing out of the structure? You would only do this for a short time while you retreat.

If you cannot put water on the fire to achieve control (shielded fire) or the heat release rate (HRR) of the fire exceeds the cooling capacity of your stream you are in a losing position. When faced with rapidly deteriorating thermal conditions, it is essential to cool the upper layer. It is important to note that cooling, not simply “pushing the heat away” is what needs to happen in this situation. This action reduces heat flux from both convective and radiant transfer. Adequate water must be applied to accomplish this task, as temperature increases so too does the water required. Long pulses provide a starting point, but the pulses need to be long enough to deliver the required water. If needed, flow could be continuous or near continuous while the crew withdraws. In much the same manner a crew working with a solid stream nozzle would operate the nozzle in a continuous or near continuous manner and rotate the stream to provide some cooling to the upper layer while withdrawing.

There are those who believe that you can use a fog stream to protect yourself in a house fire by pushing the heat away from you as you advance on the fire. I believe you can push heat away from you and it happens in 2 distinct ways,  the wide fog with the entrained air is literally pushing the heat away from you and you have now created high pressure in an area that was low pressure (typically you are near an open door) so you have effectively changed the flow path. Having said this, I feel the benefits are short lived. With this fog pattern you will also be creating a lot of steam which will continue expanding until it’s temperature reaches equilibrium with the rest of the fire compartment (expansion could be as high as 4000 times). With all this pushing and expansion you are now creating high pressure in an area down stream from you that had previously been a low pressure area. As we know, everything is trying to move from high to low pressure, now the low pressure area is directly behind the nozzle. Now you are in a situation where not only is the heat coming back behind the nozzle but there is an enormous amount of steam being created and heading your way. The confusion here is most likely with the techniques we use when practicing for gas fires, we do this outside where there is an endless amount of space to push the heat away (I read this part in a good article in Fire Engineering).

The impact of continuous application of a fog stream (or any stream for that matter) as you advance is dependent on a number of factors, principal among which are the flow path and where steam is produced (in the hot gas layer versus on contact with surfaces). Continuous application is likely to result in vaporization of a significant amount of water on contact with surfaces; this will result in addition of steam to the hot upper layer without corresponding contraction of the hot gases that results from vaporization of water while it is in the gases. Without ventilation in front of the fog stream (or any stream for that matter), this can result in a reduction in tenability. However, when ventilation in front of the stream is provided, a combination attack (using a fog pattern, straight, or solid stream) can be quite effective for fully developed fire conditions.

I was hoping you could elaborate on the term “painting”. It is defined as a “gentle application of water to cool without excess steam production”. The hard part as a firefighter is the word “gentle” as this word doesn’t register in firefighter lingo. I can see this during overhaul but was hoping you could elaborate.

The way that I typically explain the concept of “gentle” is using a fire in a small trash can or other incipient fire inside of a building. If you use a hoseline to extinguish this fire, it is unlikely that you will need a high flow rate or application of the stream with the bail of the nozzle fully open. It would be appropriate to simply open the nozzle slightly on a straight stream and apply a small amount of water to the burning fuel.

Surface cooling can be done using a vigorous application from a distance when faced with a well involved compartment. In this situation, the reach of the stream is appropriately used to extinguish the fire and cool hot surfaces from a distance to minimize thermal insult to firefighters while quickly achieving control. However when faced with hot and pyrolizing compartment linings or contents, it may be useful or necessary to cool these surfaces from closer proximity. In this case applying water with force will result in much of the water bouncing off the surfaces and ending up on the floor. Painting involves using a straight stream or narrow fog pattern with the nozzle gated back to provide a gentle application resulting in a thin layer of water on the hot surface. As you note, this is most commonly used during overhaul, but could be used anytime that there is a need to cool hot, pyrolizing, but unignited surfaces.

Next week Mike and I will conclude this series of FAQ with a look at pyrolysis and flow path.


FAQ-Fire Attack Questions: Part 2

Saturday, April 20th, 2013


Captain Mike Sullivan with the Mississauga Ontario Fire Department and I are continuing our dialog with another series of questions related to the science behind fire attack and fire control methods. Mike’s next several question deal with gas and surface cooling.

I know the best way to extinguish a fire is to put water on it but my questions below deal with a situation of large, open concept homes where you can see the entire main floor except the kitchen cooking area, in many cases this area is not separate from the open floor plan but around the corner so we can’t hit the fire until we get around that corner. My questions are all geared around how to cool the environment as you make your way to the fire (if you need to go to the very back of the house to get to the fire, fire can’t be seen).

When you answered the question about the effects of flowing a straight/solid stream across the ceiling it sounds as if this is really only surface cooling and not effectively gas cooling. If this is true then I was wondering what the value of doing this is, what are the main benefits of cooling the ceiling, walls and floor (and any furniture etc. the water lands on)? Also, what do you recommend to those departments that only use solid bore nozzles?

Use of a solid (or straight) stream off the ceiling has some effect on cooling the gases, but this is limited as the droplets produced are quite large and do not readily vaporize in the hot upper layer (great for direct attack, but not so much for gas cooling). The value of doing this is that any energy taken out of the hot upper layer (buy cooling the gases or by cooling surfaces and subsequent transfer of energy from hot gases to the cooler surfaces) will have some positive effect. In addition, hot combustible surfaces, depending on temperature are likely pyrolizing and adding hot, gas phase fuel to the upper layer. Cooling reduces pyrolysis and the fuel content of the smoke overhead.

The following video of the “Nozzle Forward”, Aaron Fields, Seattle Fire Department demonstrates some excellent hose handling techniques and also provides an illustration of how a solid stream nozzle can be used to cool hot gases by breaking up the stream on contact with compartment linings. Have a look at the video between 2:00 and 2:30 where the nozzle is being rotated as in a combination attack while advancing down a hallway. Note that the stream breaks up on contact with the ceiling and walls, providing a distribution of large droplets in the overhead area.

This technique can be quite effective when faced with a large volume of fire and ventilation is provided in front of the fire attack. However, if the hallway is not involved in fire, but there is a hot layer of smoke overhead, this approach is less effective as large droplets are less efficient in cooling the hot gases and much of the water will end up on the floor, not having done appreciable work.

While this will likely generate some hate and discontent, I would recommend that departments using only solid stream nozzles reconsider their choice. This type of nozzle has a number of great characteristics, but also has a number of significant limitations, principal among which is limited ability to cool the hot upper layer when dealing with shielded fires. That said, the firefighter riding backwards or company officer in the right front seat may have limited impact on this decision (at least in the short term). If all you have to work with is a solid stream nozzle, directing the stream off the ceiling to break up the pattern and provide limited gas cooling when dealing with extremely hot gases overhead are likely a reasonable option.

I understand how penciling a fog stream in the hot gas layer is the best way to cool the gases. My concern is this, where I work there are many new homes with open concept, large rooms and little compartmentation. I like the idea of cooling the gases above my head but I still have a large room full of gases that could still flash. Sure I’m cooling the gases around me but if the gases at the other end of the open space flash, I am still in the same room and in trouble. I would prefer to cool that area before I get there. What are your recommendations for this situation?

As a point of clarification, we use the term “penciling” in reference to an intermittent straight stream application. Gas cooling is most effectively accomplished with pulsed or intermittent application of water fog. We refer to this technique as “pulses” (to differentiate this from penciling with a straight or solid stream)

We also have quite a few large residential occupancies with open floor plans. The issue of large area or volume compartments also applies in commercial and industrial building as well. Gas cooling simply provides a buffer zone around the hose team, but other than in a small compartment does not change conditions in the upper layer throughout the space. Gas cooling must be a continuous process while progressing towards a shielded fire. The upper limit of area (or more appropriately volume) is an unanswered question. My friend Paul Grimwood, Principal Fire Safety Engineer with the Kent Fire and Rescue Service in the UK holds that the upper limit with a relatively normal ceiling height is approximately 70 m2 (753 ft2). Paul’s perspective is anecdotal and not based on specific scientific research. However, this is not unreasonable, given the reach of a narrow fog pattern and vaporization of water as it passes through the upper layer. Given the higher flow rates used by the North American fire service, it may be possible to control a somewhat larger area than Paul suggests, but this remains to be determined.

As to an answer to this problem, pulsed application does not always mean short pulses, multiple long pulses with a narrow pattern or a sweeping long pulse may be used to cover a larger area. In addition, large area compartments or open floor plan spaces may require multiple lines to adequately control the environment. The purpose of the backup line is to protect the means of egress for the attack line and this is of paramount importance in an open plan building.

The following two videos demonstrate the difference between short and long pulses. At 115 lpm (30 gpm) the flow rates in these two videos are low by North American standards, but are fairly typical for gas cooling applications in many parts of the world. Short pulses can be used effectively up to approximately 570 lpm (150 gpm) with minimal water hammer, for higher flow rates, long pulses are more appropriate.

When we do these quick bursts of fog to cool the gases we are not using much water compared to the feeling that the best way to handle this is to flow a large amount of water and basically soak the entire area down before you advance through it. I was hoping you could comment on this.

As noted in the answer to your previous question, pulses are sometimes, but not always quick. In a typical legacy residence (small compartments) short pulses are generally adequate to cool hot gases overhead. When accessing a shielded fire, and cooling the hot gases overhead it is not generally necessary to cool hot surfaces and fuel packages such as furniture (it may be a different story in the fire compartment). Water remaining on the floor or soaked into contents did not do significant work and simply added to fire control damage. We should not hesitate to use an adequate amount of water for fear of water damage, but tactical operations should focus on protecting property once (or while) we are acting to ensure the safety of occupants and firefighters.

We often enter house fires where the house is full of smoke but the smoke is not necessarily very hot. In these cases we would not normally cool the gases. From what we understand now, smoke is fuel and with open concept homes this smoke could ignite close to the fire therefore igniting the smoke nearer to us. What I was wondering is what are you teaching in regards to cooling the smoke, do you do it only when you feel a lot of heat or start cooling regardless?

As the temperature of the upper layer drops, the effectiveness of application of pulsed water fog diminishes. That said, if the upper layer is hot enough to vaporize some of the water (i.e. above 100o C), application of water will further cool the gases and provide some thermal ballast (the water will have to be heated along with the gases for ignition to occur).

When presented with cold (< 100o C) smoke, firefighters still face a hazard as gas phase fuel can still be ignited resulting in a flash fire (if relatively unconfined) or smoke explosion. The only real solution to this hazard is to create a safe zone by removing the smoke through tactical ventilation.

Mike and I will continue this dialog next week with a discussion of the protective capabilities of fog streams.