Posts Tagged ‘nozzle techniques’


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!


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 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.

“Flashover Training”

Saturday, April 6th, 2013

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have benches or seating in the flashover chamber?

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

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

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

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

Additional Thoughts

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


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



More Fire Attack Questions

Sunday, March 31st, 2013


This post continues the discussion with Captain Mike Sullivan with the Mississauga Ontario Fire Department regarding fire attack methods. Captain Sullivan refined his definitions and explanation of direct, indirect, and combination fire attack, stating:

Direct Attack: Water droplets put out the fire (droplets land directly on the burning fuel and cool this fuel to put out the fire).

This is essentially correct, water applied directly to the burning fuel absorb energy as the water is heated and considerably more when vaporized into steam, this reduces the temperature of the fuel and extinguishes the fire. In the end, this is generally necessary regardless of what method of fire attack or fire control you begin with.

Indirect Attack: Steam puts out the fire (water droplets turn to steam and this expanded steam eventually makes its way to the area where the burning fuel is and continues to absorb heat from this burning fuel until the fire goes out. All this steam also reduces oxygen concentration which results in a reduced heat release rate).

This is close, but the process of steam production absorbs a tremendous amount of energy. So it might be more accurate to state that production of steam and that heating of the steam as the hot gases and steam reach a thermal equilibrium cool the fire environment. In addition, steam production reduces oxygen concentration that reduces heat release rate. These processes in combination control and in fewer cases may achieve extinguishment. Indirect attack almost always must be followed up with aggressive overhaul and direct attack to achieve extinguishment. This does not diminish the utility of indirect attack for control of fully developed fires or decay stage fires resulting from limited ventilation (where high temperatures exist).

Combination Attack: Water droplets put out the fire (the droplets act the same way here as in the direct attack).

As with direct attack this is essentially correct. The application of water to burning fuel results in extinguishment through cooling. With the combination attack, some of the water is vaporized in the upper layer, assisting with control of the fire environment as well as the process of extinguishment. However, this is often at the expense of disrupting thermal layering (less of an issue when well-coordinated tactical ventilation is provided in front of fire attack.

This discussion gave rise to several other questions from Captain Sullivan:

In the combination attack, although the hose stream is directed at the ceiling (indirect part of the combination attack) and creates steam it is not as effective at cooling the fuel as the direct part of the combination attack is (wow is that wordy), Therefore,the main purpose of the indirect part of the combination attack is to cool the overhead gases so the entire environment is cooler when firefighters enter and really doesn’t have much to do with extinguishing the fire. So would you say in this case the “indirect” part of the combination attack really isn’t a key contributor to extinguishment?

This would depend (another way of saying “it depends”). The indirect component of the combination attack is important in controlling flaming combustion in the upper layer (such as rollover). While control of the burning gases overhead alone will not achieve extinguishment (same as with gas cooling), it is an important component of the extinguishment process as the heat flux from burning gases overhead is significant both as a threat to firefighters and also as a mechanism for heating unignited fuel and continuing the combustion process of fuel that is already burning. However, in the end, it is the direct element of the combination attack that achieves extinguishment. As with indirect attack, combination attack is followed up with direct attack to achieve complete extinguishment.

If what I have said above is true then, although both the indirect and combination attack produce large amounts of steam, is the purpose of the steam production actually different (put out the fire vs. cool the overhead gases)?

The purpose of steam production in both cases is to take advantage of the high latent heat of vaporization of water to achieve cooling. In addition, indirect attack reinforces the cooling effects of steam production by reducing oxygen concentration and thus reducing heat release rate from the fire.

In his comments Stefan Svensson stated that “in order to put out the fire we need to hit it with water”, but from what we have discussed here, with an indirect attack it is not water putting out the fire but steam.

In the indirect attack, production of steam and related effects on oxygen concentration result in fire control, but not necessarily extinguishment. Consider the potential outcome if you used an indirect attack on a fire in a building an did not follow up with direct attack and thorough overhaul. Likely a return visit to the same building some time later for a rekindle. In the end, when dealing with Class A fuels typically found in buildings, it is necessary to put water on fuel that is burning.

When Nelson and Royer were doing their research on the Iowa Rate of Flow, did they use a combination attack or did they use and indirect attack and then develop the combination attack after their experiments?

The combination attack was developed during their experiments. Initial application of water was done using an indirect attack (similar to that described by Lloyd Layman in Attacking an Extinguishing Interior Fires (1955). The Iowa State Story: The Iowa Rate of Flow Formula and Other Contributions of Floyd W. (Bill) Nelson and Keith Royer to the Fire Service – 1951 to 1988 (Wiesman, J., 1998) provides an excellent overview of Nelson’s and Royer’s work (but their discussion of fire behavior is inconsistent with current theory and terminology). While out of print it is available (used) through Amazon and a number of other used book outlets.

There are many departments that will flow a straight steam ahead of them across the ceiling to cool the room as they make their way to the fire. I have read that this would be considered surface cooling and not gas cooling because a straight stream will pass right through the gas layer without cooling it and only cool the ceiling, upper wall and floor surfaces as the stream bounces off the ceiling and land on the floor. I have a few questions about this.

When straight stream from a combination nozzle or a stream from a solid bore nozzle deflects off the ceiling, does the stream get broken up enough that the droplets become reduced in size enough that they will cool the hot gas layer on the way down to the floor or are they still too large and therefore pass right through the hot gas layer without cooling it?

There is some cooling, but it is less efficient than when a fog pattern is used as the large droplets will be more difficult to vaporize. If temperature is extremely high, some cooling will occur as even large droplets may be vaporized. If the stream can reach the seat of the fire, this inefficiency may be less significant as the fire will likely be controlled by the direct element of the combination attack. When faced with hot gases or flaming combustion overhead with a fire that is shielded from direct attack, cooling the gases with pulsed water fog will be considerably more effective and efficient than use of a solid or straight stream.

When the stream cools the ceiling and upper walls are the ceiling and walls now able to absorb more heat from the upper gas layer ( so this actually would be gas cooling) and if so how effective is it at cooling these gases (how much heat can these cooled surfaces now absorb from the hot gas layer)?

As discussed in my last post, gypsum board (a typical compartment lining material) which has a specific heat of 1.017 kJ/kg (Manzello, Park, Mizukami, & Bentz, 2008). This is one quarter the specific heat of water and half the specific heat of steam. So the indirect cooling effect of removing energy from compartment linings is quite inefficient at cooling the fire environment.

Once you have created steam from applying water to the ceiling and upper walls—-does that steam not now effectively cool the gases? I know you need smaller droplets suspended in the gases to absorb heat from the upper gas layer and steam would certainly meet that criteria.

The specific heat of steam is 2.0 kJ/kg  as compared to the combined theoretical cooling capacity of 2.6 MJ/kg when water is heated from 20o C to 100o C and vaporized into steam. While steam will cool the hot gases until they reach thermal equilibrium, but to a lesser extent than water fog applied into the hot upper layer.

Stefan Svensson mentioned in his comments that “sometimes fog nozzles are the best way to apply water to fire and sometimes it’s straight streams”. You often hear blanket statements being made about straight streams producing less steam and only fog streams can cool the gas layer. I was wondering if you could expand on the misconceptions and highlight some of the better practices we need to know about using the different streams from a more scientific point of view? When approaching a fire are we better to use both straight and fog patterns to cool the room as we make our way to find the base of the fire?

In a conversation with John Wiseman, Keith Royer stated that “there is not just one tool that will solve all fire problems”. The perspective that there is only one way to approach structural firefighting is dogmatic. Dogma is a point of view or tenet put forth as authoritative without adequate grounds. The simplest answer to your question is that when cooling gases, a fog pattern is more effective and when applying water to surfaces, the pattern selected may depend on the distance from the surface. When far away and the stream must be applied through a hot atmosphere, a solid or straight stream will likely be most effective, when close, a straight stream or fog pattern may be equally effective.

A question unrelated to this discussion but I am sure you can help me with. I am sure you are quite aware (or involved with) that excellent video called “kill the flashover” that shows the effects of closing a door. I know that the temperature stops increasing due to the lack of oxygen for heat release. But,  not only does the temperature not increase but it actually quickly decreases. This decrease is due to the fact that the walls and ceiling are absorbing the heat causing it to drastically reduce so my question is this; if that fire was allowed to burn for long enough that the walls could no longer hold any more heat, then the door was closed, would the temperature drop have been less and would it have lowered more slowly?

The reason the temperature dropped so quickly was not due to the absorption of energy by compartment linings, but by reduction of heat release rate (HRR) due to consumption of oxygen within the compartment. So, it would not make a significant difference if the fire had been burning longer. The higher the HRR, the more quickly you would see an impact. This also influences the visible fire behavior indicators (smoke and air track) on the exterior. As demonstrated in the UL ventilation experiments and previous work by NIST, visible smoke and air track indicators decrease dramatically as the fire becomes ventilation controlled due to a reduction in temperature (and resulting reduction in pressure inside the building).

Thanks for the great questions, let’s keep the discussion going! The next set of questions comes from Garland TX regarding “Flashover Training”. A bit of controversy here in a number of areas!


Layman, L. (1955) Attacking and extinguishing interior fires. Boston: National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

Wiesman, J. (1998).The Iowa state story: The Iowa rate of flow formula and other contributions of Floyd W. (Bill) Nelson and Keith Royer to the fire Service – 1951 to 1988. Stillwater, OK: Fire Protection Publications.

Fire Attack Methods: A Few Questions

Saturday, March 23rd, 2013

As I was beginning work on a post focusing on fire attack methods and fire stream effectiveness, I received an e-mail from Captain Mike Sullivan with the Mississauga Ontario Fire Department asking for help in clarifying indirect and combination fire attack methods and their impact on the fire environment.

fire attack questions

Mike is particularly interested in how to explain the method of extinguishment in the various methods of fire attack discussed in the International Fire Service Training Association (IFSTA) Essentials of Firefighting.

As Mike’s current perspectives and explanation of the methods of fire attack are quite good, they serve as a good starting point for our examination of this topic:

 Direct Attack: This is fairly straight forward; water is applied directly to the burning fuel to cool it to the point where there is no longer pyrolysis (below its ignition temperature).

 As Mike explains, the concept and mechanism of direct attack application of water to burning fuel to cool it. However, it is important to remember that combustion does not necessarily cease when flaming combustion is no longer visible, surface combustion can continue unless sufficient cooling is accomplished to not only extinguish flaming and surface combustion, but also to cool the fuel to the point where it is no longer pyrolizing.

 Indirect Attack: Here is how I would like to explain it. This is used when the seat of the fire cannot be readily accessed. Water is applied from the exterior of a very hot compartment (1000 degrees [F]+ at the ceiling) with limited ventilation. The goal is to create as much steam as possible. To do so you can begin with a fog stream since it is the most effective at cooling therefore creates more steam. The fog stream should be directed at the ceiling where it is hottest. Due to the fact that the stream has limited reach you will then want to narrow your stream eventually using straight stream. The idea is to reach as much of the room as possible. When a straight stream hits the superheated walls and ceilings it will also create a huge amount of steam as it cools the surfaces (most people don’t consider that a straight stream can create a lot of steam). The goal is to do this very quickly then close the door or window and let the steam do its work. There is one main question I was hoping you could help me with here since I have read different theories. What is the main mechanism of extinguishment here, does the steam continue to absorb heat to cool the room down and extinguish the fire or is there so much steam created that it excludes the oxygen therefore smothering and not cooling the fire (I realize both are actually happening), basically does this technique mainly cool or smother the fire.

 This is a complex question in need of a simple answer. The simplest answer is that the primary method of extinguishment is cooling. The complexity is in that the cooling is accomplished by several mechanisms. First, water heated from 20o C to 100o C and vaporized into steam absorbs a tremendous amount of energy based on its specific heat (energy required to raise the temperature of a specific mass of water by one degree) and latent heat of vaporization (energy required to change a substance from liquid to gas phase with no increase in temperature).

Water has a specific heat of 4.2 kJ/kg and a latent heat of vaporization of 2260 kJ/kg. Heating a single kilogram of water from 20o C to 100o C and vaporized it into steam, requires 2.6 MJ of energy. In addition (and contrary to common belief in the fire service) steam produced in an environment above 100o C continues to absorb energy and increase in temperature until the temperature of the steam and the surrounding environment is equalized. Steam has a specific heat of 2.0 kJ/kg. This compares to the specific heat of smoke of approximately 1.0 kJ/kg (Särdqvist, 2002) and gypsum board (a typical compartment lining material) which has a specific heat of 1.017 kJ/kg (Manzello, Park, Mizukami, & Bentz, 2008). Water converted to steam in an indirect attack absorbs a tremendous amount of energy and the steam continues to absorb energy as the temperature in the compartment moves towards equilibrium. As with gas cooling or direct attack, some of the water is vaporized in the hot upper layer and some is vaporized in contact with hot surfaces (compartment linings, burning fuel, etc.). As the specific heat of smoke and compartment lining materials are lower than the specific heat of water (as a liquid or steam) and considerably lower than the latent heat of vaporization of water, the temperature of the smoke and compartment linings will drop to a greater extent than the temperature of the steam will increase (for a more detailed discussion of the cooling effects of water along with a bit of math, see Gas Cooling Parts 1-5).

Steam produced in and enclosed space also reduces oxygen concentration. As oxygen is required for release of energy from fuel, this can also be considered an extinguishing method. Reduction in oxygen concentration results in decreased heat release rate (HRR), which correspondingly results in a decrease in temperature. So in reality it is all about cooling (largely accomplished by vaporization of water into steam along with reduction of oxygen concentration).

 Combination Attack: We seem to have a real problem with this one. When I ask for an explanation of this technique I usually get “T”, “O”, and “Z” pattern as an answer. As a matter of fact a neighbouring fire department has these 3 letters painted on their walls to practice the pattern, again we are dealing more with technique instead of method of extinguishment. My explanation is that these patterns are merely a way of creating steam by cooling all surfaces in the room as well as allowing the water land on the burning fuel to cool it. What is the main mechanism of extinguishment here is it the creation of steam (and again what is the steam doing, cooling or smothering) or is it the water on the fuel cooling it. Also, would you recommend using a fog stream to create steam as it cools the gases and nearby surfaces then switch to a straight stream to create steam as it hits more distant surfaces (walls ceilings).

 The combination attack is intended to both cool the hot upper layer and apply water to burning fuel (less so to cool compartment linings, although this is accomplished as well). The term “combination” refers to the combination of direct and indirect attack. As indirect attack is not applied in an occupied compartment due to steam production (on contact with compartment linings), it is critical ventilation be provided in front of and closely coordinated with fire attack. As with the other methods of fire attack, the principle method is cooling.

As to your second question regarding use of a fog stream to create steam as it cools the gases and nearby surfaces and then switch to a straight stream to cool more distance surfaces. A combination attack may be done with a narrow fog pattern, straight stream, or solid stream. Reach in this case is a good thing. Cooling of hot gases overhead (with a little cooling of compartment linings) is the basic concept used in gas cooling. This technique is most commonly used to control the fire environment when the fire is shielded from direct attack and is not an extinguishing method. This approach does not result in an increased volume of steam and smoke and related lowering of the upper layer. In fact if approximately 35% or more of the water is vaporized in the upper layer, the total volume will be reduced (see Gas Cooling Parts 1-5 for a more detailed explanation of why). This technique can be effectively combined with direct attack on burning fuel and painting of compartment linings to lower their temperature. Painting is a gentle application of water to cool without excess steam production.

I believe that the Fire Streams and Fire Control Chapters in the 6th Edition of the International Fire Service Training Association (IFSTA) Essentials of Firefighting provide a more clear discussion of fire attack methods inclusive of direct, indirect, combination, and the technique of gas cooling.


International Fire Service Training Association (IFSTA). (2013). Essentials of firefighting (6th ed). Stillwater, OK: Fire Protection Publications.

Manzello, S., Park¸S, Mizukami, T., & Bentz, D. (2008) Measurement of thermal properties of gypsum board at elevated temperatures. Retrieved March 23, 2013 from

Särdqvist, S. (2002) Water and other extinguishing agents. Karlstad, Sweden: Räddnings Verket

Upcoming Events

April 19-20, 2013 – Seminar and Workshop on Practical Fire Dynamics & 3D Firefighting in Winkler, MB

April 23-27, 2013 – Wind Driven Fires in Private Dwellings at Fire Department Instructors Conference, Indianapolis, IN

May 25-26, 2013 – Compartment Fire Behavior Training Workshop at the British Columbia Training Officers Conference, Penticton, BC


Influence of Ventilation in Residential Structures: Tactical Implications Part 2

Saturday, June 18th, 2011

Is making entry with a hoseline for fire attack, ventilation? Is entering through a doorway when conducting search, ventilation? While many firefighters do not think about ventilation when performing these basic fireground tasks, the answer is a resounding yes!

Making Entry is Ventilation

While the Essentials of Firefighting (IFSTA, 2008) defines ventilation as “the systematic removal of heated air, smoke, and fire gases from a burning building and replacing them with cooler air” [emphasis added] (p. 541), the main focus of most ventilation training is on the exhaust opening. In discussing compartment fire development, the 6th Edition of Essentials (IFSTA, 2008) includes a discussion of the concept of fuel and ventilation controlled burning regimes. In addition, the section of the text addressing the positive effects of ventilation such as reducing potential for flashover and backdraft, Essentials (IFSTA, 2008) cautions that increasing ventilation to ventilation limited fires may result in rapid fire progression. However, these concepts were not included in earlier additions and the connection between openings made for the purpose of ventilation and openings made for other reasons is often overlooked.

Ventilation versus Tactical Ventilation

Despite the definitions given in fire service text that describe ventilation in terms of actions taken by firefighters, ventilation is simply the exchange of the atmosphere inside a building with that which is outside. Normal air exchange between the interior and exterior of a building is expressed as the number of complete air exchanges (by volume) per hour and varies depending on the purpose and function of the space. In residential structures, the air in the building is completely exchanged approximately four times per hour. In commercial and industrial buildings this rate may be significantly higher, depending on use. When firefighters arrive to find smoke issuing from a building, ventilation is occurring and when firefighters open a door to make entry, the ventilation profile changes as ventilation has been increased. Remember:

  • If smoke exits the opening (air is entering somewhere else) ventilation is occurring.
  • If air enters the opening (smoke is exiting somewhere else), ventilation is occurring.
  • If smoke exits and air enters the opening ventilation is occurring.

The entry point is a ventilation opening and if the fire is ventilation controlled, any ventilation opening will increase heat release rate (HRR)!

Ventilation Controlled Fires

As discussed in Influence of Ventilation in Residential Structures: Tactical Implications Part 1 [LINK], compartment fires that have progressed beyond the incipient stage are likely to be ventilation controlled when the fire department arrives. Firefighters and fire officers must recognize the potential for a rapid increase in HRR when additional atmospheric oxygen is provided to ventilation controlled fires. This is particularly important when considering door entry and door control during fire attack, search, and other interior operations. The Underwriters Laboratories (UL) research project Impact of Ventilation on Fire Behavior in Legacy and Contemporary Residential Construction (Kerber, 2011) examined fire behavior in a small, single-story, wood frame house and a larger, two-story, wood frame house (see Figures 1 & 2) Figure 1. Single-Story Legacy Dwelling

Figure 2. Two-Story Contemporary Dwelling

Each of the fires in these experiments occurred in the living room (one-story house) or family room (two-story house). While the fuel load was essentially the same, the family room had a much greater volume as it had a common cathedral ceiling with an atrium just inside the front door. Experiments one and two examined fire behavior in each of these structures with the front door being opened at the simulated time of arrival of the fire department. Figure 3 illustrates the changes in temperature during UL Experiment 1 (Single Story-Door as Vent Opening) and Experiment 2 (Two-Story-Door as Vent Opening). Figure 3. Living/Family Room Temperature Curves-Door as Ventilation Opening

As illustrated in Figure 3, temperature conditions changed dramatically and became untenable shortly after the front door was opened. In the one-story experiment (Experiment 1) temperature:

  • Was 180 °C (360 °F) at ventilation (480 s),
  • Exceeded the firefighter tenability threshold of 260 °C (500 °F) at 550 s
  • Reached 600 °C (1110 °F) at 650 s and transitioned through flashover to a fully developed fire in the living room

In the two-story experiment (Experiment 2) temperature:

  • Was 220 °C (430 °F) at ventilation (600 s)
  • Exceeded the firefighter tenability threshold of 260 °C (500 °F) at 680 s
  • Reached 600 °C (1110 °F) at 780 s and transitioned through flashover to a fully developed fire in the family room

When the door is opened the clock is ticking! HRR will increase and the tenability within the fire compartment and adjacent spaces will quickly deteriorate unless water can be applied to control the fire. Keeping the door closed until ready to make entry delays starting the clock. Closing the door after entry (leaving room for passage of your hoseline) slows fire development and buys valuable time to control the fire environment, locate the fire, and achieve fire control.

Just as in the UL experiments on the influence of ventilation in residential structures, heat release rate will increase and fire conditions can change dramatically when a door is opened for access and entry.

In 2008, two firefighters from the Riverdale Volunteer Fire Department in Prince Georges County Maryland recently were surprised by a flashover in a small, single family dwelling. In the first photo, firefighters from Engine 813 and Truck 807 prepare to make entry. Note that the front door is closed, the glass of the slider and windows are darkened, and smoke can be observed in the lower area of the front porch. Six seconds later it appears that the front door has been opened, flames are visible through the sliding glass door, and the volume of smoke in the area of the porch has increased. However, the smoke is not thick (optically dense). Forty eight seconds later, as the crew from Truck 807 makes entry to perform horizontal ventilation the volume of smoke from the front door increases and thickens (becomes more optically dense).

Figure 4. Ventilation Induced Flashover-Door as a Ventilation Opening

Note: Photos by Probationary Firefighter Tony George, PGFD The crew from Engine 813 experienced a burst hoseline, delaying fire attack. Two minutes after the first photo, and shortly after the crew from Truck 807 made entry, flashover occurred. For additional information on this incident, see Situational Awareness is Critical.

Door Control

The issue of door control presents a similar (and related) paradox as ventilation. Ventilation is performed to improve interior tenability and to support fire control, but when presented with a ventilation controlled fire, increased air supply increases HRR and can result in worsening tenability and potential for extreme fire behavior. Firefighters often chock doors open to provide ease of hoseline deployment and an open egress path, but when the fire is ventilation controlled, this (ventilation) opening starts the clock on increased HRR and rapid fire development. It is useful to consider door control in two phases, door entry procedures and control of the door after entry.

Size-Up: Door entry begins with a focused size-up as you approach the building. Assessment of conditions is not only the incident commander or officer’s job. Each member entering the building should perform a personal size-up and predict likely conditions. When making entry, size-up becomes more closely focused on conditions observed at or near the door and includes an assessment of potential forcible entry requirements as well as B-SAHF (Building-Smoke, Air Track, Heat, and Flame) indicators. If available, a thermal imaging camera (TIC) can be useful, but remember that temperature conditions may be masked by the thermal characteristics of the building. If a thermal imaging camera is not available, application of a small amount of water to the door may indicate temperature and the level of the hot gas layer (water will vaporize on contact with a hot door).

Size-up begins as you exit the apparatus and approach the building, but continues at the door and after you make entry!

At the door, pay close attention to air track and heat (door temperature) indicators as these can provide important clues to conditions immediately inside the building!

Prior to Entry: If the door is open, close it. If it is closed, don’t open it until you are ready. If the door is unlocked, control is generally a simple process (see Nozzle Techniques and Hose Handling: Part 3 for detailed discussion of door entry when the door is unlocked).

If the door is locked and must be forced, this adds an element of complexity to the door entry process. In selecting a forcible entry method, consider that the door must remain intact and on its hinges if you are going to maintain control of the air track at the opening.

This is fairly easy with outward opening doors. Inward opening doors present a greater challenge. A section of webbing or rope can be used to control an inward door by placing a cinch hitch around the door knob (see Figure 5). As the the door is forced, it can be pulled closed. However, if the door was not locked with a deadbolt, it may re-latch when pulled closed. Figure 5. Door Control with Web or Utility Rope

Figure 5. Door Control with Webbing or Utility Rope


Alternately, a Halligan or hook may be used to capture the door and pull it substantially closed after it is forced (see Figure 6).

Figure 6. Door Control with a Tool

If B-SAHF (Building, Smoke, Air Track, Heat, & Flame) indicators point to hazardous conditions on the other side of the door, forcible entry must be integrated with good door entry procedure to control potential hazards. After Entry: The most effective way to control the door after entry and provide ease of egress is to have a firefighter remain at the opening to control the door and feed hose to the hose team working inside (see Figure 7).

Figure 7. Door Control After Entry

Note: The Firefighter maintaining door control would be wearing complete structural firefighting clothing and breathing apparatus (this is simply an illustration of door control with a hoseline in place)!

Unfortunately, many companies do not have sufficient staff to maintain a nozzle team of two and leave another firefighter at the door. In these cases, it may be possible for the standby firefighters (two-out) to control the door for the crew working inside until additional resources are available.

Nozzle Technique & Hose Handling

Prior posts on nozzle technique and hose handling included a series of drills to develop proficiency in critical skills.

Review these nine drills and then extend your proficiency by integrating forcible entry with good door entry procedure by maintaining control of the door.

Drill 10-Door Entry-Forcing Inward Opening Doors: Many doors (particularly interior and exterior residential) open inward. In this situation forcible entry, door control, and nozzle operation must bee closely coordinated. Practicing these techniques under a variety of conditions (e.g., wall locations, compartment sizes) is critical to developing proficiency.

Drill 11-Door Entry-Forcing Outward Opening Doors: Commercial (and some interior residential doors) open outward. While less complex, Firefighters must develop skill in integration of forcible entry, door control, and nozzle technique in this situation as well.

Hose Handling and Nozzle Technique Drills 11 & 12 Instructional Plan

In both of these drills, focus on maintaining control of the door during forcible entry and limit air intake by keeping the door as closed as possible while passing the hoseline as it is advanced.


Kerber, S. (2011). Impact of ventilation on fire behavior in legacy and contemporary residential construction. Retrieved January 20, 2011

International Fire Service Training Association (IFSTA). (2008) Essentials of firefighting (6th ed.). Stillwater, OK: Fire Protection Publications.

Flow Rate and Nozzle Design

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

A number of years ago, several nozzle manufacturers developed a break apart combination nozzle (shutoff separate from the tip) with an integrated solid stream tip. This design allowed the user to adjust the pattern using the combination tip, or if desired, remove the combination tip and use the nozzle to develop a solid stream. Good idea or not? On the surface this sounds like it might be a reasonable idea. The combination tip allows adjustment of the pattern while the internal solid stream may provide improved performance in penetration to reach burning fuel surfaces. In addition, if the combination tip became clogged with debris it is also possible to remove the tip and still have the capability to develop a usable fire stream.

Used on various size handlines, internal solid stream tips are generally available in sizes ranging from 7/8” to 1-1/4”. What effect does an integrated solid stream tip have on nozzle performance when a combination tip is used? Manufacturers such as Elkhart Brass and Task Force Tips warn that the integrated smooth bore tip may restrict the flow of single flow, variable flow, or automatic combination tips.

CWIFR Nozzle Tests

Tests conducted by Firefighter Jim Huff of Central Whidbey Island Fire & Rescue (CWIFR) demonstrate the potential friction loss impact of integrated solid stream tips. CWIFR conducted flow tests using an mid-range Elkhart Phantom tip, a 1-1/2” (38 mm) ball valve, and a 1-1/2” (38 mm) ball valve with an integrated 15/16” (23.8 mm) tip. Line gages were inserted at the base of the nozzle and between the shutoff and the tip. Nozzle inlet pressure was adjusted to maintain the designed nozzle pressure of 100 psi (690 kPa) at the tip and pressure measurements were made at each of the nozzles flow settings of 30, 95, 125, 150, and 200 gpm (114, 360, 473, 658, and 757 lpm).

As illustrated in Figure 1, the ball valve without the integrated tip had limited impact on tip pressure.

Figure 1. Full Flow Ball Valve

However, the results obtained when using a 1-1/2” (38 mm) ball valve with an integrated 15/16” (23.8 mm)solid stream tip were dramatically different. As illustrated in Figure 2, a considerably higher inlet pressure was required to provide the designed operating pressure of 100 psi (690 kPa) at the tip.

Figure 2. Ball Valve with a Solid Stream Tip

When equipped with an integrated solid stream tip, the friction loss in the nozzle shutoff is significantly impacted by tip size (the smaller the tip, the greater the friction loss at a given flow rate).

This is My Nozzle

As stated in My Nozzle:

This is my nozzle, there are many like it but this one is mine. My nozzle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I master my life. Without me it is useless, without my nozzle I am useless.

I will use my nozzle effectively and efficiently to put water where it is needed. I will learn its weaknesses, its strengths, its parts, and its care. I will guard it against damage, keep it clean and ready. This I swear.

It is essential that firefighters, apparatus operators, and fire officers have an in-depth knowledge of their tools. A handline nozzle is your primary firefighting weapon in offensive firefighting operations, develop your nozzle knowledge and master this important tool.

Ed Hartin, MS, EFO, MIFireE, CFO

Gas Cooling: Part 3

Sunday, September 5th, 2010

The first post in this series, Gas Cooling, began the process of providing a conceptual explanation of the fire control technique of gas cooling. As previously discussed, gas cooling reduces the hazards presented by the upper layer in a compartment fire by cooling hot gases and reducing the potential that they will ignite. Water is an effective fire control agent for this purpose because a tremendous amount of energy is required to raise its temperature and vaporize it at its boiling point.

Gas Cooling: Part 2 identified the amount of water that is theoretically necessary to cool the upper layer of a compartment containing 40 m3 (4 m wide  x 5 m long x 2 m deep) from 500o C (932o F) to 100o C (212o F). In addition, this post identified practical limitations with the efficiency of typical combination nozzles used and determined the duration of application necessary to cool the upper layer to 100o C (212o F) at different flow rates.

This raises the question, what would happen if you didn’t apply sufficient water to cool the upper layer to 100o C (212o F)?

What If?

Steam continues to absorb energy if its temperature is increased above 100o C (212o F). Some firefighters are under the impression that you cannot have steam at a temperature above 100o C (212o F) at normal atmospheric pressure. This is incorrect. Water (in liquid form) will not increase above 100o C (212o F) as this is it’s boiling point at normal atmospheric pressure, but steam acts as any other substance in the gaseous form and can increase in temperature beyond that which it changed phase from liquid to gas.

Figure 1. Properties of Water, Steam, & Smoke

Properties of Water, Steam, and Smoke

1 100 kg/M3 =1 kg/l

2 Not applicable as smoke and steam are in the gas phase

3 TCC is based on heating water from 20o C to 100o C and conversion to steam

4 Steam will continue to absorb energy until reaching temperature equilibrium

As illustrated in Figure 1, a kilogram of steam (slightly under 1.69 m3 at 100o C) will absorb 2.0 kJ of energy for each oC that the temperature of the steam is increased. The temperature of steam will continue to increase as long as the surrounding gases and/or surfaces that it is in contact with are of higher temperature. This process will continue until the steam, gases, and surfaces that the steam is in contact with reach equilibrium (i.e., the same temperature).

So even if insufficient water is applied to lower the temperature of the upper layer to 100o C (as described in Gas Cooling: Part 2 [LINK]), the combined effects of heating and vaporizing the water (the major cooling mechanism) and heating the steam produced to a temperature higher than 100o C (212o F), can have a significant cooling effect. This effect is often sufficient to extinguish flames in the upper layer and slow or reduce pyrolysis caused by heating of fuel packages due to radiative and conductive heat transfer from the flames and hot gases in the upper layer.

Gas Laws

When water as a liquid is vaporized to form steam, it expands and becomes less dense. Fire service texts such as the 5th Edition of the Essentials of Firefighting (IFSTA, 2008) commonly state that the volume of water expands 1700 times when it is converted to steam at 100o C (212o F). These texts state this as a fact to be memorized, but do not explain why this is the case or that if temperature is increased further, that the volume of steam will continue to expand. While having a number of different characteristics as illustrated in Figure 1, steam and smoke are both in the gas phase, they behave somewhat similarly. In chemistry and physics, the behavior of gases is described by a number of physical laws collectively described as the gas laws. Understanding the gas laws provides an explanation of why smoke and the steam produced during firefighting operations behave the way in which they do.

While gases have different characteristics and properties, behavior of gases can be described in general terms using the ideal gas law. This physical law describes the relationship between absolute temperature, volume, and pressure of a given amount of an ideal gas.

Figure 2. Temperature, Volume, Pressure & Amount

The concept of an ideal gas is based on the following assumptions:

  • Gases consist of molecules in random motion
  • The volume of the molecules is negligible in comparison to the total volume occupied by the gas
  • Intermolecular forces (i.e., attractive forces between molecules) are negligible
  • Pressure is the result of gas molecules colliding with the walls of its container

The ideal gas law is actually a synthesis of several other physical laws that each describes a single characteristic of the behavior of gases in a closed system (enclosed in some type of container). Of these gas laws, Charles’s Law provides the simplest explanation of the phenomena that occur during gas cooling.

Charles’s Law: In the 1780s, French scientist Jacques Charles studied the effect of temperature on a sample of gas at a constant pressure. Charles found that as the gas was heated, the volume increased. As the gas was cooled, the volume decreased. This finding gave rise to Charles’s Law which states that at a constant pressure the volume of a given amount (mass or number of molecules) of an ideal gas increases or decreases in direct proportion with its absolute (thermodynamic) temperature. The symbol  is used to express a proportional relationship (much the same as = is used to express equality), so this relationship can be expressed as:




When two values (such as volume and temperature in Charles’s Law) are proportional, one is a consistent multiple of the other. For example If one value was consistently eight times the other, the values would also be proportional. In the case of Charles’s Law when the absolute temperature of a gas doubles, the pressure doubles. Figure 3 illustrates the relationship between absolute temperature in Kelvins (K) and volume in cubic millimeters (mm3).

Figure 3. Charles’s Law

This relationship can also be stated using the following equation:




Subscript of 1 refers to initial conditions

Subscript of 2 refers to final conditions

It is important to remember that absolute temperature is measured in Kelvins (K), not degrees Celsius or Fahrenheit, because the Kelvin scale places the zero point at absolute zero, so that doubling the temperature in K, is actually doubling the temperature. As illustrated in Figure 4, the same does not hold true when using the Celsius scale (the Fahrenheit scale presents the same problem).

Figure 4. Absolute Temperature

Application of Charles’s Law provides a simple approach to examining the question of why application of water into the upper layer does not necessarily result in an increase to upper layer volume (by adding steam) and increasing its thickness (with the bottom of the layer moving closer to the floor). This requires the assumption that while the higher temperature inside the fire compartment results in increased pressure, this increase is fairly small and does not have an appreciable outcome on volume changes during gas cooling.

As a first step in answering the question, consider what is known at this point (as illustrated in Figure 5):

  • The initial volume of the upper layer (Vu1) is 40 m3.
  • The initial temperature of the upper layer (Tu1) is 500o C (932o F)
  • The ending temperature of the upper layer (Tu2) is 100o C (212o F)

The answer we are in search of is the ending volume of the upper layer (Vu2), the volume of fire gases (Vfg) plus the volume of steam produced (Vst) during application of water for gas cooling.

Figure 5. Compartment Temperature and Volume

Expanding Steam

As discussed in Gas Cooling: Part 2 [LINK], 4.35 kg (4.35 l) of water must be vaporized in the upper layer in order to lower the temperature to 100o C (212o F). The volume of water in liters must be converted to cubic meters (the same units of measure used for the volume of the compartment and upper layer). A liter is 0.001 m3, so 4.35 l equals 0.00435 m3. For now, we will accept that conversion of water to steam results in a 1700:1 expansion ratio (a later post in this series will explain why). With an expansion ratio of 1700:1, 0.00435 m3 of water expands to 7.395 m3 of steam at 100o C (212o F) (see Figure 6)

Figure 6. Expansion of Steam at 100o F

Figure 7 illustrates the volume of steam produced when 4.35 l of water is vaporized in the upper layer of the example compartment relative to the initial volume of the upper layer.

Figure 7. Steam Expansion in a Compartment

Contracting Upper Layer

Why doesn’t the 7.397 m3 of steam that results from vaporization of the 4.35 liters of water applied for gas cooling simply increase the volume of the upper layer by 7.397 m3? Charles’s law provides the key. Charles’s Law indicates that as a gas is heated its volume will increase in direct proportion to the increase in its absolute temperature. However, the reverse is also true. The volume of a gas will decrease in direct proportion to the decrease in its absolute temperature.

Cooling the upper layer from 500o C (932o F) to 100o C (212o F) results in a 52% decrease in absolute temperature from 773 K to 373 K. The volume of the upper layer which was initially 40 m3 is reduced in direct proportion to the reduction in absolute temperature.

The volume of the upper layer (fire gases) after cooling from 500o C (932o F) to 100o C (212o F) can be calculated by solving for Vu2:

Reduction in temperature from 500o C (932o F) to 100o C (212o F) results in reduction of the volume of fire gases from 40m3 to 19.3 m3 as illustrated in Figure 8.

Figure 8. Contraction of the Upper Layer

Putting it All Together

If the water applied to cool the upper layer expands to form 7.395 m3 of steam and the final volume of the cooled upper layer is 19.3 m3, the total upper layer volume is 26.95 m3.

Figure 8. Total Upper Layer Volume


Dividing the Total Upper Layer Volume (Vu2) of 26.95 m3 by the area of the compartment (20 m2) determines the depth of the upper layer as being 1.347 m. Therefore, cooling the upper layer from 500o C (932o F) to 100o (212o F) C will cause the bottom of the upper layer to rise 0.6525 m (2.1’).

The Short Answer

The following points summarize the last three posts dealing with gas cooling as a fire control technique:

  • The volume of water required to cool the upper layer is quite small due to its specific heat and latent heat of vaporization in its liquid form and the specific heat of steam.
  • The expansion ratio of steam at 100o C (212o F) is 1700:1, but as the volume of water used to cool the upper layer is small, the expanded volume is still relatively small (in comparison to the contraction of the upper layer).
  • In the process of reaching equilibrium, the temperature of the upper layer is reduced to a greater extent than the temperature of the water increases due to the cooling capacity of the water and the relatively low specific heat of fire gases and air.
  • The large temperature drop in the upper layer results in a proportional reduction in volume (which works out be greater than the increase in volume resulting from the expansion of steam from water vaporized in the hot gas layer for cooling).

Based on each of these factors, a small amount of water can cool the upper layer and reduce its volume, resulting in the lower boundary of the upper layer rising as its depth decreases.

A Few Little Wrinkles!

The preceding example may conflict with your personal experience. Many of us have been in a hot, smoke filled compartment and had steam and smoke bank down on top of us after application of water. Why might this be the case?

The outcome of the preceding example depends on all of the water being vaporized while traveling through the upper layer. In this case, energy to vaporize the water is transferred from the hot gases in the upper layer, cooling the layer and causing it to contract. If the water passes through the upper layer without vaporizing, the temperature of the upper layer is not reduced and it does not contract. Water vaporizing on contact with hot compartment linings results in the steam produced being added to the volume of the upper layer. This steam cools the upper layer to some degree, but far less than using the energy of the hot gases to vaporize the water as it passes through the upper layer (compare the specific heat of steam to the specific heat and latent heat of vaporization of water in Figure 1).

When applying water fog into the upper layer, some of the water vaporizes as it travels through the hot gases and some reaches the compartment linings. Determining changes in the volume of the upper layer under these conditions is a bit more complex and requires a deeper examination of the gas laws.

Continuing the Discussion

The next post in this series will examine the other gas laws that lead to the development to the Ideal Gas Law and how this law can be used to answer questions about changes in upper layer volume as a result of gas cooling under a variety of different conditions.

Spanish Translation of Effective and Efficient Fire Streams

Thanks to Firefighters Tomá Ricci and Martín Comesaña from San Martín de Los Andes, Argentina for translating the series of posts on Fire Stream Effectiveness and Efficiency into Spanish. They can be downloaded in PDF format:

Ed Hartin, MS, EFO, MIFireE, CFO


International Fire Service Training Association (IFSTA). (2008). Essentials of firefighting (5th ed). Stillwater, OK: Fire Protection Publications.