The Texas State Fire Marshal’s Office released their investigative report on the house fire that killed Houston Fire Department Captain James Arthur Harlow, Sr. and Firefighter Damion Jon Hobbs on 12 April 2009. The details of the report reveal a pattern of department errors compounded by the effects of wind on fire behavior. The report reveals individual and collective problems that are not unique to this one fatal fire. (more…)
Archives for strategy-reconsidered
Three universal fireground considerations from actual incidents
Alabama: “In some cases, firefighters would climb through a room’s window and have to exit in the same matter because they could not advance to other rooms, Huffman said.”
Illinois: “When they were able to begin their search of the home, firefighters, including some who were able to force their way in the front door, found the man under about 3 feet of debris in the home’s living room, about 10 feet from the front door, Janetske said.”
I just recently finished reading “Lone Survivor” by Marcus Luttrell. In this book Luttrell paints a horrific picture of death and survival for a United States Navy SEAL recon team. Luttrell, the lone survivor, discusses tough decisions that were made and their consequences. (more…)
The second part of the NIST Wind Driven Fire Conditions reports has been released. This part details the experiments and results from the Governor’s Island tests. The lengthy report is a must read for those who desire to better understand not just high rise firefighting, but positive pressure ventilation as well. We should also be aware that as recently as Sunday in Loudoun County (VA) and last month in Houston, the impact that wind conditions have on private dwellings as well. To encourage you to read this report, excerpts from the second part are below.
“Each of the 14 experiments started with a fire in a furnished room. The air flow for 12 of the 14 experiments was intensified by a natural or mechanical wind. Each of the tools was evaluated individually as well and in conjunction with each other to assess the benefit to fire fighters, as well as occupants in the structure. The data collected used to examine the impact of the PPV fans, WCDs, and the exterior water application tactics were temperature, differential pressure,and gas velocity inside the structure. Each of the experiments was documented with video and thermal imaging cameras. These experiments also captured video of specific fire phenomena that are not typically observable on the fire ground.”
“All of the fires were ignited in furnished rooms of an apartment. Due to excess fuel pyrolysis/generation (lack of ventilation) the room of fire origin could not transition to flashover until windows self-vented and introduced additional fresh air with oxygen to burn. Without a wind imposed on the vented window, the fire did not spread from the room of origin and never left the apartment of origin. Even with no externally applied wind, creating a flow path from the outside, through the fire apartment into the corridor and up the stairs to the open bulkhead on the roof increased the temperatures and velocities in the corridors and in the stairwell resulting in hazardous conditions for fire fighters and untenable conditions for occupants on the fire floor and above in the stairwell.”
“With an imposed wind of 9 m/s to 11 m/s (20 mph to 25 mph) and a flow path through the fire floor and exiting out of the bulkhead door on the roof, temperatures in excess of 400 ºC (752 ºF) and velocities on the order of 10 m/s (22 mph) were measured in the corridor and stairwell above the fire floor. These extreme thermal conditions are not tenable, even for a firefighter in full protective gear.”
“If the fire has vented a window, important information can be gained by observing the behavior of the flame at the window. If the fire apartment has a high pressure relative to the outside due to an imposed wind, the flame will “pulse” out of the window to balance the overpressure. If the flames are being forced out of the window a flow path has been established through the building and the flow direction maybe favorable to interior fire fighting. If the flames are pulsing or being forced into the window, condition may not be favorable to interior firefighting and caution should be used on the approach to the fire floor. Even if flames are being forced out of adjacent windows in the fire apartment with a high amount of energy, there could still be sufficient energy flows on the fire floor to create a hazard for firefighters.”
“Door control is the most basic means to interrupt or control the flow path in the building. The fire floor stair door should be checked for heat or hot gases flowing around the edges. The door should only be opened a few inches at first to look for rapid changes in smoke volume or velocity and/or thermal conditions. If the thermal environment changes quickly, close the door to interrupt the flowpath. In a smoke filled environment, visual changes to conditions may not be apparent with out a thermal imager. A similar approach would be used on the door to the fire apartment.”
“In these experiments, the externally applied water streams were implemented in different ways; a fog stream inserted into the fire room window, a fog stream flowed from the floor below into the fire room window opening, and a solid water stream flowed from the floor below into the fire room window opening. In all cases, the water flows suppressed the fires, thereby causing reductions in temperature in the corridor and the stairwell of at least 50 %. The water flow rates used in these experiments were between 125 gpm and 200 gpm, demonstrating that a relatively small amount of water applied directly to the burning fuels can have a significant impact.”
“Another factor Norman  identifies is that the fire does not have to be 20 stories or more above ground for wind to be a factor. Table 1.1-1 demonstrates that these FDNY wind driven fire incidents have occurred as low as the 3rd story above ground. NFPA data shows that the majority of fires in high rise buildings occur below the 7th floor .”
“Every experiment began with all of the doors and windows closed with the exception of the door to the furnished bedrooms and the main entrance door from the public corridor to the fire apartment. After ignition, the fire was allowed to grow until it failed the windows in the room or became ventilation limited. The purpose of the experiments was to get a wind driven fire condition. Therefore when an apartment became ventilation limited because of lack of window failure additional doors were opened remotely such as the stairwell door to provide additional air for the fire to grow. In some cases, windows were manually vented to provide additional air flow.”
“Once wind driven conditions were achieved many different openings were made to simulate the operations of a fire department. These operations included opening the front lobby doors for access, entering the stairwell, opening the door from the stairwell to the fire floor, and opening the bulkhead door at the top of the stairwell. In addition to these operations each of the tools to be tested, PPV fans, Wind Control Devices and Floor Below Nozzles were deployed and evaluated.”
“Wind is a factor. As shown in these experiments, wind can significantly increase the thermal hazards of a fire in a structure. Wind conditions will vary at different elevations above the ground floor, on different sides of a building, due to the effects of surrounding structures or topography, or just changes in the wind itself. Therefore wind needs to be considered as part of the intial “size-up” of the fire conditions and continue to be monitored and reported on throughout the fire incident.”
“Smoke is Fuel. A ventilation limited (fuel rich) condition developed prior to the failure of the windows. Oxyge
n depleted combustion products, containing carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and unburned hydrocarbons, filled the rooms of the structure. Once the window failed, the fresh air provided the oxygen needed to sustain the transition through flashover, which caused a significant increase in temperature.”
“Venting does not always equal cooling. In these experiments, the cool air forced into the broken upwind window resulted in an initial period of cooling in the room of origin, typically followed by a transition to flashover, if a flow path was available.”
“Fire induced flows. Velocities within the structure exceeded 5 m/s (11 mph), just due to the fire growth and the flow path that was set-up between the window opening and the open bulkhead door on the roof.”
1. “Photos from Loudoun County: Two-alarm house fire on Sunday morning in Broadlands.” STATter911, May 2009
2. “Wind Driven Fires, Houston” Carey, April 2009
“Examining Firefighting Tactics under Wind Driven Conditions” USFA, revised May 2009
“Wind Driven Conditions – Lab Experiments” Carey, March 2009
“Breaking Down NIST’s ‘Fire Dynamics’” Carey, Firehouse.com, September 2008
“Fire Dynamics for the Fire Service” Carey, September 2008
“Wind Driven Private Dwelling Fires” Carey, June 2008
Some of the latest news developing from the early LODD investigation in Houston involves the possibility of high winds effecting the fire behavior. If so this will not be the first time we have heard of this regarding private dwellings.
“Winds may have been factor in fatal fire“
““One of the things that we’re looking at is the issue of wind-driven fire, did the wind cause the fire to accelerate?” said Tim Merinar program manager for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s (NIOSH) fatality investigation program. Merinar said Houston fire officials asked the group to delay its investigation until after services are held for the two fallen firefighters.”"
Houston Chronicle, 13 April 2009
“Wind Driven Private Dwelling Fires” Carey, June 2008
“Wind Driven Conditions – Lab Experiments” Carey, March 2009
The National Institute of Standards and Technology has released the first report from the wind driven firefighting research. “Fire Fighting Tactics Under Wind Driven Conditions: Laboratory Experiments“. Eight experiments focused on the effects of wind on fire spread and were intended to expose the public hallway to wind driven, post-flashover fire conditions. The use of wind control devices and exterior water application (high-rise nozzle) showed significant reduction of temperature in the public hall. The second report on this subject will detail the research and findings from the tests done on Governor’s Island.
For the fire service nationwide, this research carries not only significant information for approaching high-rise fires, but for approaching a change of tactics as well. We first take notice of this change a year ago when the testing on Governor’s Island was being done. Immediately the research team (firefighters, fire officers and scientists) concluded that strategies and tactics based on fifty years of firefighting may have to be reviewed and possibly changed. Likewise we learned that wind driven fires apply also to private dwellings. The construction type, fire location and extension, and weather conditions all play a part that need to be reconsidered. That ‘blow torch’ in the hall can be found on the second floor of a newly constructed McMansion just as well as on the 21st floor of an OMD. Another significant fact buried in the research data is the delivery of the data itself. Culture change in the fire service is at times impeded my misunderstood tradition. Culture also is prone to prejudices and biases. Within this research, members of the FDNY and other departments have put aside stereotypes (book-smart firefighting) in an effort to find an more effective fire attack that is less punishing. Go back to two statements made from the first wind driven fire findings:
” – maybe sometimes the tactic of sending the guy to the roof to open the bulkhead first before they go open the door to the fire room may not be the right thing”
” – about our attack strategies; send two lines down the public corridor and through the strategy and technology and NIST was able to provide the data, that really we weren’t effective at all and the only thing we were accomplishing was injuring our own members.”
If one of the largest and busiest departments in the nation can openly introduce science into its review of strategy and tactics, then we all should. The statement below sent to me from a fire officer from the Wisconsin area reinforces the need for us to drop the biases and prejudices in order to embrace the science and technology,
“I was there helping at the Chicago tests and I was amazed at NIST’s methodology; and the cooperation between skeptical Firefighters and their academic counterparts. Everyone was putting their opinions, biases, and ideologies aside during the tests and you get documents like this when that happens. I am glad that NIST is beginning to conduct seminal work that is actually going to give firefighters new methods and benchmarks (NIST’s new staffing research), rather than give manufacturers new products to push. Bunker gear and apparatus are better than ever before, sans their seat belts, so it is refreshing that firefighter methods are being born out of objective research to compliment this protection. Let’s ensure that this type of research continues.”
A good firefighter knows how, a better firefighter knows why.
In a related note, the FDNY also recognized the its members of involved in the research in this year’s administrative awards. They are: Battalion Chief Gerald Tracy; Battalion Chief George Healy; Lieutenant John Ceriello; Deputy Chief John Mooney; Battalion Chief Joseph Cunningham; Captain Thomas Yuneman Bureau of Training; Irene Sullivan, Director, Office of Grants Development; Kristin Eng, Videographer/Producer, Audio-Visual Unit. “
The above-listed FDNY members were the core
group of people who worked on the Fireproof
Multiple Dwelling Wind-Driven Fire Project. The City of New York has experienced too many injuries and fatalities to civilians and members of the Fire Department as a result of these kinds of fires. The FDNY needed a new, alternate method of extinguishing fires affected by high winds. This smoke-control research was field-tested in Toledo, Ohio, Chicago and New York City (on Governors Island). As a result of this testing, the Department started a pilot, employing positive-pressure fans, windcontrol devices and a high-rise nozzle for fire extinguishment. Scientific testing and measurement, assisted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and PolyTech University, proved the effectiveness of these tools and new approaches to firefighting. Additionally, the team developed a training DVD that covered safe operations for Fighting Wind-Driven Fires in High-Rise Multiple Dwellings and the use of this equipment. This program was funded by a federal grant through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). DHS has used this endeavor as a model on how to effectively use federal grants to solve problems. This project was highlighted at major fire conferences in Denver and Washington, DC. DHS has just awarded the Department $1.4 million to continue with the expansion of the pilot program and training. Because of the team’s constant oversight and dedication, this undertaking was a tremendous success. This project will positively affect how all fire departments operate at wind-driven fires in fireproof multiple dwelling buildings. For their unwavering commitment to research that will save the lives of Firefighters and members of the public, FDNY presents the above-listed members with the James J. Johnston Memorial Medal.
 Dan Madrzykowski, FDIC interview
 Battalion Chief George Healy, FDNY, FDIC interview
 “FDNY 2009 Administrative Medals and Awards” FDNY
“Examining Firefighting Tactics under Wind Driven Conditions” U.S. Fire Administration
“Wind Driven Private Dwelling Fires” Carey, June 2008
“Fire Dynamics for the Fire Service” Carey, September 2008
In a time when it appears that some in the fire service can no longer think for themselves without having attended the latest leadership seminar, we leave it to the backstep firefighters to remind everyone that the job still gets done, without having to text each other or use a powerpoint projector.
Jacksonville (FL) firefighters were faced with a junkyard fire on 18 February that was extending out of control and beyond their water supply capabilities. When looking at Plan A, B, C and so forth, the ingenuitive members came up with a creative plan…
“Heavy equipment operators were quickly placed into action, digging a large hole. Firefighters proceeded to fill the hole with water, creating a small reservoir.”
Read how they did it at “Jacksonville Fire Fighters Get Creative at Junkyard Fire” in Firehouse.com’s Photo Stories.
Nice work Jacksonville.
Photograph courtesy of Steve Gerbert
Relating to the Collyer Mansion article on Firehouse.com this month, there was a 2-alarm fire in the Bronx in Co-op City this week. Unless you happened to be listening to the FDNY online you would be hard pressed to find any information about this job. Fires in major cities are a dime a dozen to some in news and this one lost becoming a news story to Alex Rodriguez and a rampaging chimpanzee.
Co-op City is considered the world’s largest cooperative housing project. Located off of the New England Thruway, it is a complex of many large high-rise and townhouse dwellings. Today’s fire was Box 4482 at 100 Casals Place on the 26th floor of the 33-story occupied multiple dwelling. Six minutes into the attack Battalion 15 had Rescue 3 and Squad 61 reporting in with their high-rise blankets; a injured person coming down to EMS and one line in operation. Squad 61 deployed their blanket and a following progress report declared the fire to be knocked down with searches still in progress. Again, if you happened to be listening in, you would also know that some of the companies on both the box and the 10-75 were responding from a earlier auto extrication.
Collyer Mansion conditions in the fire apartment delayed the primary and secondary searches. The final progress report, approximately one hour since the initial dispatch, stated that the secondary search of the fire apartment was negative.
Recently, firefighters here in Prince George’s County worked a house fire that escalated to a Fire Task Force assignment due to Collyer Mansion conditions.
House fire, 4600 block Queensbury Road, Riverdale, MD
“The crew advanced the line into the basement and within 5 minutes of the Engine being on the scene the fire was knocked. Due to extension to the upper floors via the walls, and “Colliers Mansion” conditions inside, command called for a Task Force.”
Below are a number of resources regarding Collyer Mansion conditions, hoarding and pack rat living.
“Did Suburban Town Demolish Man’s Home Without Due Process?
WFLD (IL), 2009
“Task Force Helps Hoarders”
Salem News (MA) January 2009
Note: The link to the WKRC video story is down and has been replaced by WKRC with the following news story. It is a transcipt of the video report
WKRC report of Cincinnati fire involving hoarding
“Ambulance men ‘decided dying man not worth saving’”
London Time, 2008
A wrong approach to Collyer Mansion conditions.
“Cambridge reaches out to those who can’t stop hoarding”
Boston Globe, 2008
“Former Lilly chemist killed in fire”
WISH (IN), 2008
“Firefighters said it took about 30 minutes for them to find Ovelgonne and put the fire out because of all the debris in the house.”
I attended this event yesterday at NIST and was very impressed. There were many members from Montgomery, Fairfax and Prince William counties. I also saw a few of us from PG and DC and out-of-towners as well. A lot of the information presented was the prologue to the PPV research done at Governors Island. Later information involved research and testing done in two live fire training line of duty deaths (Florida and Pennsylvania) and other significant fires such as:
Vandalia Street (NY)
Cherry Road (DC)
Iowa (private dwelling), 22 December 1999
Texas (McDonald’s restaurant), 14 February 2000
The Station Nightclub
Cook County Administration Bldg., Chicago
Prince William County, VA
One of FH’s reporters was there and I saw Bobby Halton of FE there as well, so expect to see at least a blurb on the two sites at some point. I’ll be writing more about the lecture itself later. Some big things that are still in my mind a day later are:
* NIST (Kerber and Madrzykowski) is fully intent on getting this information to fire departments everywhere. As Steve said in the presentation, “think of this as a train the trainer program”. There is no copyright information on the material specifically for you to take and use and pass along. Each attendee came away with 10 discs of the specific research done in each test. You can still contact them for the information, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
* This is not written in a way that is over the head of the backstep firefighter. The information does not delve into the various formulas and equations. You are given a basic understanding to assist you in interpreting and understanding the data and results.
* This is not “slide rule firefighting” (a PG term, i.e. book smart). There were many, many engine men and truckies eagerly looking into why fires are doing what they do and what more can we learn and then actually use.
* Our basic, tried and true tactics may need to at the very least, be re-evaluated. This is not your grandfather’s fire service anymore.
* We (fire service) learn very little about fire behavior in our required training.
* “Only smoke showing”; our sizeup evaluations and reports are getting complacent and we do not even know it.
* In the various tests, thermal imaging cameras are not showing the heat in the screen (the temperature digits are shown), i.e. the “white” areas. So the viewer is misled into thinking the area is somewhat tenable. This also coincides with the post-investigation statements of “we felt a lot of heat but saw no flame.”
* TICs cannot be relied upon to reveal indications of possible floor collapse during basement fires.
* The fire service tends to zero in on single faults in construction. We need to look at the whole of the structure.
* There is a huge difference between tactics and theory. What is learned (NIST presentation) needs to be put to the test in the field.
* The fire behavior arch (the stages of growth) has changed.
* Firefighters are getting injured and killed in post-flashover fires.
Remember, this isn’t slide rule firefighting. NIST’s purposes are to recreate the conditions, gather data and test hypothesis. In the incidents above they were asked to participate by the involved departments and other organizations.
The purpose of this research is to help reduce the fatalities and injuries. They are fully aware that it still requires stretching a line and putting water on the fire.
Personally, I believe this research and later research will become this generation’s “little drops of water”.
Sadly, I also believe considering “behavior” that long before we see any new widespread adoption of new PPV tactics, we will see firefighters burned or killed because someone will, with only half the knowledge, place a PPV fan on the fire floor hallway of a high-rise or mid-rise fire and start it up as part of a poorly evaluated and planned initial attack.
If you don’t think so then look back at all the YouTube videos showing improper use of PPV at private dwellings.
More later. You can find the specific information NIST is doing online on the Fire.gov link to the left.
It is one matter to be a soldier and fly into a hostile area expecting to be shot at.
It is an entirely different matter to be a firefighter and shot at while trying to fight a fire.
The tragic death of Firefighter Ryan A. Hummert  is something that cannot be critiqued in a NIOSH report. It cannot be trained against at Firehouse Expo or FDIC. Even if you were to search for information about firefighters and shootings, you would find that the great majority of information is about responding to the shooting incident; not about being shot at during a vehicle fire. Enter “shooting” into the National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting site’s search field and you find one report where “shooting” refers to being shot at with a firearm . There is no preparation against the unknown criminal element yet to happen. It (being shot at, assaulted, etc.) makes for exciting reading as described by Dennis Smith, Harry Ahearn and other “war years” authors. It also is a means of defining the type of fire department you may be part of by defining the neighborhood you work in. The photographs of the old Mack engines with the wire mesh in the jumpseat windows, or the open cab tillers with plywood covering for protection are always interesting to look at. These are all simply reminders, informal recording of history, of a percentage of society that expresses itself in violent ways. Reading through the various stories prior and following Hummert’s murder, fire departments are once again asking themselves, “should ballistic vests be issued?” The current opinions are equally divided. First is that this was a very random act and committed while responding to a truck fire, so why would you need body armor? The second is that shootings, especially at public safety personnel (excluding law enforcement) are becoming more common and not limited to the “ghettos”. They both carry weight and we would have to look at the numbers to see if the violence is on the increase or if it just reported easier and more frequently. Departments that do want to provide body armor will now have another item on their want list to try and obtain grant money for . Either way, the best defense for now will be to expect anything and everything on every single run.
- When responding to assaults, shootings, stabbings and other violent EMS incidents, be aware of the police presence. If your department does not have a level of safe staging, then consider waiting outside of the hundred block without your emergency lights running, until you have confirmation that the police have the scene under control. Keeping the lights off doesn’t draw attention to you or confuse responding PD of the incident location.
- If you are provided with body armor, wear it. Who cares what the others think of you, and the ribbing you might get.
- Most firefighter work clothes are as dark and similar to police uniforms, especially at night. Consider wearing your helmet and your running pants, to help the shooter distinguish you from the police officers. This also helps the police officers distinguish you from a possible suspect, if you respond in street clothes.
- Wearing your helmet may also deflect a indiscriminate round. It’s better than a ball cap.
- When approaching a private dwelling or apartment, especially ones known for violence, never, never, never stand in front of the door. Stay to the side when knocking and be sure to say “Fire Department” loud and clear.
- Be very aware of who is in the apartment with you and what exactly is down that hallway. If possible, and this might not fly with most everyone, but I’ve done it and felt better, have the patient walk out to the living room, or close to the doorway. If your ambulance is running with more then three (volunteer companies mostly) then have one person stay by the door, with a radio. If you’re a two-man EMS crew, and things don’t feel “right” call for an assist. The more of you, the less likely someone will try something.
- When working shootings, even if the police are on the scene, be aware of your surroundings. Shooters have been known to return. Just like we work on the roof with our back to the ladder, work with your back to the exit. Don’t allow yourself to be in between the criminal and the police.
- Most bystanders, friends and family are going to be fueled with passion, emotion and rage, at such incidents. They will not be thinking clearly and will be trying to rush you. Try to remember it is not personal. Don’t let yourself or members get distracted and begin arguing with them. This will only fuel the fire. Keep your head about you.
- Be familiar with firearms, so that if you have to secure one on a scene quickly, you can place the safety on and empty the rounds without hurting yourself or anyone.
- Finally, when in doubt and things “don’t seem right” or it looks like a setup, then move out and make sure you call for assistance (documentation, “in preparation of litigation…”). Remember, you didn’t put the victims there. You’re responsible for you and your crew first.
Photograph of Trenton, NJ Engine 9 after being shot at while returning to quarters. Note the “Everyone Goes Home” sticker. Photograph courtesy Michael Ratcliffe/The Times
What the future might bring the fire service, regarding these repeated random acts of violence, is to consider:
- will violent acts be justification for increased staffing (“safety in numbers”) as well as augmented response assignments?
- is simply staging in a safe area enough?
- will the ‘traditional” fire service look to tactical EMS for training?
- what department will be the first to let exposures burn after being fired upon (remember MOVE in Philadelphia?) what are the resulting legal ramifications?
- will requests for body armor be reviewed along with the exisisting law enforcement capabilities in your area?
- will PPE manufacturers begin developing current roadway/safety vests incorporated with Kevlar or other body armor?
- will apparatus manfacturers play on fear and design bullet-proof features?
- can families of firefighters killed or injured by shootings and/or assaults sue the department for failing to protect the fallen if there is a history of such events happening?
- will firearm safety and use become a NFPA requirement?
Lock and load
1. “Friends, Family Remember Fallen Missouri Firefighter” Firehouse.com July 2008
2. Report Number: 08-0000080. National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System.
Event Description. The initial responding EMS Crew asked sheriff deputy “is it clear” to rear of the school shooting scene. It was a chaotic time and manpower management needs were occurring. The deputy stated “it’s clear” ushering fire rescue unit into direct line of live fire exchange. Medics were compelled to grab critically injured patients and visually triaging out dead under return fire. Personnel were able to make it off scene without injury or damage to crew. Lessons Learned. Different terms mean different things to agencies, individuals, and under different context. Local police use terms for stable/no life threat. The deputy thought fire wanted to know if it was physically clear for truck access. Priorities of known GSW victims requiring aid versus personal safety of crews continued to be in play.
3. “Fire engine is hit by bullet during ride back to quarters” STATter 911 June 2008
4. “Bulletproof vests – the next PPE for firefighters?“ Jamie Thompson, Fire Rescue 1
“Recognizing this growing risk to our responders is one of the factors that led me to apply for a Fire Act Grant this year under the PPE category for ballistics vests for all of our on-duty personnel. It is a sad statement but I believe active shooter situations have become common enough that firefighters and other emergency responders should have benefit of the same bulletproof protection that our brothers and sisters in law enforcement enjoy. A bullet proof vest should be considered the same as SCBA, medical gloves, a helmet or a bunker coat; just another PPE tool.” Chief Dan Jones, Chapel Hill, NC Fire Department
Two interesting statements were made regarding firefighting strategy and tactics in May of this year. The first came during FDIC in an interview by Fire Engineering’s Bobby Halton. Chief Halton spoke with the NIST staff about the wind-driven fire experiments conducted in February of this year . NIST along with the FDNY  and PolyTechnic University  conducted experiments on the techniques used to control the wind in high-rise fires. The process, funded by a FEMA grant, collected scientific data about thermal heat transfer with the use of a large fan (simulating high-rise wind conditions) and positive pressure ventilation fans, aligned with the “routine” fire attack strategy. Throughout this year, the information gathered is being entered into computer simulations by both PolyTech and NIST to provide theories as to why some equipment and strategies are, or are not, effective . Dan Madrzykowski’s statement “maybe sometimes the tactic of sending the guy to the roof to open the bulkhead first before they go open the door to the fire room may not be the right thing” is what should cause us to follow this study in earnest, or at least be mindful of the resources available for reviewing our own strategy and tactics.
The second interesting statement is found in the NIOSH Firefighter Fatality Report of Prince William County, Virginia . In April 2007 Technician I Kyle Wilson was killed after becoming trapped in a second floor bedroom during a wind-driven fire. The converse is that this was not a high-rise fire, as we would normally think of when discussing wind-driven fires. Four times in the NIOH report the prevailing wind was referred to as having been a highly probable factor in the sudden change of fire conditions. The first recommendation in the report urges fire department SOPs “address the hazards of high wind and gusts.” According to the investigative report from Prince William County we can learn that there was a “high wind advisory in effect “; and that the high wind impact was among other attributes, “blow torch effect”. We usually are accustomed to the blow torch phrase when reading of high-rise fires, but this comes out of a two-story private dwelling. Of the recommendations from this report and others where weather is a contributing or significant factor, we may see the inclusion of weather facts as part of the information in the initial dispatch. We know it has been in use for years in the area of hazardous materials response and if we are to take anything, immediately from past high-rise fires and past wind-driven fires, we should begin to consider it within our own departments. In some instances, what will come out of recognizing the effects of wind on private dwellings, departments may reconsider where the initial line enters and where (or when) the primary search will start. The wind is not the only contributor to this fatal fire, but as begun in this piece, the wind is being noticed on a scientific and strategic standpoint by more than one particular audience. To receive a copy of “Positive Pressure Ventilation Research: Videos and Reports” from NIST, Fire.Gov, email email@example.com with your name and mailing address. Comments about this piece are welcomed. When doing so, sign your name.
Photographs courtesy FDNY, NIOSH
1. Wind Driven Fires, Governors Island, NY. Fire.Gov
2. FDNY Studies the Science of Wind-Driven High-Rise Fires, FDNY
3. Poly teams up with FDNY to fight fire with engineering, PolyTechnic University
4. FDIC interview. A practice turned myth, according to FDNY Battalion Chief George Healy, is “about our attack strategies; send two lines down the public corridor and through the strategy and technology and NIST was able to provide the data, that really we weren’t effective at all and the only thing we were accomplishing was injuring our own members.”
5. Ibid. FDIC interview
6. Career Fire Fighter Dies in Wind Driven Residential Structure Fire, Virginia. NIOSH May 2008
7. Ibid. See also “Brunacini, A V . Fire Command. Quincy, MA: National Fire Protection Association.” and “Dunn V (1992). Safety and survival on the fireground. Saddlebrook, NJ: Fire Engineering Books and Videos.”
8. 15474 Marsh Overlook Structure Fire Investigative Report, April 2007, page 27
10. Career Fire Fighter Dies in Wind Driven Residential Structure Fire, Virginia. NIOSH May 2008. “LT#1 and his crew along with the R10 crew were still at the front door which had slammed closed.”
11. Career Lieutenant and Career Fire Fighter Die and Four Career Fire Fighters are Seriously Injured during a Three Alarm Apartment Fire, New York. NIOSH, December 2006
“Due to the adverse weather conditions [snow], the department had increased the staffing to five firefighters and an Officer in all Engines normally staffed by four firefighters and an Officer, and to six firefighters and an Officer in all five Rescue companie
s which are normally staffed by five firefighters and an Officer. The following units responding to this incident on the first alarm had the additional fifth firefighter: Engines 42, 46, and 75, and Rescue 3.”
“The weather at the time of the incident included light snow with a temperature of 17°F and an average wind speed of 12 mph, with gusts up to 45 mph from the northwest. A blizzard leaving a snow depth of 13 inches occurred within hours preceding the incident. Weather conditions played a role in this incident with frozen hydrants, wind affecting the fire conditions, and a slightly delayed response time due to road conditions. The entire city block around the structure had not been plowed prior to the incident.” brackets and emphasis mine