Words Matter

Ryan and I had the honor of sitting in on a UL/NIST class today on Fire Dynamics Research to Tactical Solutions. We appreciate the time and effort that was put into the class and the fireground application examples that were given. These help to bridge the gap between the “Scientific Lab Stuff” and the real world fireground. But we were struck by the difference between the information the UL/NIST group is putting out and the information the International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI) is putting out. For those who do not know ISFSI was chosen to be the agency that develops the training programs to accompany the results of the testing done by UL/NIST. The message UL/NIST is putting out is NOT the message ISFSI is putting out. The fire behavior message is clear, and today it was made even more clear than it ever has been through ISFSI. The information on flowpaths was great! In reality most of us had already started using this information after the Beacon Street fire. We understand that ISFSI has an enormous challenge on their hands, translating all results into a program that can be used to effectively instill this information to the fire service as a whole. Unfortunately, we think that there is a major disconnect between the two agencies.

The message we received today was pretty clear: “decide if you are going to do an interior or exterior attack, but keep in mind these are some possible results of your actions…” Also, if your company is standing with a charged line waiting to make entry why not flow some water into the fire room? The big caveat being, which is not clarified from the ISFSI/ SLICE-RS camp, is that it should only be applied in the form of a smooth or straight stream otherwise you run the risk of pushing fire. To those who have been following the ISFSI/ SLICE-RS camp, they have always pushed for this tactic, and never acknowledged that fire can be pushed. The reality is, a properly applied straight stream or smooth bore stream, minus the circular, “Z” or “S” patterns, will actually cool the fire, and not push products of combustion. UL/NIST acknowledges that a fog stream does have this ability, and will result in a “high-temperature pressure wave,” or cause a Smoke Explosion in the area of lowest pressure within the flowpath. These two concepts alone are light years away from the points ISFSI is putting out. For example the Modern Firefighting website says: “The long-accepted concept that fire streams push fire is a myth.” That statement is either misinformed, false or an outright lie. Which is it? More to the point why would the company charged with disseminating this information allow a statement like that to make it to their website? Here at Firefighter basics we have been made aware of several fire departments around the country that have put out new SOP’s based on ISFSI/SLICE-RS. The SOP’s state “All visible fire will be extinguished from outside before entry to a structure fire is made”. There are some variations of that order. If SLICE-RS is the hands- on classroom version of the UL/NIST studies, where would a department get the idea for an SOP like that? Let alone multiple fire departments.

Some key points taken from this phenomenal conference, which are easy to adopt into one’s firefighting tool box are listed below:
• “Transitional Attack” is nothing new (we’ve been doing it for dozens of years), and is a good tactic. The main thing is… complete the transition, and get in the building.
• “Fast Water,” another tactic which isn’t new, should be widely embraced. Something we have always taught here at FF Basics is that 90% of your problems will disappear once you put the fire out. But remember, if rapid interior placement of your hoseline is delayed, you should not delay applying water to the fire, even if it is from the outside (Without fear of pushing hot products of combustion onto your victims). Studies have proven that you will cool the environment, and reduce further fire spread within the structure/ compartment.
• Rescue is still a high priority, and will always remain our highest priority. We don’t have to make it into a separate tactical objective… it will always be a major strategic objective, which is practiced at all times. This is not to be confused with the quote from the SLICE-RS camp, stating that “Rescue is a target of opportunity.” Just because an engine company is stretching a line, a search should still be conducted by all units on the fireground. Refer to our point above: Once the fire is out, 90% of your problems have been solved. Extinguishment still needs to remain a top priority, while Rescue is still being conducted. Another point to remember: “Remove the hazard from the victim, not removing the victim from the hazard.” This is a safer, and more effective technique for saving lives.
• Ventilation/ Exhausting the fire must be adequate for the heat/ fire/ fuel load of the structure. If the hole isn’t big enough, your ventilation is ineffective. Think of a wood burning stove with a fire box twice the size of the stock size, but you are still using the stock vent pipe… You will have lots of heat in the firebox, but it won’t be able to be fully vented out of the smaller diameter pipe. This will result in smoke and other products of combustion backing up and coming out of the stove, instead of the vent pipe. This same principle applies to the single family home to the large, “Big Box Stores.” If you can’t vent to the correct level needed, don’t bother even cutting the hole, it will only result in more oxygen unnecessarily getting fed to support the combustion process.
• Another misnomer that was clarified was the belief that “Venting = Cooling.” This is not the case when done by itself. Cutting the appropriate sized hole in the roof will not alone cool the space. BUT… with properly applied water, heat will be dissipated, and there will be cooling. Alone, this will only introduce more Oxygen, and dare we say it… a Flowpath… This isn’t a new concept, the idea of a coordinated attack and ventilation strategy. The science has only reinforced the need to carry this tactic out simultaneously.

Maybe someone isn’t listening, or maybe this is the real message. The lady doth protest too much, methinks

Maybe someone isn’t listening, or maybe this is the real message. The lady doth protest too much, methinks

With the manner in which ISFSI has been defending their concepts as science one would hope they would restrict deviations from that science. Instead they have been repeatedly forced to back track, make corrections or, which as is most common, accuse the person who is bringing up their concerns as being stuck in the past. The results from the UL/NIST study ARE a key role in the future of the fire service operations and fireground strategy. To allow the message to become convoluted and misinterpreted by the very group that is supposed to be doing the education is a shame, and a massive disservice to the fire service.

There wasn’t any new snakeoil sales, or “better, more modern” ways to fight a fire taught from this conference; only reinforcement of sound firefighting techniques, with science to back it up. Most of this has been taught or known for years, but has been overlooked because of new, fandangled acronyms, or people toting “better” ways to practice our craft. Aside from the obvious fact that the fires we fight today are different from the ones our predecessors fought in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, many of our tactics have not changed too vastly. One thing that has changed, is how we teach our recruits. Our predecessors were taught about fire behavior, most of our new recruits throughout the country get more training on how to put on an SCBA and turnout gear, than what a fire will do under certain conditions.

If there is one take home that we got from this program, it is to keep training, ask good questions, and dig in a little deeper into the science and behavior of a fire within the structure/ compartment. As always, stay safe, keep training, and keep it basic.


  • Dave LeBlanc says:

    Great write up and thanks for sharing.

    Challenging the stays quo should not result in accusations of dinosaurism. The conversation needs to continue, especially with all the contrary information out there.

  • Sandy Lasa says:

    This whole so called new phenomenon from NIST as been around for years. The Fire Service has gone insane over this. The only new info that has come out and been verified is that fires DO burn hotter now than before. Everything else has stayed the same. It comes down to training and mastering your craft. True training not the one you get just to check off the boxes on some paper that you received it just in case we get sued. More importantly it’s mastering your craft. It’s about truly understanding what you’re doing. The consequences of your actions at fires and how it can make or break the outcome at a building fire. It’s about understanding what you’re suppose to do, when you’re suppose to do it and more importantly why you’re doing.
    We’re labeled dinosaurs if we call this study BS. I label myself a student of the game. Even after 30+ years, I’m still always trying to sharpen my skills and master my craft. We were taught to close doors behind you when you entered a room to search because that’s your protection. Ventilation started once you knew where the fire was and once you knew the engine company was operating. So how is that different than what NIST is preaching? If you think it’s different than you fully didn’t understand you job. It has nothing to do with what some scientist comes up with at some controlled site. Again it comes down to you and only you understanding your craft

  • John Vanatta says:

    I attended the SLICE-RS class and the instructor course, and recently passed the info on to my dept. I disagree that ISFSI or the SLICE-RS program are as sloppy as implied. I walked away from the classes with an extremely clear understanding that rescue is always the priority, straight/solid streams are necessary for the exterior attack, and that quick water on fire was the priority vs “fire should be extinguished from the outside prior to entry.” Maybe I saw a better instructor, or I have read enough of the actual studies to understand them better than anyone who is putting out SOPs that don’t match what I saw from ISFSI.

    • Dave LeBlanc says:

      Just curious….why is the default response when someone disagrees with what ISFSI puts out that they have not read/studied/learned enough?

    • anchorpoint1 says:

      Thank you for your comment John. I’m happy to hear you got the message clear by attending the class, but there are an estimated 1.2 million firefighters in the USA. They are not all going to be able to attend the class. Many will learn from people like you who attended the class and bring back what they learn. Many more will learn by the online videos and information. But that is one of the places where things fall apart. I’m not going to use the same tired points that have been wasted on the cause, I’m sure you have heard them all and heard them all summarily dismissed as the grumblings of a dinosaur. But the fact remains that the ISFSI has for some reason or another strayed from the path UL/NIST/Kerber laid out.
      There must be a reason why, even now, if you go to the ISFSI or Modern Fire site you will immediately bump into contradictions which help explain where the SOP’s must have been born. The newest set of videos says you don’t have to hit the fire from the yard but you are obligated to. “If you have a charged line in your hand and do not hit the fire showing from a second floor you are deliberately exposing firefighters and victims to threat. Do the right thing” But that does not mean always hit it from the yard?
      I’m glad they finally clarified the “can’t push fire” they have been inappropriately parading around. But now they only say “Don’t use fog or whip a solid stream” They cannot give in on the push fire point and it shows.
      This video explains “Pushing fire” quite well. But it is very difficult to find. They should open with this instead of trying to hide it.

  • Jeff Wurts says:

    I just watched the five videos ISFSI put out…It was clearly shown in Big red letters ” never apply exterior water in a fog pattern.” Then they clarified and demonstrated the “acute” angle to use . I also saw that they taught the exterior stream needed to be held steady and not whipped. They also demonstrated and explained a lot of the same things you shared from the ul/ nist in a similar way.
    I want to know as an engine company officer am I missing something ? I don’t care who gets the credit for sharing the data and subsequent best practices. I just owe my crew my best. So is ISFSI jacked up or not?

  • John Vanatta says:

    I don’t know why that is the “default response”. I am not a regular ISFSI member, and I have no reason to defend or attack them as an organization. Maybe my response was poorly worded, or there is a misunderstanding.

    The instructor from my class did not mince any words-rescue is the priority, use straight/solid streams without whipping the nozzle, get water on the fire quickly regardless of inside/outside, get inside and finish, etc. If anyone from my class went back to their dept and changed their SOP to require exterior attack until the fire is out, they did not understand what was taught. I’m not saying other instructors might not teach it the same way. YMMV

    I’m not crazy about every second of the SLICE-RS videos, old or new. But I haven’t seen many training videos from anyone that are perfect. The people who make the videos have agendas, we have agendas, etc. Some are twisting them even further for their own motives. That’s where good instructors and experienced members need to chime in and point out what doesn’t fit-just like you are doing.

  • Korey Maves says:

    I completely agree with what you’re saying. Like John Vanatta, I as an instructor in Wisconsin, recently attended an 8hr Modern Fire Attack/SLICE-RS class and a 4hr Train the Trainer on the topic. It was presented by DC Forest Reeder, and he basically said everything you’ve said above. I’ve been casually observing what Kerber has been doing for a year or so now. I spent a weekend last year observing one of the UL/NIST tests, and a good friend/co-worker was on UL’s PPA panel. I’m not sure what ISFSI class/info you received, but mine seemed to be quite a bit different than yours. Everything DC Reeder said is pretty spot on with all the info that I’ve seen and heard coming from UL and NIST, and everything you stated above. He really stressed the whole “if you’re hearing X,Y,Z then you aren’t listening” concept, as well as the “this is nothing new” concept. In fact he showed us a quote from 1866 that said something to the fact of “when we show up and the door is open, close it until we are ready to go in.” Obviously I’m paraphrasing here since I don’t have the exact quote in front of me.

    From what I’ve seen, anybody saying that ISFSI is saying something different from UL and NIST isn’t listening.

  • Chris Walker says:

    I’ve attended research burns, attended UL, NIST, and ISFSI lectures, and have been reading the research since the beginning. I agree with the few assessments above. In fact- I recently watched the four new ISFSI videos and they seem to concur with what your post says. They are emphatic that rescue is our priority. The camps are not as far apart as most people portray and both parties seem to benefit from the never-ending blog drama. Our pedigree is different so we perceive the information differently. Anyone been to FDIC or Firehouse Expo? You can leave one room and enter another and hear completely different opinions on the same topic. It’s been going on since they drank coffee after feeding the horses. Our diversity is part of what makes the fire service great. Different instructor- different fire service genetics. It’s up to YOU to decide. You know your manpower, buildings, response area, and equipment better than anyone. Most of the fire service is comprised of high-functioning, intelligent, hard working men and women who are willing to risk it all and they were that way before SLICERS, DICERS, RECEOVS or NIMS.

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