Aggression Through Science

Those of you who have read my previous articles know that I am not an advocate of the SLICE-RS implementation; I have been categorized as a dinosaur for my thoughts on the topic. But one thing I have never been against is science. I do not doubt what the people at UL/FSRI do. They give firefighters information so we can better understand what we are dealing with when we arrive on scene. Our understanding of fire and the science behind it must increase over time. But giving us the information is not enough. My primary concern is that people will ignore the information because of the way it is presented. With all the players taking bits and pieces of the studies and tailoring it to their agenda of the week are we turning the science into a sideshow?

Six months ago I was transferred to my department’s training division. I volunteered to go and I have enjoyed my time teaching incumbent and recruit training. I have been a staunch proponent of interior attack when conditions favor it, rallying hard against terms like “hitting it hard from the yard.” So imagine my trepidation when I was approached to teach transitional attack to our department.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against knocking back some fire so I can go inside; this tactic has been used for years when it’s needed and to most of us is nothing new. What I am against is “hitting hard from the yard” for the sake of firefighter safety. Yes, our job is dangerous. But here’s the truth: if you look at some of the most dangerous jobs you will see that the more information you know the more aggressive you can be in mitigating the hazard. Whether we’re talking about law enforcement, the fire service, or the military, the same thing is true: the more you know about the enemy the better. A military friend once told me he studies insurgent videos so he can understand them in order to get ahead of their planning cycle. He tries every day to be an expert on his enemy and be proficient in everything he does. We need to be experts on our battlefield (building construction), our weapons (pumps, nozzles, hose, TIC’s), and the enemy (fire). Fortunately our enemy is more predictable and does not try to outthink us. But instead of taking that information and using it to perpetuate a culture of fear that promotes sayings like “hitting hard from the yard”, we should be able to be more aggressive in our actions, manage the risks, and perform our job at a higher level. But that’s not what’s being taught. Instead, the information is framed in a way that tells us, “be safe on the job” instead of teaching us how to be more effective and aggressive.

UL can give us the intel report on our enemy, but we have to be the ones who take the information, combine it with the information about our battlefield and our proficiency in our weapons, and go to work. This is where I see the disconnect. We create a disdain for transitional attack and the research info from UL because of the way people teach it. All too often, the information is paired with video footage from Line of Duty

Deaths and close calls (MOST of the videos/examples used to prove points don’t actually apply to what is being taught). In doing so, all we’re teaching is how dangerous it is to be in certain environments instead of how to recognize and mitigate the hazards. We are being oversaturated with words like “safety” when in reality most things we signed up to do aren’t safe. We are using sayings and acronyms to dumb down legitimate scientific information that will and should impact how we operate on the fireground. We are teaching it as an “offensive exterior attack” and trying to get cute with how things are worded. We are allowing sound bites from social media to over-simplify reports that consist of hundreds of pages. We’ve said it before: WORDS MATTER, and we need to make sure our firefighters realize this.

Why aren’t we teaching firefighters to use transitional attack on traditionally defensive only fires? If the numbers are correct we should be going into more fires, not less. So why isn’t this being stressed? Why are we continuing to use phrases like “hit it hard from the yard” when in reality if it’s too hot to go in we’re just knocking it down and making a push inside? We are debating whether or not to use the tactic on bread and butter fires and allowing all the great information to go to waste. It boils down to this: water on the fire makes things better (shocker I know) and it’s okay to fight fire from the burned side if you do it correctly. Let’s cut the crap and let the science speak for itself. Allow firefighters to take risks when justified and allow us to be true “thinking” firefighters by not dumbing down information to acronyms or cute sayings.

13 Comments

  • John OBryan says:

    I am a big proponent of hitting hard from the yard. If the occupants are out, or can be saved. Why risk lives further by putting personnel into stuctures that are built to burn. Buildings of today are built with light weight combustible materials. When you think about it after the lives are out of the structure we are just working for the insurance companies.

    • Taz says:

      I’ll tell you why. Because aside from the fact that we try to save lives, if we can put out the fire from the inside and prevent more or all of the structure from burning, maybe we can prevent the home owners property from burning. I’m not talking about being a cowboy and doing something stupid but if we can go in and stop the fire from potentially burning something as simple as a photo album, I’m sure the homeowner will be greatful. Don’t be afraid of doing your job.

  • Brett says:

    I took an oath to protect lives and property….I hope none of yalls houses catch on fire. “Well, I’m gonna hit it from the yard since you’re outside. Sorry if your family heirlooms, pictures, and valuables burn up….but I’ve gotta take care of myself”….bullshit

  • Rick says:

    This is such a expansive topic. And I love reading opposing opinions. This topic really seems to have believers, or non-believers. No in between. It is really hard to debate over typed text. I am a strong believer in the transitional attack, not for every fire for sure, but at the right fire. Debate is such a great way to learn. I will invite a phone discussion, if interested, with anyone who has studied th UL stuff. If you have only heard, or lightly follow…. Then do some reading. But if you have done the work, I’d love to hear your argument against. Maybe I am missing something. My email, rnelson@ci.reading.ma.us. Shoot me an email. Maybe we can both learn something.

    • Kiel Samsing says:

      I am not arguing against it. I am arguing that the info from UL/FSRI should go out to firefighters without outside influence and we apply as we see fit.

  • Lynn says:

    I am not going to claim to be an expert on transitional fire attack. In fact, I have only attended 1 class on the subject. One thing I did get out of the training is that “Hitting it hard from the yard” applies when the officer in charge decides to have the crew do a defensive attack. In a transitional attack, the crew is simply applying water in a specific pattern for 15 to 30 seconds to cool the temperature and help eliminate the possibility of a flashover. Thus making it safer for your interior crew. Totally different command from the OIC. Transitional attack is not going to be an option on every single fire. You will still have your offensive attack and defense attack options. This is just another tool in toolbox to use on some fires.

  • Jason says:

    I recommend taking the class my instructor was a lt on a quint for many years. Don’t get hung up on the hard from the yard shit. It’s more about putting the brakes on the fire which can be done from inside, nozzle reach is around 50 60 ft.

  • Jeff Deetz says:

    To John OBryan, I don’t know where you grew up, but to say we are just working for the insurance companies is about as dumb a statement as I have read lately. How do we know the building is vacant?? We have to search it, there is countless stories out there where people where found in “Vacant” structures, as well as structures where the home owner states everyone is out. I have extensively followed the studies, one of the areas that concerns me the most is the “hit it hard from the yard” believers is that it does nothing but help, but yet they say we should not enter these spaces because it would be dangerous to the firefighter. So, if it is not good for the trained, equipped firefighter with $1000’s of gear on and years of experience with fires, why is it OK to leave the victims in there with nothing on but a night shirt??? If it makes the spaces so much better, should we not occupy that space also??? I will leave with last comment, I may not have worked in the busiest places, but after 35 years, I have been to a few fires and made a few grabs, but not once did I find a victim in the yard.

  • Jeff Chandler says:

    Well said Kiel! New acronyms and sayings do not science make. Experience, staffing, building construction, demographics and a ton of other factors have more bearing on the outcome than any acronym. Putting the line between the fire and victims should be the first priority, period.

  • Chris says:

    First off this is a great topic that you are talking about I am new to the fire service and going interior or fighting it from the yard is a major decision especially when you’re talking about a small town Department with limited water supply like where I’m at I do believe that there’s a chance that we can save family heirlooms pictures and property we have the proper staff we trained to go inside of buildings and put the fire out that is what we should be doing when the situation allows us to do that but there are times when all you can do is surround and drown and protect the surrounding areas

    • Kiel Samsing says:

      No one is against a tool, however that’s not what we were being sold when the organizations charged with disseminating the information started their campaign. The issue was not with the science or a tactic, but with the way certain people and groups were spreading the message. When it started it was “this is all about hitting it hard from the yard”. The message has changed quite a bit since then and groups have backtracked a lot (lots of poorly worded items have been deleted and denied). The issues we’ve had are with those that twist the science for their own personal safety agenda and not the tactic.

  • Coleby says:

    I’m still fairly new to the fire service a so just hit five years a couple months ago, and I’m on a small, rural department that doesn’t see a lot of fire. To get to the point, I’d like to know why so many people are against another tool in the box to use? I agree the acronyms are dumbing down the job. But having the science to behind transitional attack, without all the bs and the dumbing down of what we do, only serves to prove that this method of attack is viable and doesn’t affect fire behavior and flow path like I’ve heard other firefighters say it does? I hope no one take offense at my question, I simply ask to learn. Any advice would greatly appreciated. Thank you.

  • Ian Bland says:

    The UL fire science developed by Steve Kerber and co. is a great advancement for fire education. How we use that education is up to us. Hard from the yard, do you respond with lights and sirens ? why. isn’t it dangerous.
    Don’t get me wrong there is a time and place for defensive ops, its about risk, balance, and benefit. Sometimes that benefit is for us, an opportunity to do what we’re trained to do, sometimes its about the structure (the thing that is someones home!!) and sometimes its for a complete stranger we haven’t met yet but are trying to.
    The trouble with the throw away slogans, like hard from the yard, are they stop us thinking. Its when we stop thinking that the fire will catch us out. I was taught a great lesson from a friends young son, many years ago. Two questions, “hey mister, what are you doing?” a thought then “hey Mister, why are you doing it?”
    I teach all my firefighters if you can’t answer those two questions, stop and find the answers.
    The fire science from UL has helped with some of those questions, but we need to still keep asking, because if we think we have all the answers, that’s when we will make the costly mistakes.
    Keep safe guys

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *