Reader Definitions of Transitional Attack

Providing a brief fire attack video to pick your brain on what you think transitional attack is.

Earlier we wrote about the Facebook comments from John Salka (FDNY Ret.) on his view of the transitional attack. It received interesting moderate debate and also provided many differing interpretations of the tactic as well as views of what one says based on their own work experience. Below are some of the comments from that earlier post,

"Doesn't make sense to me! I have seen FDNY guys work for minutes trying to force a door on a ranch style home while a fireman stands nearby with a charged handline waiting… Meanwhile a little pee pee bedroom fire grows when all they had to do is stick the line in the window and put the thing out. And I don't want to hear anything about "pushing fire" because it simply doesn't happen. The new Underwriters Labratory report proves this. Here is a link… I am all about interior firefighting ops, but it's time to dispell some myths."

"It seems that in some areas that we are going back to the tatics that our grandfathers and fathers used. Is it the right or wrong thing, maybe that depends on the situation you are facing on hand. I have seen it done and it worked and I have seen it done when it wasnt needed. coming from a comibation dept, which there is only 2 ffs on a pumper and your next rig is a few mins out and not to mention that the truck you are getting on the mutal box has 2 if your lucky, our only option is to do the transitional attack. Maybe a quick wash down on the outside is best so you slow down the verticle spread up the vinyl siding then into the attic/cockloft. Nothing wrong with having a few other tatics in the toolbox."

"As demonstrated in the UL study on the influence of ventilation on fire behavior (an also examining the question of if you can "push" fire), application of water into the fire compartment improves interior conditions. As demonstrated in these experiments, it did not matter if you used a straight stream or fog pattern, application of water into the fire compartment improved conditions in all cases. Putting a hoseline between the fire an occupants and/or uninvolved property is an important tactical consideration, but if you put water on the fire, things will generally improve!"


What has been interesting, personally, to observe from this is that there are some who believe that the tactic is a poor definition of who they are ("interior firefighters") and that recent articles on the research of fire behavior and ventilation have largely only been skimmed as opposed to fully read; at least it appears so based on comments where this tactic is discussed.

Having read many of these discussions and asking you to share what you know about transitional attack, could it apply to this fire?

Why or why not?


Bill Carey is the daily news and blog manager for Elsevier Public Safety (FireRescue Magazine/Firefighter Nation, JEMS and LawOfficer sites.) Bill also manages the network and is a former volunteer lieutenant with the Hyattsville Volunteer Fire Department in Prince George's County, Maryland.

We encourage and support constructive dialogue and debate. View our comment policy.

(function() {
var po = document.createElement(‘script’); po.type = ‘text/javascript’; po.async = true;
po.src = ‘’;
var s = document.getElementsByTagName(‘script’)[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(po, s);

Find us on Google+

You are not authorized to see this part
Please, insert a valid App IDotherwise your plugin won't work.


  • Andrew Martin says:

    It is easy to arm chair quarterback but I will take a stab at this one…. First off “transitional” to me is just another good tool in the box. I think given the right situation it can be very effective. That being said, it is not the end all be all.
    For my department we use it often, mainly because of the fact that our staffing doesn’t allow us to get interior fast enough (2in/2out). So for my type of department it is very applicable, and a whole lot better than sitting outside doing nothing at all.
    For this video, it is hard to say what was going on inside… However with the unknowns of what the crews were facing you can obviously see there were enough people to go inside and be effective with an interior fire attack.
    Again, (transitional) not the end all be all, but given the right opportunity not at all a bad tactic.

    • Bill Carey says:

      Thanks Andrew.

      Staffing has been one of the constant defenses of the transitional attack that I have read these past months. As far as the video, the purpose here isn’t to critique the actions shown but to serve as an example of what I have read regarding the support of transitional attack. Here we have a fire, extending, where the tactic could work. It is interesting to note that there is already one line in operation and no noticeable change of fire conditions – or at least outward fire conditions that we see. So, using the video as a generic prompt, maybe the transitional attack could work.

      Or maybe it couldn’t?

      Bill Carey

  • Chris Huston says:

    Just a few things from my viewpoint. Transitional Attack is a new term. Shure we may transition from defensive to offensive and the reverse. What we use is the "Quick Hit". Small line quickly getting a knock or keeping in check until: fire conditions warrant going in, manpower arrives, water supply secure.
    For the video above, your right on a line is inside yet fire condtions remain unchanged. Not sure what was happening on the inside. But if we know for a fact the team is not in that A/D corner room, a line could "pencil" in a stream, darken it down right? I also noticed the thres conditions on the alpha side, dark smoke from the door, brownish smoke from the center window and good air/fuel/heat coming from the A/D room.
    Thanks and this certainly is a good topic to have "healthy discussion" on.

  • Jay says:

    I personally hate the use of all the buzzwords in the fire service this kind of attack has been used for a long time.  My problem is a lot of time this tactic leads to opposing hose lines.  Here is my hang up as a brand new volunteer firefighter at my first fire in a small one story ranch a well meaning but ill informed Lt took the backup hose line to the front of the house to the only window which had been vented, and with fire vented out the window decided to put the nozzle in the window.  Well myself and another member where pushing down the hallway toward the well involved room at the end of the hall.  As we made the turn into the room conditions went to shit, this was in direct result of this nozzle in the window attack..  Visibility was ok, with minimal heat, until that second – it went to zero visibility throughout the house, and high heat, as well and fire rolling over our heads.  We were able to make a quick knockdown once the line was shut down but this had a very bad effect on the fire attack.  My point here is this method of attack through the only vent point more then likely would have made surviving on that floor much more difficult for any victims if that was the tactic the first line choose.  This kind of attack does push the products of combustion, steam etc throughout the fire floor.   Yes there are situations where an exterior attack can be used in order to buy time for an interior attack, i.e. a 2 story frame with a first floor fully involved on arrival maybe a 2 1/2" to darken it down to gain some headway prior to entry is in order.  But for a room and contents job I think it makes our job harder once you start your search and interior attack.  We are still in the business of search which can't be done from the front lawn, and if your gonna search you gotta go interior attack.

  • Andrew Martin says:

    Like I stated earlier, I do think given the proper situation this tactic is great. For the purpose of this video I guess my answer would be yes absolutely a transitional attack would work, and that is exactly what I would do if we didn’t have the manpower on scene. However, a couple things to note on this scene (without having been there). I notice that the fire has started to spread to the rest of the home (looking at the color of the smoke near the fire room), which tells me that a transitional attack would create a whole lot of steam inside that structure given the fact that you would be applying water right into the fire room and pushing steam throughout the rest of the house. Steam doesn’t kill firemen, but it can kill victims. If the fire was contained to that fire room transitional would be (to me) more appealing. But it’s not so I would turn more to offensive/interior given the staffing, which gives me a great segway to my next point.
    . Like I said it appears that there are plenty of people on scene. So why not stretch a line or two inside, get to the roof, and implement search if you have the manpower? Especially given the reasons I listed above.
    I don’t believe the fire ground is as dinamic as some people believe… Fire is very predictable, the dinamic is rate of growth, and fire spread. With that take what you see on the fire scene, with the recourses you have available to you and put that fire out. We should all have a great understanding of fire behavior, and a good understanding of building construction as well, so that we can put these little nuggets to use properly. Have a large “toolbox” with a lot of tools inside, to arrive at our common goal, save lives and put the fire out.
    Thanks for the great topic Bill. Please let me know if I am off base at all, I am still a young mind learning from others who have come before me.

  • DaveOC says:

    I think the transitional attack is fine IF the interior attack isn't getting the job done. There's no shame, if your getting your ass kicked on the inside, to coming out, darkening down the fire a bit from the outside and then going back in to finish it off. I think that would be far more acceptable than being pulled out and forced to go defensive because you're losing the structure. However, I also think that aggressive interior attack should be the first tactic employed. So there !

  • Justin Holderby says:

    The department I work for uses this technique VERY liberally. There was a time when we had a couple stations with 2 firefighters manning each rig, but those days are long gone. We now have 3 to 4 firefighers per rig and a dozen fire apparatus spread throughout our district. We are a fully paid department, so there is no real issue of staffing. The problem is, our tactics haven't changed to reflect it. We still have the mindset that our next rig is 5 minutes out with only 2 guys on it, so we constantly train to show up and do a "transitional attack." This method of thinking is very dangerous, and fortunately we have a lot of smart, motivated guys coming in and challenging the status quo.
    My biggest beef with this technique, is it is an "easy way of doing things." It has created, in my department, a bunch of moths-to-flame type firefighters. What used to be a tactic used for inadequate staffing has now become a be-all, end-all here. We literally  have guys dragging hoses around houses (through fences, over landscaping, and up and down hills) to get to a window showing fire. We have lazy officers that defend it because it relieves the stress involved in decisions making when they show up on scene. Its an easy way to keep FIREFIGHTERS safe on scene by "taking the heat out of the fire" before entering. The major problem with that is, it doesn't make it safe for OUR CITIZENS. Now, before I became a firefigher, I thought they were noble men that would actually face danger in order to save me (as a civilian) and my family. This tactic has made me think otherwise. I now feel that firefighters (in a department like mine) put themselves above the citizens that sign our checks.
    We need to be careful with how me apply water and from where. Rule 1 of recruit school was never to direct a hose stream into a building that has firefighters in it. Why? Because of steam production. Yes, steam will help take heat out of the fire, but for any of us that have have steam pushed down on us know its not a comfortable feeling. Its the same feeling for our citizens, except they aren't wearing bunkers and SCBA's. Burns to the respiratory tract from heated gases and smoke inhalation can be overcome. Steam burns to the respiratory tract are 98%+ fatal, making it nearly impossible to overcome. If we're directing lines into a building from the outside, without making damn sure there is nobody inside is reckless. As far as I'm concerned, it is a disservice to our citizens. The UL study is nice. It gives us good data, but its not real world. Sure, they built houses with thermal couplers inside, and measured some scientifc data, but they forgot one thing…the human element. They didn't have people inside that required a search of the building (remember, life safety is rule 1, ahead of property conservation). Real world scenarios are much different than controlled, scientific studies.
    Another major case of heartburn that this technique causes, is after its applied and we "transition" into offensive mode after water application from the outside, is what it does to visibility. Disrupting the thermal layering, and now adding a ton of steam limits visibility to ZERO! We can sit and wait for adequate ventilation to combat this, but that's just adding more time to the incident clock where this building is not being searched. We have had fires that a primary search has not been STARTED for over 10 minutes (with the whole fire response on scene) because we hit it from the outside, got ventilation going, then finally decided to enter the building now that its safe for US. Unfortunately, it hasn't been safe for the people inside. We'll have guys defend it because "they were probably already dead." That's another disgraceful comment made by firefighers. For thos of us that also respond to medical calls, do we forgoe CPR on a viable victim because they are "already dead?" Or is it different at a fire becuase there is it now involves a danger to us?
    Now before I hit send, I want to make it clear that I don't advocate reckless behavior on the fireground, nor do I think that if you don't go interior it makes you less of a man. There are definitely fires that hitting it from the outside is the best option. We just can't let ourselves get in the habit of making it the only option, or going to it becuase its the easiest. We owe it to our citizens to use it only when it should be used, and not because its safer for us. Do your own research, train hard, and be the firefighter our citizens deserve.

  • Bill, you are asking for a definition based solely on the tactic and not on local variables using the video as a catalyst for a further discussion as to whether or not that tactic could then be used on that fire so that is what I will attempt to discuss.
    Transitional fire attack; an initial attack on a self-vented fire made from the exterior of a structure where a delay in darkening the fire could lead to fire extension or immediate life-threat. Once the immediate threat is lessened or mitigated the attack is then "transitioned" into an interior attack.
    The video; Multiple occupancy, day time fire. Hard to tell but there may be fire on 2 above the main door (in the common stairway/hallway?) and on 1 at the A-D corner. Brick exterior with windows-in-line. Probable open interior stairway. As is common in apartments the life-threat is generally high at all times of day. It appears to me as if the first line is in place but may not be operating yet, perhaps working on forcible entry. The exterior components of the building give you some time, except for the window directly above where the fire has vented, but that is still intact. You have some time. This one is 50/50. If the initial line is encountering problems with forcing entry maybe a quick shot through the window helps hold it for a minute. If they get in then definitely not. Without knowing for sure the conditions on 2 that's as far as we can really go.

1 Trackback

Leave a Reply

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

Plugin from the creators ofBrindes Personalizados :: More at PlulzWordpress Plugins