The Area of Refuge and “Experience Makeup”

The area of refuge only applies to truckies forcing apartment doors, correct?

Refuge ref-uge (noun, verb) shelter or protection from danger, trouble, etc. a place of shelter, protection, or safety.

It is common in our culture and operations to expect engine companies to get as close as safely possible to the seat of the fire in order to make the most efficient attack possible (or most efficient as scientific research and field application have proven). The problem in this approach is that the experience of being tactically close is that the tell tale signs of this have led to "experience makeup." The "salty" look is equated with aggressiveness and runs counter towards "too safe".


Calling for water.


Hoseline begins to be filled.


The point here isn't that they should have abandoned their positioned and pulled the blitz line, writing off the structure. The point is, don't allow your need for "experience makeup" and a twisted sense of "aggressive firefighting" to damage a good fire attack. You don't know if that line will get charged, if a length will burst or if the fire conditions will quickly change (i.e. Riverdale, MD; San Francisco, CA; Prince William County, VA). Had the nozzle team in this video not gotten the water they needed, the members would have had to raise themselves up, into the flames, in order the access the ladder. Yes, no problem so long as they wear all their PPE, I get that and have been there personally. But ask yourself this: in all the time you practice making the attack, do you give equal time to practicing how to recover when things go sour? It happens all the time and we have the abundance of reports highlighting how common basic skills were forgotten.


Simple solution: Back down to the ladder, wait for water and when it comes, open the line, drive the stream into the ceiling area, move in and kill it.

Still just as aggressive and utilizes an area of refuge. The makeup will still come, but in a more respectable way.



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.

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  • This is not aggressive firefighting! If it was we would have seen a charged line already n place, before the salt started to spread so quickly. “Common skills forgotten.” Maybe never taught/learned.

  • Bill Carey says:

    I figured the first comment might take a shot calling me a sally, but instead it's an endorsement. 😉


    Bill Carey

  • Brooks says:

    Where’s this scientific evidence for getting as close as possible before applying water? Sounds interesting. Perhaps we should get rid of the nozzles and just use open butts?

  • Tri Townsend says:

    Why did he not control the door and only open it after he a charged line in place, instead he opens the door and feeds the fire to do more damage.

  • Bill Carey says:

    Sean. It's dated, from many years ago and is currently changing.

    Bill Carey

  • Sean Brooks says:

    Well, then, why reference it?  A writer claims scientific legitimacy to bolster a point, and cites the reference.  If you have no reference, or don't believe the reference, why are you using it to justify your position?  Seems disingenuous.
    You've got a bully pulpit.  Some of your impressionable readers might believe what you write — and go try to roll around in the fire rather than hitting it at max standoff range and then moving in.  

    • Bill Carey says:

      You have misunderstood what is written. Years ago, in my own experience, when Maryland delivered its Basic Fire course, the direct attack method involved the nozzle team getting as close to the seat of the fire as possible to make a quick, efficient knockdown; minimally disrupt the thermal layers and provide cover for the primary search in the immediate fire area. Over time, that has slightly changed, and more recently involves the science I have loosely referred to (which I endorse) behind fire behavior, ventilation and transitional attack. At the end, I even explained that the better course of action for the firefighters in this video were to have backed off the balcony and onto the ladder while waiting for water – rather, even better, have the charged line in position before accessing the balcony.

      I offer a better approach and attitude, instead of simply sharing a video and letting it go that “Hey that looked cool, they really got up close on that one.” and rest on getting page views and Facebook shares. Hardly disingenuous, as there is nothing written that is hypocritical in this.

      Bill Carey

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