If you are changing the mission you better let the citizens know â€“ Captain Dave LeBlanc
So with all the discussion going on about SLICE-RS there is a lot of concern from firefighters about such a dramatic shift in our priorities. While SLICERS doesnâ€™t say rescue isnâ€™t a priority, it moves it from one of our primary concerns to a target of opportunity. Is that really how we want to think? Is that really where our priorities should be?
There is so much interpretation out there about what the UL/NIST studies mean. The research to some is ground breaking, new and untested. To others it is a confirmation of what years of experience have shown us. This article wonâ€™t get into all the nuances of the research or even SLICE-RS, but hopefully it will make you think about how information should be applied to your situation.
So before we begin, some basic thoughts, no one can tell you how to fight your fire. Unless they know your manpower, resources and abilities, and are standing in that front lawn at 2:00 a.m., all they can do is tell you how they would fight it. That may or may not work for you. So in this day of Facebook, Twitter, social media and instant access, you have to be able to vet the information and source and then apply it to your department and situation.Â Â Reading about roof ventilation tactics using tower ladders wonâ€™t help you if run a straight stick.
So what are we supposed to believe about the research? UL/NIST have done an excellent job research our fires. They have â€˜discoveredâ€™ some important things about ventilation, fire behavior and growth and experimented with different tactics. UL and NIST are not a policy organization, nor are they a training organization. They study the problem and provide the results; this is where the conflict begins.
Many have chosen to interpret the data differently. I am not questioning anyoneâ€™s motives, but if you spend five minutes reading any of the articles or websites that champion the data, one thing will happen.Â Â You will be more confused than you were when you started about what exactly we are supposed to do.
The â€œCâ€ in SLICE-RS says to â€˜cool from a safe distanceâ€™ â€“ aka TRANSITIONAL ATTACK. Nowhere in the discussion of transitional attack does it says it is always from outside. Yet read this description from the Modern Fire Behavior website:
S.L.I.C.E. â€“ R.S.Â stands for Size-Up, Location of the Fire, Isolate the Flow Path, Cool from a Safe Distance, Extinguish and then Rescue and Salvage are added in as necessary.Â This is all aboutÂ HITTING IT HARD FROM THE YARD FOR 15 SECONDS THEN GOING INSIDE AND PUTTING IT OUT!
So what are supposed to believe? Therein lays the problem.
What About the Victims?
So no one would say that anyone is advocating we write of fire victims, but consider this taken from the International Society of Fire Service Instructors website:
Another argument heard with the SLICE-RS concept especially is that we are delaying the search to put water on the fire, and that we could be steaming the people inside.Â Well if you do nothing at all conditions are just going to get worse.Â Slowing the fire down will help increase chances of survival in most cases, but you have to remember itâ€™s the fire gases that kill in most cases, so unless the door is closed or the victim is in an area of refuge, their chances of survival are pretty slim in the first place, so by no means is hose being played into the window going to do more harm to the victim.
So all the research of smoke and the byproducts of combustion have told us that very few victims die from fire, but instead from exposure to smoke. Yet by this statement by the ISFSI, any additional time exposed to smoke wonâ€™t matter to the victim because they may already be dead.
Currently there is no data as to the effect, or lack of, on fire victims by exterior streams. So no one can say whether transitional is good or bad for them. All would agree that fast water at the seat of the fire is the best for everyone involved. In some cases that may be transitional, in others it may not be.
Consider this: while a department with low manpower spends the time to drag a hoseline to an exterior opening and flow water, then reposition that same hoseline and attack the fire from inside, a fire victim in that building will be exposed to additional quantities of smoke that they may not have been if that same department advanced directly to the seat of the fire on arrival. Now maybe that wouldnâ€™t matter, but in a service where the first tenet has always been the â€œprotection of lifeâ€, shouldnâ€™t we be taking that risk, rather than pre-judging and assuming from the front yard?
New Versus Old â€“ Or Is It?
Was Lloyd Layman really that wrong? First he correctly identified our first priority as RESCUE. Not a as a â€˜target of opportunityâ€, but as our first consideration at every fire.Â Â We should respond to every call Expecting Fire and we should be thinking Occupants First.
Lloyd didnâ€™t tell us how to do our jobs, like L â€“ Locate the Fire (360 every time with TIC), instead he gave us the priorities where we should focus and allowed us to determine how. For some departments a 360 isnâ€™t practical, they address it by multiple companies responding to different sides, so the first-due may go to work without running around the block. Referring to the earlier paragraph about applying information to your department, this doesnâ€™t mean they are wrong.
Just because Rescue was first, doesnâ€™t mean we should charge headlong into fully involved buildings trying to rescue someone that isnâ€™t there. What Rescue being first means is that we must consider trapped victims first; if we can get to them we must get to them. That is what we signed up to do, the oath we swore and what they expect.
Culture, tradition and experience are under fire these days. It seems like too many forget that the Fire Service they belong too was forged by the blood, sweat and tears of courageous men and women that came before them. These brave souls paid a price, sometimes with their life, to teach us the lessons that brought us to today. Much of what they taught us is still relevant today, yet many are willing to throw out their lessons in favor of someoneâ€™s view of what the research says.
â€œThey became traditions because they worked.â€ â€“ This quote came from a Boston District Chief when discussing much of the new trends in the Fire Service. Too often today, tradition is viewed as a four letter word, often by those that are trying to change the Fire Service for their own purposes, instead of for the greater good of the service. Tom Brennan once wrote in an email, â€œThere are very few new ideas in the Fire Service. Often the new ideas are tried and tested and found lacking and we return to what has always worked. However the senior guys need to be open to new ideas and the new guys need to not try and change the place to serve their own purposes.â€
What have the UL/NIST studies told us? That we need fast water, coordinated ventilation, that our entry point is ventilation and that you donâ€™t have to be in the fire room to flow water. None of these things are new. Much of this we have done for years quite effectively. When some of these have suffered it has been because of one issue no one is discussing, the lack of manpower on scene. You can only do so much with a three man engine, especially when your second due is five minutes behind you. You want to take something away from the studies, then go out and drill on stretching, flowing and ventilating; because all of those things support the mission of saving lives. That is what we are supposed to do. I am pretty sure it is the job description.Â Â One thing is for certain, if you are changing your mission to put yourself first, before the citizens, you had better let them know. You owe them that much. If you are using the research to advance that position, then you are not paying attention to what the research actually says.
Top Photo: FDNY EMS personnel rush an injured civilian out on a stretcher after he was found in the second floor bedroom during a dwelling fire in Canarsie, Brooklyn. Lloyd Mitchell Photography photo, used with permission.Â
Interior Attack by Ray McCormack
Mission Misstatements by Ray McCormack
Slicing and Dicing with Bobby Halton
Tactical Safety for Firefighters: Back to the Future
Tactical Safety for Firefighters: False Positives
Tactical Safety for Firefighters: Taking Sides
Dave LeBlanc is a Captain with the Harwich, Massachusetts Fire Department. Dave entered the Fire Service in 1986 as a Call Firefighter with the Dennis Fire Department. He worked full time during the summers in Dennis, while attending the University of New Haven in West Haven, Connecticut. While at the University of New Haven, Dave studied Arson Investigation. He also was a volunteer with the Allingtown and West Haven Fire Districts in West Haven. He spent his sophomore year as a Live In student with the Allingtown Fire District. His education included internships with the Aetna Insurance Company and the Boston Fire Department Arson Squad.
In 1993 Dave went to work full-time with the Harwich Fire Department as a dispatcher. In 2000 he transferred into suppression and was promoted to Lieutenant in 2008. In addition to his regular duties, Dave also manages the Department’s Radio system, is responsible for conducting Fire Investigations, and assists in maintaining the computers systems.
Dave’s blog tends to focus on current day issues and maintaining a commitment to the ideals and principals that created the fire service, while keeping today’s firefighters safe.