Who Looks After The Victims?


If you are changing the mission you better let the citizens know – 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 doesn’t say rescue isn’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 won’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.   Reading about roof ventilation tactics using tower ladders won’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 ‘discovered’ 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 anyone’s motives, but if you spend five minutes reading any of the articles or websites that champion the data, one thing will happen.   You will be more confused than you were when you started about what exactly we are supposed to do.

The “C” in SLICE-RS says to ‘cool from a safe distance’ – 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. – R.S. 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.  This is all about HITTING IT HARD FROM THE YARD FOR 15 SECONDS THEN GOING INSIDE AND PUTTING IT OUT!

S.L.I.C.E. – R.S. on Modern Fire Behavior


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.  Well if you do nothing at all conditions are just going to get worse.  Slowing the fire down will help increase chances of survival in most cases, but you have to remember it’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 won’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 wouldn’t matter, but in a service where the first tenet has always been the “protection of life”, shouldn’t we be taking that risk, rather than pre-judging and assuming from the front yard?


New Versus Old – Or Is It?


Was Lloyd Layman really that wrong? First he correctly identified our first priority as RESCUE. Not a as a ‘target of opportunity”, but as our first consideration at every fire.   We should respond to every call Expecting Fire and we should be thinking Occupants First.

Lloyd didn’t tell us how to do our jobs, like L – 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 isn’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 doesn’t mean they are wrong.

Just because Rescue was first, doesn’t mean we should charge headlong into fully involved buildings trying to rescue someone that isn’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 someone’s view of what the research says.

“They became traditions because they worked.” – 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, “There 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.”

What have the UL/NIST studies told us? That we need fast water, coordinated ventilation, that our entry point is ventilation and that you don’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.   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. 



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


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LeBlancProfilePhotoDave 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.

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  • Ron Ayotte says:

    Excellence as usual, Dave.

  • Heath Smith says:

    Great article Dave. I agree with your comment that “they became traditions because they work.” And yes if you change the focus from life safety to your own safety how about holding a town meeting and letting those you swore to protect know whats going on, I am sure they will see your point!

  • Dave Skidmore says:

    I’m glad you identified the “one issue no one is discussing, the lack of manpower on scene”. My department runs a single apparatus, staffed with a minimum of 4 guys sometimes 5, with our second due being either our paid call or mutual aid – either option realistically being 10 plus minutes behind the first arriving engine. For us it’s all about “buying time” or “turning back the fire clock” because only so much can be done by 4 members. We tend to follow the adage that “if you put the fire out, most of your problems go away”. We stress getting water on the fire early (weather from the inside or the outside).
    I’m not sure why the debate has to be either traditional or modern. Why can’t we be good at both and let thinking officers and firefighters implement the best tactic based on the variables being presented at each fire scene.

  • Dave LeBlanc says:

    Dave –

    I think the reason there is a debate is because the message is so contorted. From those that have chosen to manipulate the information to suit their position, the the ISFSI own website saying different things about what the tactics truly are.

    I agree 100% with giving everyone the information and letting them use it as they see fit. Others are more determines to tell you you have to do something.

  • Brian says:

    Am I missing the old SSLEEVES-OCD pneumonic??? seems that one. It addressed alot of the things we have to think of, and the new Slicers is something that I think in right circumstances and construction would make sense, but at other times might be completely useless. I have watched and read alot of the NIST stuff with respect to the concept of cooling from the outside, and I think alot of their pure raw data is more telling. For those of us who roll out with just a driver and another engine with one, this tactic can make the crucial difference in loosing the building ( and anyone in it), versus buying the time to make a grab when the help shows up and the troops can get organized better. I think anyone can agree that putting wet stuff on the red stuff makes all the other issues easier to handle, and helps the crews make them happen, but the big take away from these things ( for me), is if you can Identify you are working in new construction, where a ventilation fed fire is going to tear your gpms apart pretty quick and get around above and below anyone who is brave enough to try a grab. The best one yet….. Risk alot to save alot, risk a little to save a little, and risk nothing to save nothing…..If your a one legged man, and you show up at an ass kickin contest, you better have an idea how to make it work for you. TTPs, (tools, techniques, and practices) are all something that we ought to have in the shoulder mounted toolbox. I think it trumps the book 99% of the time, besides, as Jack Sparrow said, the code is more of a guideline .

  • Joseph carroll says:

    I work in a dept with 2 man Engine cos, man powers is an issue with our first due assignment. (3 engs,2 Trks , Batt Chief). Usually 13 Firefighters on the assignment. At times the exterior attack has no option, heavy fire too include exposures etc. some new leaders feel that this exterior attack is good for all fires. These might be the guys that were ” yard breathers” from the get go! Life safety is still the priority . Aggressive interior attack is still a must when conditions permit.

  • Ruel Douvillier says:

    I suspect these new tactics are all related to the NFPA standard that came out a few years ago recommending higher manpower on apparatus than the authorities having jurisdiction were prepared to implement. For the 30+ years that I’ve been fighting fires, UL and NIST have been using the data that they gained by setting fires in boxes in their laboratories to tell us that interior firefighting was the way to go. Now they are telling us the opposite. Has the behavior of fire really changed all that much? This is about manpower (money) and not life safety. I understand that UL and NIST are about to put out a “how to” manual on fighting fire. I can’t wait.

  • Mike McAdams says:

    Captain LeBlanc,

    Great point in the blog debating the new and old techniques and how to blend them into that first minutes on the fire ground.
    One of the first points stated was “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. “
    Research is currently in process to assist fire departments with just that information and more.
    The National Fire Operations Reporting System (N-FORS) is working to improve firefighter safety. Local fire departments using N-FORS software can assess the impact of their response availability, capability, and operational effectiveness on
the “outcome” of a structure fire event.
    For this project, an optimal “outcome” minimizes the risk of firefighter injury and death, citizen injury and death, and property damage.
    The IAFF, IAFC, NIST, CFAI, and the original architect of the National EMS Information System (NEMSIS) lead this project with guidance from a Stakeholder Group composed of over 25 governmental and professional fire organizations.
    N-FORS is currently in year 3 of a 3-year initiative. During years 1 and 2, a collaborative process was used to create the N-FORS Data Dictionary, identify key fire operation metrics critical to success and safety, evaluate fire policy to promote safe data use, and establish the basic technology and software requirements for the N-FORS software. During year 3, the N-FORS software will be completed and introduced to local Fire Departments beginning in the fall of 2015.
    The N-FORS Software will allow local Fire Departments to easily document how they prepare and manage structure fire events.
    Customized N-FORS Reports will be available immediately, encouraging benchmarking and promoting best practices between local Fire Departments and across the fire service.
    So what is in it for me? The ability to state to leaders in a data driven discussion the value of the local fire department AND have the basis to support requests for other resources. (Personnel, mutual aid documents, change in staffing, etc.).

    For more information http://www.n-fors.org

    Mike McAdams
    Fire Program Specialist
    National Fire Operations Reporting System

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