Experience-based decisions


I want to talk a bit about how much influence our experience has on our decisions on the fireground.  While no two situations are alike and every fire presents different issues, we must understand the mechanisms by which we operate.

In a study conducted by the military regarding the command activities of FDNY, it was found (I don’t know when it was and I am paraphrasing here) that the decisions we make, often in split second time and under extreme pressure, are not so much in line with the stuff we have read and studied, but more in line with what has worked before and what actions were taken in similar situations.  They found that to operate from this frame of reference of “similar” incidents allowed for a fine tuning of tactics to meet the specifics of this new situation.  Of course, these decisions and orders are rooted in study of things like building construction, strategy, tactics, safety, etc., but it is not as cut and dried as the “apply directly out of the book” formula.  It is like, “Let’s see, this worked last time at a fire in a building like this, let’s apply it again and adjust based on reports and observation of conditions.  Hopefully, what did not work in the last fire was thrown out (or held in the mental stockpile for the time being) and what did work was utilized along with the adjustments made at the scene, thereby stockpiling new situational information to be used at the next fire.

The following pictures (1-4) were taken at a fire where we had had a previous fire several years earlier.  Sometimes, if you are lucky, you get to apply this to a building that you have fought a fire in before.  In this case, you are armed with more information than you normally would have due to familiarity issues, but you must still be just as on your guard as if you were never at the building before.  Surprises that you encountered last time might not be the same this time and due to renovations, the situation may be totally different.

Still, based on the building construction (usually along with the location and extent of the fire), you can make some assumptions and begin your operation based on past experience.  The additional pictures are incidents where we utilized similar tactics (or not – see pic 6) to varying degrees of success.  The point here is to pay attention to what has made you successful and pay even more attention to what has not gone according to the plan you had in mind.



Pic. 1 This fire started on the interior and quickly extended to the exterior wall via the combustible asphalt siding. While lines were being stretched to the interior, one of the initial line placements was to “wash” the exterior wall (and the exposure wall) and stop the extension across the asphalt siding.  Make sure this line never enters the windows.  If there are not enough personnel, a deck gun can do the trick too.  Another option is to use the initial attack line to sweep the wall as best as it can and then enter the structure (if the fire you are ghitting on the exterior is not too far from the front (attack) door.  Make sure if that occurs, an additional line is put in place to finish wall fire extinguishment.  Once the objective is accomplished, shut this line down.  (Photo by Ron Jeffers)


Pic 2 Simultaneously with the actions pictured above, a line is stretched to the interior to protect the life hazard and attempt to confine the fire to the present area. This is actually the second line being stretched into the structure.  Look at the front stairs and you can see the first line.  You can see here that the exterior fire at the C/D side has been knocked down and the “wash” line is not operating (Ron Jeffers)


Pic 3 Personnel can be seen working the Roof Division. Get personnel to the roof immediately to assess the cockloft and begin the job of cutting the roof as needed. In North Hudson where we routinely use three-person ladder companies (including the officer), we send the first ladder company to the roof in flat-roofed buildings.  We respond two ladders and a rescue, so the second ladder and rescue get the interior. Do not be fooled by the color of the smoke, there is still a good deal of heat in the smoke.  It is white because it was about 5 degrees out.  Note the thermal imaging camera hanging off the hip of the firefighter to the left.  If you bring the TIC to the roof, you won’t have to rely on antiquated methods of determining where to begin the assessment of the roof.  The heat signature shown by the TIC will give you better information than a vague report from the companies operating below. (Ron Jeffers)


Pic 4 Take nothing for granted. This is the A side of the building.  Even though most of the activity was at the rear on the C/D corner and appeared to be knocked down quickly, this pressure-driven smoke appeared at the A/B corner.  Recon must be a constant.  From the previous fire, we knew there was a shaft between these two buildings although it was covered at the roof.  Use of the TIC on the roof as well as on the interior will help assess this.  Make sure there are lines in this area and get the ceilings pulled here.  Don’t trust the fire not to be there.  If you do, it will be. (Ron Jeffers


Pic 5 This was another fire where the quick use of the initial attack line in a defensive manner to arrest a spreading asphalt wall fire stopped exterior extension. The line then was used to extinguish the enclosed porch fire and advance into the structure to finish the job.  You have to train your personnel to think ahead of the fire because they will be the ones to make or break the operation with these initial decisions. (Photo by AA)


Pic 6 This is another example of fire spreading across a combustible exterior. You can see which way the wind was blowing.  It probably saved the B exposure.  Luckily, empty lots don’t burn too much.  The asphalt siding is exposed as the vinyl siding melts.  Unfortunately, no exterior line was used here initially to arrest the wall fire.  This was a much bigger loss as you can see.


Pic 7 Here is another example of fire spread over a combustible exterior. This fire appears to have started in the cellar and roared up to involve both floor above via autoexposure.  On the way in, use the attack line to stop this spread.(Photo by AA)



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