Attic Fires: A tale of two tactics

First off let me acknowledge a few things. Every fire is different. Every department is different. I know staffing, manpower, rural, metro, training, experience, all of these factors play into how fire tactics are put in place. I also will admit, what works for one will not work for the other in the fire service. It’s like Forrest’s big box of chocolate out there. So let me tell you guys how I began to venture down this road…

I was at the station a few weekends ago and like many of you fire buffs I wanted to see if I could find any new fires videos. I quickly discovered a few things 1) I spend waaay too much time on YouTube because I recognized most of the fires I watched and 2) There are some poor tactics out there. I’ve said it before but if you’re gonna live in the YouTube world or at least post your latest “worker” you’d better be ready for some criticism. (and Yes, I practice what I preach & invite any criticism from all the fires we post) As I watched a few vids new & old I began to notice a few trends, especially when it came to fires that either originated or became heavily involved in the attic. These fires were handled either one of two ways and the outcomes were always stark. Go in & get it…Fire goes out. Go up, spray water from on top and/or around the roof area…Fire gets bigger/out of control. I’m sure many of you guys have been in my seat, sitting in from of your computer thinking “Dont spray through there…or…Why don’t you just…” You know, do the same things I hate that guys do to my videos…Monday Morning Quarterback it! Hey, I’m not perfect and dont claim to be. But during all of this I had this “lightbulb” moment…Someone should make a good attic fire training video! Then I thought to myself “Hey, ding-dong, you own and operate a fire helmet camera company…Why dont you do it!” Boom…The video above appeared.

Now let me say, I am not picking on the department shown in the video. There are plenty of forums to bash tactics I didn’t intend for this to be another and conversely I’m not trying to pump up my department (the second video). We arent exempt from error or criticism, but as I said earlier if you’re gonna make a video, the best place to look for content is in your own archives.

So let’s get the rubber on the road. And exhale some of that frustration in front of our computer. We’ve all been to them, you pull up and you’ve got smoke pushing from the eves and/or fire blowing through the roof. Your first line through the door and you are not met with much interior smoke and very little if any heat. As you start to explore the interior of the home you find nothing new. Youve got an attic fire. Heres where the paths start to diverge. And those factors come into play…you remember those right? (staffing, manpower, rural, metro, training, experience) I think in the end no matter what you or your department has to overcome by way of those departmental factors, the majority of attic fires can be extinguished with a minimally staffed engine company with basic engine company equipment. A hose line, an attic ladder, a pike pole or EK hook and a firefighter with some initiative. Now if a picture is worth a thousand words, we at FDCam believe video makes you the Shakespeare of the fire ground. So after watching the video we know you guys are more than capable of using those three basic tools BUT I’ve been to a textbook attic fire with all three tools perfectly in place and our rookie fail to execute. How can this be you ask? Well it came down to initiative and experience. As our Rook climbed the attic ladder he quickly found rafters here are spaced 24″ and don’t leave much room for a helmet and SCBA. Also, a charged hose line more difficult to operate in the cramped space while standing on such a narrow ladder (you may find you need to get waist-high in the hole OR even sit on a rafter). And finally when you do open up the nozzle in an attic it gets hot & steamy…FAST. If you get your technique down you may find you can cock the hose line next to a rafter to support the nozzle reaction and you can get down to what will be ceiling/floor level and let that steam roll over you best as possible. But, for the most part, you gonna have to eat some. Hey, you wanted to be the nozzle man right?

Thats the good and bad. Now for the ugly. From the first part of the video I think we showed an ineffective tactic or placing the nozzle into the vent hole or even worse standing in the front yard shooting water onto the roof. In both cases water is not getting to the seat of the fire. Depending on where you place the nozzle, you could be drawing the fire from the seat to an uninvolved area of the house, actually causing fire spread.

Overall with a little training and common sense application attic fires don’t have to turn into multi alarm PR nightmares. Many homeowners will be satisfied by getting their family members out alive, but you should see the look of joy when they are able to salvage most of their belongings because of a properly place hose line and a firefighter with some initiative. And after all isn’t that the oath we all took? Life. Property.

Stay safe out there & Keep filming!


Are you a yard breather? You may be & not even know it…

Whats a good firefighter to do? Broad brush right? Heres some indications of good firefighter behavior I’ve read while reading comments on our YouTube page. “With that much fire I would have pulled a 2 1/2 after the first 1 3/4 was put in to stop…”, “must have been a new guy. shoulda just dealt with the heat…”, “I wouldn’t feel safe running with this small crew to a fire. I’m glad we have a minimum staffing of 5 on all full-time squads and a minimum staffing of 6 on the volunteer engines, this way there is always someone there to safe you ass!”

All honest opinions from various parts of the country. And hey, if you’re gonna play in the public arena that is YouTube, you’re probably gonna get some negative feedback. But here’s my favorite variety… “save your air boys…” & “Take the mask off. There’s no reason to waste air in the yard. Force the door-control the door- go on air.” Now these two comments on two separate fires made me go back & check out the videos again. One of them I was the nozzle man so it was a personal mission as well to answer my question…I’m not a yard breather…Am I?

Flashback rookie year: Here in my department when you got hired, you went to the training academy four days a week for eight hours & spent one day of your weekend doing a twenty-four hour ride. I went to a very fire busy engine company on one of my very first weekends & picked up a small car fire. Fully dressed out in my shiny new gear I stepped off the engine masked up & plugged in before I hopped up on the step to pull the pre-connect. As I waited next to the burning engine compartment for water I felt the small, but loud “pop” of a radio antenna hit me across my helmet. My crusty ole’ Lieutenant was standing next to me in his bunker pant and helmet and yelled “take that shit off!” Ok. As I began to dress down, the same loud “pop” occurred…WTF??? “Not everything…just unplug & put it out! Save your air!”

And so it begins. When’s a good time to plug-in? now, I’m not here to debate safety. At FDCam when we work with our cameras above all else, go home tomorrow after your shift! IDLH, dangerous atmosphere, possible dangerous conditions, doesn’t matter…Go on air. But I also know whats in those bottles are precious commodities. Its time, its life and sometimes its bragging rights. No matter what your argument or reason for, firefighters always have a strong opinion on what constitutes “yard breathing”. So I ask you guys…When is a good time to clip in? I’ve only been doing this gig for thirteen years and what’s been working for me pretty well; Before I walk in the smoke or chemicals, I clip in. BUT…after living on the internet for a few years, it occurs to me that is not the philosophy that satisfies everyone. And not just my videos, but the numerous ones where guys are squirting through windows (on air) or sitting on a Keeley coil (on air) or working the deck gun (on air), those have drawn the same ire as the guys forcing a door, walking toward a burning front door, all these have drawn the same negative feedback which labels one as a “yardbreather”. So, what should dictate your actions. Your officer? Your SOP? Your experience? Your gut? I tossed out all of those because I believe they are all parts of a complete answer that drives my number one motto i stated above..”Go home”.

 Why should it matter if you plug-in the truck, the yard or the doorway? Really it doesnt…what matters is you, me, people who give a crap care about this job, about getting better, doing it safer, more efficient …We care about being the best at what we do AND the best sweat the little things. Like yard breathing.

Check out those links to our fires & see if you agree or disagree..join the conversation here or anywhere else you see fit. I’m a firm believer FDCams and fire films will revolutionize how we do work on the fire ground. But we’ll never have a starting point unless we get feed back…And thats where you come in.

Thanks for playing,