From Waldbaum’s to Hackensack- Worcester to Charleston; Legacies for Operational Safety

6-15-2009 7-39-58 PM

From Waldbaum’s to Hackensack- Worcester to Charleston; Legacies for Operational Safety

From Waldbaum’s to Hackensack- Worcester to Charleston; Legacies for Operational Safety; I still find it surprising during my travels around the country lecturing and presenting programs on building construction, that when the audience was asked, “What do the Walbaum’s Fire and Hackensack fire share in common?”, the response typically were blank stares. The more seasoned and experienced veterans (translation; Older firefighters) when present, were able to convey some information on the subject. But yet, the true essence of the basic incident particulars and the lessons learned fail to be fully conveyed. We’re not remembering the past!

I’ve spoken on numerous occasions about History Repeating Events (HRE), and the common themes related to LODD. Events that resonate with common issues, apparent and contributing causes and operational factors that share legacy issues that the fire service fails to identify, relate to and implement. In other words, we fail a times to learn from the past, or we make a deliberate choice to ignore those lessons due to other internal or external influences, pressures, authority, beliefs, values or viewpoints. We make choices and we determine our direction, path and destiny.

When you look over these LODD events over the years (NIOSH, NFPA, USFA Reports), it doesn’t take long to identify that many LODD events share similarities, and that specific incident events, deficiencies, outcomes and recommendations are identical in every way, except for the fire department name and geographical location. In other words, we have History Repeating Events (HRE).

What have we learned from the past? What is it that we’re passing down to each incoming recruit class and probationary firefighter? What are Company and Commanding Officers recalling and considering in their dynamic risk assessment, size-up and decision-making (IAP) process when looking at a particular building, occupancy and fire? Are mission critical operational elements & HRE factors being recollected? (Naturalistic/ Recognition-Prime Decision-making).

Are the fire service legacies of the past and the lessons learned from those incidents and the sacrifices that were made transcending time? Or are they lost in the immediacy of day to day challenges, issues and operations. Or are these events, lessons and operations issues dismissed and disregarded as a result of their “time and place” not being relevant to today’s operations and modern fire service advancements.

The reality is, we, the present generation of veteran firefighters and officers at times neglect or fail to recognize the importance of passing along the lessons of our life’s journey through our fire service careers, the events of our day and the profound tough lessons and sacrifices learned the hard way. We sometimes need a receptive, sympathetic and compassionate audience that is willing to listen, hear and comprehend the messages conveyed. There needs to be a high degree of empathy related to these past History Repeating Events. For each event, each and every line of duty death has a message and a Legacy of Operational Safety.

Throughout the past thirty-three years (1977-2010), over 4,000 firefighters have lost their lives in the course and conduct of their duties as firefighters and officers within the fire service. Although there are numerous LODD fire incidents and events that could be discussed, all distinguished and exemplified by heroism, nobility, cause and fortitude. There are four that stand out when related to the lessons learned and the significance and impact each LODD incident had at the time to the national fire service.

Each of these incidents also have significance as they relate to the building, occupancy, use, construction features, inherent structural systems, fire behavior and fire dynamics; coupled with interrelated elements of strategic and tactical fire suppression operations and incident management . Again, “Building Knowledge=Firefighter Safety.”

The Waldbaum’s Supermarket Fire: Brooklyn, New York August 3, 1978

Six FDNY firefighters died at this fire when the wood bowstring truss roof collapsed, 34 were injured. The fire started at 8:40 hrs. in Waldbaum’s Supermarket, Ave. Y and Ocean Ave., Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, NY. Nearly 23 electricians, plumbers etc ., were in the process of renovating the building, while it was still open and operating when the fire started in the mezzanine area. An All hands was transmitted at 08:49 hrs. the 2nd alarm at 09:02 hrs. Shortly after 09:20 hrs., with 20 firefighters on the roof a crackling sound was heard and the center portion of the bow string trussed roof fell into the smoke and flames. A total of 12 firefighters fell into the inferno, six were rescued, six died in the line of duty.

Honor and Remembrance

  • Lt. James Cutillo, 33rd Battalion
  • Firefighter Charles Bouton, Ladder Co. 156
  • Firefighter William O’Conner, Ladder Co. 156
  • Firefighter James P McManus, Ladder Co. 153
  • Firefighter George Rice, Ladder Co. 153
  • Firefighter Harold F. Hastings, Ladder Co.153

Hackensack Ford: Hackensack, New Jersey July 1, 1988

Five fire fighters from the Hackensack, New Jersey Fire Department were killed in the line-of duty while they were engaged in interior fire suppression efforts at an automobile dealership when portions of the building’s wood bowstring truss roof collapsed.

Honor and Remembrance

  • Captain Richard Williams
  • Lt. Richard Reinhogen
  • Firefighter William Krejsa
  • Firefighter Leonard Radumski
  • Firefighter Stephen Ennis

Note: The 1988 Hackensack Ford Fire occurred almost ten years to the date of the Waldbaum’s FDNY Fire in 1978. (History Repeating Event, we forgot something along the way regarding bow string trussed roof systems and fire impingement…)

As a result of this incident passage of a NJ State law mandating the clear demarcation of truss roofs and other structural hazards with warning signs (placards) on building with truss roofs was. In 1991 NJ State law required the State Bureau of Fire Safety to investigate all fires in which a firefighter dies or is seriously injured. See National Truss Placarding.

The Worcester Cold Storage and Warehouse Fire: Worcester, Massachusetts, December 3, 1999

On December 3, 1999, the vacant, six-story Worcester Cold Storage and Warehouse Co. building in Worcester, Massachusetts, was set ablaze by two homeless people knocking a lighted candle into a pile of ragged clothes. The Worcester Fire Department responded at 6:13 p.m. to Box Alarm 1438. The Rescue 1 team of Firefighter Paul Brotherton and Firefighter Jerry Lucey entered the building searching for occupants. Fire conditions worsened in the building at an alarmingly unexpected rate. Paul and Jerry, on the fifth floor, became disoriented in the smoke-filled building. Lost, and running low on air, they called for help. Several teams began searching for the lost fire fighters.

Two teams reaching the fifth floor also found themselves disoriented in the smoke and trapped by the maze of interior walls, Lieutenant Tom Spencer and Firefighter Tim Jackson from Ladder 2, and Firefighter Jay Lyons and Firefighter Joe McGuirk from Engine 3. Though many more brave fire fighters attempted to locate their missing brothers, their efforts proved futile. Their deaths marked the worst loss of fire fighters, lives in more than 20 years in a building fire in America, and the third worst fire in Massachusetts’ history. Six days after they died, a memorial service drew 30,000 fire fighters and 10,000 civilians in what was believed to have been the largest such service for fire fighters killed on duty.

Honor and Remembrance

  • Firefighter Paul A Brotherton, Rescue Co.1
  • Firefighter Timothy P. Jackson, Ladder Co.2
  • Firefighter Jeremiah M. Lucey, Rescue Co.1
  • Firefighter James F. “Jay” Lyons III, Engine Co. 3
  • Firefighter Joseph T. McGuirk , Engine Co. 3
  • Lt. Thomas E. Spencer, Ladder Co.2

Sofa Superstore Fire: Charleston, South Carolina, June 18, 2007

On the evening of June 18, 2007, units from the Charleston Fire Department responded to a fire at the Sofa Super Store, a large retail furniture outlet in the West Ashley district of the city. Within less than 40 minutes, the fire claimed the lives of nine firefighters. The highly flammable characteristics of the materials that were stored in the loading dock and throughout the premises provided an ample supply of fuel and caused the fire to spread rapidly, affecting the building’s structural integrity and adversely affecting manual fire suppression activities.

Honor and Remembrance

  •  Bradford Rodney “Brad” Baity  Engineer 19
  • Theodore Michael Benke  Captain 16
  • Melvin Edward Champaign  Firefighter 16
  • James “Earl” Allen Drayton  Firefighter 19
  • Michael Jonathon Alan French  Engineer 5
  • William H. “Billy” Hutchinson, III  Captain 19
  • Mark Wesley Kelsey  Captain 5
  • Louis Mark Mulkey  Captain 15
  • Brandon Kenyon Thompson  Firefighter 5

Commemorate and Remembrance
On the evening of June 18, 2007, units from the Charleston Fire Department responded to a fire at the Sofa Super Store, a large retail furniture outlet in the West Ashley district of the city. Within less than 40 minutes, the fire claimed the lives of nine firefighters.

The Executive Summary of the FIREFIGHTER FATALITY INVESTIGATIVE REPORT Sofa Super Store Fire, Phase II Report issued MAY 15, 2008 provided critical insights into the apparent and contributing causes that culminated in the event. The Sofa Super Store was a large property that incorporated a very significant potential for a major fire to occur. It’s appropriate at this time to revisit those key factors described within the report in order for provide the opportunity for departments or agencies to recognize or identify similar gaps that exist, and take the necessary corrective actions. These gaps may be precursors to potentially significant or serious future events and extend in operational, training, administrative, managerial, construction, prevention and regulatory and codes.

  • The fire risk factors associated with the Sofa Super Store exceeded the limits prescribed by the applicable building and fire codes. An automatic sprinkler system should have been installed to reduce the level of fire risk or the buildings should have been divided into manageable fire compartments by a system of fire walls.
  • If a sprinkler system had been installed, the fire probably would likely have been controlled within the loading dock area.
  • If effective fire walls had been provided, the fire probably would not have spread beyond the loading dock.
  • The highly flammable characteristics of the materials that were stored in the loading dock and throughout the premises provided an ample supply of fuel and caused the fire to spread rapidly. The burning contents released copious quantities of heat and toxic smoke.
  • Significant quantities of flammable and combustible liquids that were stored in the loading dock likely contributed to the severity and rapid spread of the fire.
  • The fire had extended to the loading dock when firefighters arrived.
  • Charleston Fire Department members attempted to fight the fire by initiating an offensive interior attack into the loading dock.
  • The offensive attack was launched from two directions. One attack line entered the loading dock from the exterior, while a second line was stretched through the showrooms and into the loading dock.
  • The offensive attack failed to control the fire. The fire extended into adjoining areas on three sides of the loading dock.
  • At least 16 firefighters, who were operating deep inside the showrooms, became enveloped in heavy smoke.
  • Conditions inside the showrooms became critical as the fire began to involve this part of the building. Several firefighters became disoriented and were running short of air. Radio messages requesting assistance were not heard.
  • Seven firefighters managed to find their way out of the showrooms. The nine deceased firefighters were unable to find their way out as the fire spread rapidly from the rear of the building to the front.
  • The size and layout of the building, inadequate exits, and the highly flammable nature of the contents likely contributed to the inability of the lost firefighters to escape from the building. Rescue efforts were attempted when the situation inside the showrooms was recognized. In spite of valiant efforts, it was too late to save the missing firefighters before the store became fully involved in flames.

The analysis of operations conducted by the Charleston Fire Department includes the following observations and findings:

  • Fire fighting operations at the Sofa Super Store did not comply with Federal occupational safety and health regulations, recommended safety standards, or accepted fire service practices.
  • The Charleston Fire Department failed to provide adequate direction, supervision, and coordination over the operations that were conducted.
  • The documented duties and responsibilities of an Incident Commander were not performed and risk management guidelines were not adequately applied to the situation.
  • The culture of the Charleston Fire Department promoted aggressive offensive tactics that exposed firefighters to excessive and avoidable risks and failed to apply basic firefighter safety practices.
  • Insufficient training, inadequate staffing, obsolete equipment and outdated tactics all contributed to an ineffective effort to control the fire with offensive tactics during the early stages of the incident.
  • The Charleston Fire Department continued to apply offensive tactics after the situation had evolved to a point where risk management guidelines called for defensive strategy.
  • Factors that should have caused firefighters to be removed from interior tactical (offensive) positions were not recognized.
  • There was a lack of accountability for the location and function of firefighters who were operating inside the building. The Charleston Fire Department did not have appropriate Mayday procedures to be followed by firefighters in distress, for dispatchers, or for command officers on the scene.

All of the listed factors and many others were analyzed and discussed in detail within the body of the issued report. If you haven’t found the time or reason to read the report, do so; it would make for a good task activity for Safety Week. The report document presented the dedicated and conscientious efforts of the review team to honor the nine fallen firefighters by making every possible effort to learn from their sacrifice. The operative question is this; what factors or attributes are comparable to situations or conditions that presently exist within your Department, Organization or community? What are you going to proactively do to address these issues or conditions in a timely manner?

Understanding the Building Profile and Risk
The Sofa Super Store occupied a complex of interconnected structures that had been constructed in several phases. The showroom building, facing Savannah Highway, was actually an assembly of three separate structures. The front wall was a facade, with a parapet extending above the roof line, creating the appearance of one large building when viewed from Savannah Highway. (Refer to the Report for diagrams, plans and photographs)

  • The front wall, including the parapet, was approximately 23 feet tall, while the roof behind the parapet varied from 12 to 14 feet above grade.
  • The main showroom was originally constructed as a grocery store, probably during the 1950s or 60s. The original building was approximately 125 feet in width and 130 feet deep, with a rectangular extension in the southwest corner (right-rear facing the building from Savannah Highway).
  • The front wall was brick construction with large storefront windows, while the side and rear walls were constructed of concrete block.
  • The original structure had a flat metal deck roof, supported by lightweight steel bar joists (trusses), spanning from east to west across the store. The side walls supported the ends of the bar joists, while two rows of steel beams and columns provided intermediate support.
  • A suspended ceiling was installed below the roof trusses.

After the property was converted to a furniture store, two pre-engineered metal buildings were added-on to the original structure to expand the showroom area. Each showroom addition was approximately 60 feet in width and 120 feet deep. The first showroom addition was constructed on the west side of the original building in 1994 and the second was added on the east side in 1995. (The add-on structures are referred to as the east and west showrooms in this report, while the original structure is identified as the main showroom.) Six large openings in the concrete block side walls, three on each side of the original building, provided connections between the showroom areas; their combined floor area was in excess of 31,000 square feet. An additional pre-engineered metal structure was erected at the rear of the property in 1996 to serve as a warehouse. This structure was approximately 120 feet wide by 130 feet deep and 29 feet tall. Furniture was stored on steel racks, 20 feet in height, inside the warehouse.

Going Forward: The Structural Anatomy of Building Construction
The following are quotes from Fire Chief Anthony Aiellos (ret) Hackensack (NJ) Fire Department
Fire Chief during the Hackensack Ford Fire, July, 1988

“If you don’t fully understand how a building truly performs or reacts under fire conditions and the variables that can influence its stability and degradation, movement of fire and products of combustion and the resource requirements for fire suppression in terms of staffing, apparatus and required fire flows, then you will be functioning and operating in a reactionary manner.”

“This places higher risk to your personnel and lessens the likelihood for effective, efficient and safe operations. You’re just not doing your job effectively and you’re at RISK. These risks can equate into insurmountable operational challenges and could lead to adverse incident outcomes. Someone could get hurt, someone could die, it’s that simple, it’s that obvious.”

Risk Based Response Assignments
The buildings, structures and occupancies that comprise typical response districts pose unique and consistent challenges during structural fire attack. The variety of occupancies and building characteristics establish varying degrees of risk potential, with defined and recognizable strategic and tactical measures to be taken-sometimes uniquely to each occupancy type. Although each occupancy type presents variables that dictate how a particular incident is handled, most company operations evolve from basic principles rooted in past performance and operations at similar structures. This is based on what I define as; “predictability of performance.”

When we look at various buildings and occupancies, past operational experiences; those that were successful, and those that were not, give us experiences that define and determine how we access, react and expect similar structures and occupancies to perform at a given alarm in the future. Naturalistic (or recognition-primed) decision-making forms much of this basis. We predicate certain expectations that fire will travel in a defined (predictable) manner that fire will hold within a room and compartment for a given duration of time, that the fire load and related fire flows required will be appropriate for an expected size and severity of fire encountered within a given building, occupancy, structural system.

We used to know with a measured degree of predictability, how our buildings would perform, react and fail under most fire conditions. This is what our years of fireground experience provided us, and how we ultimately would predict, assess, plan and implement our incident action plans and ultimately deploy our companies-based upon the predictable performance expected. Conventional Construction Structures (CCS) had this “predictably of performance.” You know, that typical residential structure, the 2-1/2 story wood frame, the three story brick and joist type III occupancy, the four story frame multiple occupancy, etc., etc. Unlike Engineered System Structures (ESS) whose predictability is rooted in the fact that they are unpredictable.

The emerging fire service issues affecting buildings, occupancies and structural systems related to ESS is only beginning to take hold a prominent role and level of significance that is long overdue. The fire service has been dealing with the operational issues and line-of-duty deaths related to ESS since the 1980s and now in 2009, we’re finally raising these ESS issues to a dialog point that is influencing firefighter safety, survival and operations. ( Refer to the Underwriters Laboratory’s (UL) UL University on-line training module for a state-of-the art presentation on Structural Stability of Engineered Lumber in Fire Conditions and performance results that correlate towards redefining fire suppression operations)

The fire service is beginning to fully recognize the merits in adjusting, altering, and changing our strategic and tactical ways of doing business in the streets. It’s becoming self evident in the fire service that it’s no longer acceptable to think that ESS buildings and occupancies will perform in the same manner as CCS buildings and occupancies and that tactics deployed in both CCS and ESS buildings and occupancies will react under similar strategic and tactical plans and tasks. These unique and inherent factors within the ESS profiles must give us a new standard for operational deployment; strategies and tactics that are defined by the risk profile of the building, its engineered structural systems, materials and methods of construction and the fire loading present.

Considerations for changing fire flow rates, the sizing of hose line and the adequacies for fire flow demand and application rates, staffing needs for safe operations, considerations for defensive positioning and defensive operating postures must be considered, and it warrants repeating again; Reckless-Aggressive firefighting must be redefined in the built environment and associated with goal oriented tactical operations that are defined by risk assessed and analyzed tasks that are executed under battle plans that promote the best in safety practices and survivability within know hostile structural fire environment- with determined, effective and proactive firefighting.

Risk-Preferring and Self-indulging Firefighting
Don’t mistake determined, effective and proactive firefighting with that of reckless, baseless and risk-preferring and self-indulging firefighting. There is a difference, a big difference. When we address relationships of Building Construction, Command Risk Management and Fire Fighter Safety with the occupancy and structural environment, all personnel, regardless of rank, need to equate the occupancy risk with strategic and tactical incident action plans. These safely compliment the identified firefighting operation risk, with the projected building risk profile and interface appropriate behavioral characteristics in the task level firefighting activities. Again, equating building, occupancy risk profiles with determined, effective and proactive firefighting.

The traditional attitudes and beliefs of equating aggressive firefighting operations in all occupancy types coupled with the correlating, established and pragmatic operational strategies and tactics MUST not only be questioned, they need to be adjusted and modified; risk assessment, risk-benefit analysis, safety and survivability profiling, operational value and firefighter injury and LODD reduction must be further institutionalized to become a recognized part of modern firefighting operations.

It’s no longer just brute force and sheer physical determination that define structural fire suppression operations. Aggressive firefighting must be redefined and aligned to the built environment and associated with goal oriented tactical operations that are defined by risk assessed and analyzed tasks that are executed under battle plans that promote the best in safety practices and survivability within know hostile structural fire environments. Consider the following definitions as they relate to defining structural combat fire suppression operations.

Aggressive and Measured Approach.
Aggressive: Assertive, bold, and energetic, forceful, determined, confident, marked by driving forceful energy or initiative, marked by combative readiness, assured, direct, dominate.

Measured: Calculated; deliberate, careful; restrained, think, considered, confident, alternatives, reasoned actions, in control, self assured, calm.

You be the judge as to what should be appropriately defining interior fire suppression operations.

It’s all about understanding the building-occupancy relationships and integrating; construction, occupancies, fire dynamics and fire behavior, risk, analysis, the art and science of firefighting, safety conscious work environment concepts and effective and well-informed incident command management. This is what it’s going to take to truly provide a means for “everyone to go home.”

Occupancy Risk not Occupancy Type
Many of today’s incident commanders, company officers and firefighters lack the clarity of understanding and comprehension that correlate to the inherent characteristics of today’s buildings, construction and occupancies. We assume that the redundancy of our operations and incident responses equates with predictability and diminished risk to our firefighting personnel.

Our current generation of buildings, construction and occupancies are not as predictable as past conventional construction, therefore risk assessment, strategies and tactics must change to address these new rules of structural fire engagement. You need to gain the knowledge and insights and to change and adjust your operating profile in order to safe guard your companies, personnel and team compositions. Again strategic firefighting operations; Strategies and tactics must be based on occupancy risk not occupancy type.
With this being stated, another primary consideration that must be deliberated and changed as it relates to firefighting and the built environment is the long held fire service tradition and practice of Structural Fire Alarm Response (resources) Assignments being based upon the Occupancy Type. Sending the two Engine Companies and one Truck Company assignment with a Battalion Chief and a RIT team to a reported structure fire in an occupied single family residential structure; is not acceptable.

As previously stated; the rules for structural fire engagement have changed. Structural Fire Alarm Response (resources) Assignments should be based upon the Risk Profile the occupancy has related to Building construction, systems and projected or determined fire loading. Sending the four Engine Companies, two Truck Companies, a manpower Heavy Rescue Company, two additional Battalion Chiefs, a Safety Officer and support staff assignment with the assigned Battalion Chief on the alarm assignment to a reported structure fire in an occupied single family residential structure, that happens to be 5000 square feet in size with ESS components; IS Acceptable.

  • There is an acute understanding and corollary of technical knowledge and inter reliance on occupancies, construction, strategy, tactics, risk, safety, physics, engineering and fire suppression theory, This is a fact.
  • Previous, historical parameters and Building/Structural Performance always provides a postulated measurement to gauge operational tasks and form the basis for the Incident Action Plan. These parameters must be recognized and integrated
  • There is a need to integrate performance based incident indicators derived from engineering, physics, fire dynamics, historical and statistical basis
  • Basic Size-Up is Antiquated for Firefighting and the Built Environment.  Start Thinking in terms of Dynamic Risk Assessment and Command Risk Management
  • USFA Annual Report on Firefighter Fatalities in the United States; “More firefighters using an aggressive interior attack in enclosed structures die more often, in greater numbers, and with greater multiple line-of-duty deaths than those using the same tactical approach in opened structure fires.”

Start integrating an understating of Fire Dynamics and Fire Behavior and the impact on structural integrity and operational deployment

Situational Awareness and Risk Assessment
Situation Awareness related to Building Construction, Command Risk Management and Firefighter Safety is another mission critical element. Situation Awareness (SA) is the perception of environmental elements within a volume of time and space, the comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their status in the near future. It is also a field of study concerned with perception of the environment critical to decision-makers in complex, dynamic situations and incidents. Both the 2006 and 2007 Firefighter Near-Miss Reporting System Annual Reports identified a lack of situational awareness as the highest contributing factor to near misses reported.

Situation Awareness involves being aware of what is happening around you at an incident scene to understand how information, events, and your own actions will impact operational goals and incident objectives, both now and in the near future. Lacking SA or having inadequate SA has been identified as one of the primary factors in accidents attributed to human error (Hartel, Smith, & Prince, 1991) (Nullmeyer, Stella, Montijo, & Harden, 2005). Situation Awareness becomes especially important in the structural fire suppression and firefighter domains where the information flow can be quite high and poor decisions can lead to serious consequences. Dynamic Risk Assessment is commonly used to describe a process of risk assessment being carried out in a changing or evolving environment, where what is being assessed is developing as the process itself is being undertaken. This is further problematical for the Incident Commander when confronted with competing or conflicting incident priorities, demands or distractions before a complete appreciation of all mission critical or essential information and data has been obtained. The dynamic management of risk is all about effective, informed and decisive decision making during all phases of an incident at a structural fire.

To the Incident Commander, fire officer or firefighter, knowing what’s going on around you, in and around the building structure and understanding the consequences of building, construction, assembly, fire load and fire development and growth is mission critical to incident stabilization and mitigation and profoundly crucial in terms of personnel safety.The integration of Situational Awareness and Dynamic Risk Assessment related to the building and occupancy is a mission critical element in managing structural fires and in the strategic command management and company level tactical operations as we go forward into the next decade. Traditional phased incident scene size-up and monitoring is antiquated and no longer appropriate or applicable to modern fire service operations.Situational awareness is a combination of attitudes, previously learned knowledge and new information gained from the incident scene and environment that enables the strategic commanders, decision-makers and tactical companies to gather the information they need to make effective decisions that will keep their firefighters and resources out of harm’s way, reducing the likelihood of adverse or detrimental effects.

Command and company officers and firefighters MUST understand the building, the occupancy features and the inherent impact of fire within and on the structure, AND be able to identify, communicate and take actions necessary to support the incident action and battle plans, mitigate incident conditions and provide for continuous safety protection to themselves, their team, their company and the entire alarm assignment operating at the incident scene.

It’s Not about Our Entertainment Value
When we focus our attention on the interdependent functional domains of Building Construction, Command Risk Management and Fire Fighter Safety and the essence of combat structural fires; Structural firefighting is what it’s all about, is it not? The reason we have such veneration for firefighting and the fire service and all it entails; has a lot to do with going into burning buildings and fighting fire. We enjoy it tremendously; because of who we are and what we do-as firefighters. But, firefighting has its adverse consequences, with all too familiar costs, in the form of injuries, debilitating accidents and line of duty deaths.

As a firefighter, to say that we love firefighting would be an understatement, but one issue that we need to address is the fact that there are many individual firefighters, companies and organizations that employ fireground operational practices that promote the “enjoyment and entertainment” of working a good job within the occupancy compartment of a structural fire in the building environment.-Staying too long in the wrong place, operating tactically in an adverse environment with known hazards that does not have value, for nothing other than the enjoyment of nozzle time and operating time in the fire.

Fire suppression tactics must be adjusted for the rapidly changing methods and materials impacting all forms of building construction, occupancies and structures. The need to redefine the art and science of firefighting is nearly upon us. Some things do stand the test of time, others need to adjust, evolve and change. Not for the sake of change only, but for the emerging and evolving buildings, structures and occupancies being built, developed or renovated in our communities.

If the fire service can significantly increase proficiencies in building knowledge and equate that to other fundamental operational aspect in structural fire operations, then there would be a direct enhancement to firefighter safety, through injury and LODD reduction. If we understand buildings, occupancies and construction, and balance this with our understanding of fire dynamics and orchestrate it with appropriate strategies, tactics and command management, then we made the new safety equation work; Building Knowledge = Firefighter Safety (Bk=F2S). It’s all about the Structural Anatomy of Buildings.

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