Significant Stuff from the UL/NIST Studies: Not Exterior Water Application

I have been sifting through information, articles, blogs, classes, videos and everything in between for the past couple of years from the recent UL and NIST burns and research. We have all argued or debated about the application of exterior water and whether or not this is appropriate or not. While I believe there is a time and place for exterior water application, for me there are some other valuable conclusions or considerations that have not played a prominent role in these debates.

First, let me just preface my thoughts by saying that I can’t recall a time in my fire service career when fire behavior and dynamics has been at the forefront of firefighter discussion: this is a good thing! It has always taken a back seat to tactics and more ‘sexy’ topics, so no matter what your opinion is of the science and associated conclusions that are shared, you cannot argue that this has been a great thing for the fire service in general. Here’s why.

There is more talk, studying, discussion, debate and training being done on the more basic functions of firefighting than I can remember over the last 20 years. That’s not to say it wasn’t there, it just wasn’t as prominent in the class listings. Now, we can’t go to a conference without seeing classes on moving hose lines, effectiveness of fire streams and yes, the differences of fog versus smooth bore. There is real, hard evidence being provided about the reach, gpm vs. btu’s and the list goes on. These fundamentalists, I use that term in an endearing fashion, are well armed with heat release rates that need to be overcome and can apply their knowledge of water and cooling from hose lines to the data being provided from the research.

There is real interest in heat release rates, heat flux and interior temperatures during fires. Fire behavior education has taken on a whole new meaning and has turned classes speaking in monotone about the fire triangle into meaningful discussion about exactly ‘what’ is happening on the interior during fire growth relating energy to the effects it has what we can and can’t do without cooling. Thus, back to moving hose lines while flowing!

We can more easily explain, with understanding, the effects of heat energy on our gear and protective ensemble. The gear we wear is not only susceptible to temperatures, but heat energy as well. Our face pieces are highly susceptible to this and can fail much faster than our bunker gear. The research has allowed us to identify some of those dangers and time frames for failure. Again, making cooling the environment even more important, no matter where you are in our about the building.

The information has shed some light on the very small window of opportunity for successful ventilation during building fires. It shows that ventilation teams or crews must be patient and communicating with the interior crew is critical and required. It has also shown that effects of over-ventilating and venting without regard to conditions and resources. Have we suspected or known this? Sure, but the studies have given us quantifiable information that validates those beliefs.

Speaking of resources, if we don’t have the initial resources to get to the fire, these studies has shown that having tactical patience is a must. Keeping the building sealed up until you are completely ready can pay off with huge dividends by limiting fire growth. For example, we know we have a fire on a second floor and we suspect from our size up that we have return stairs and a landing going up, and we are sitting with two personnel. It might be wisest to wait on the next company before we open the building and move the line. It might actually be faster to move the line to the second floor after waiting for two or three more crew members, not allowing the fire to grow unchecked in those circumstances. Stuff we already knew? Maybe, but the testing showed that it is appropriate to be patient to limit fire growth.

How about what the studies have shown for us to convey to the general public? Controlling the door isn’t just for firefighters making entry or performing VES. Maybe we should be changing our evacuation message to our citizens to one of compartmentalizing themselves from the fire and the rest of the building. It has been shown that even at low levels, with little or no smoke, there can be high levels of CO at the floor. So, occupants trying to escape may be better to isolate themselves and get to a window. Just some food for thought.

I guess I just want us to look at the research from as many levels as possible to improve the fire service and not just get hung up on the hot button issue of exterior water application. I believe that there is and will be more information that we can use in other ways than just the water application. Some are being discussed, like door control and ventilation, and we should be taking advantage of the information. Let’s look beyond the easy debate of exterior water and see what we can find to help us on a daily basis in all areas of fire attack. One of the videos shows a side by side look at a house fire, one with a TIC and one without. It has been invaluable in teaching size up, the 360 and the use of the TIC conducting both. Or the importance of the line officer frequently monitoring conditions for heat while advancing the line? Critical!

So, find and use the information for as much as possible, not just one facet of the research. Be inquisitive, question information, but don’t just blatantly discard it. Be engaged and share the information.

Thanks for reading and have a great week.


  • John Mallott says:

    Jason; Some good information the fire service is very dynamic and always changing. thanks for the article will share with the fire department officers for “food for thought” and some insight information..

  • John Dixon says:

    Great post Chief! I like your use of the term “tactical patience”

  • Tony Correia says:

    Jason I have been having the same thoughts & analysis of the different aspects of the “new” fire behavior. We should be worrying less about tactics and more about cause & effect. More about when you take an action what is the reaction. After 37 years i am paying much more attention to the chemistry & physics of fire. Just as in EMS where we need to know anatomy & physiology before we know what treatments to use, we need to know the anatomy & physiology of fire first.

  • Eric Wambsgans says:

    Jason here is a video from the UK about ventilation, enjoy!!!!

  • Ed Kush says:

    Thank you for a thoughtful and well-posed assessment of the comparison and relation of fire ground hands-on knowledge and tactics in relation to fire science (R&D) studies. In the late 1980s at Nassau County (NY) Fire Academy as both a volunteer firefighter and an aerospace research engineer, I headed up an extensive study of the characteristics of the training fires (thermal loads, temperatures, dynamics, et al), the tactics, and the effect of the fires on turnout gear components. While we drew on engineering theory and approach the main theme was firefighter hands-on operations and personal situational awareness. I worked back from there to integrate with the theory and lab aspects. The testing incorporated experienced instructors from the Academy, who were able to input their expertise even as they learned new information. There was practical knowledge imparted to the County’s firefighters, and I published several journal articles to disseminate to the fire science community.

    It was a nice start, and we tried to move on to further studies and sought some funding. But we were stymied in that, while NIST received large sums for lab studies and theory that, while technically good quality, never seemed to be of any use to actual firefighting. Our efforts were to fill that gap. It is good to hear that now there is NIST/UL information being generated that can be of value to the front-line firefighting. This is particularly important in times of increased firefighting hazards due to materials, construction, and application of high-tech fire equipment. Sincerely, Ed Kush, PhD, water Mill, NY

  • Jeff Gillette says:

    Good article in response to the studies. As far as public info on closing the door, FDNY put out a public service message that in the video states close the door about a hundred times (it’s probably 10 times). I will try to hunt it down for you.

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