The UnBurned Side!! Is that where we take it??

When does the Second Line not back up the first? Photo by: Dave Dubowski

The Initial Attack Line can Saves Lives or it can seriously burn and injury Civilians/Firefighters a like. There has been so much debate on where to take the Initial Attack Line when the fire is in the front portion of a structure. The Fire Service continues to send mixed messages to our New Recruits/Future Fire Officers. We must continue to learn, but also be open to what is really the best way to rapidly knock down fire and gain control of the inside. The inside is where the trapped occupants may be and it is also the best way to save the interior from destruction of Fire/Smoke. We cannot search and extinguish interior rooms from the outside. Firefighters are still making rescues daily in this country and extinguishing a large number of FIRES without incident. Yes!! We should size-up and evaluate each incident with the understanding of our DUTY.

Why not start keeping numbers on how many civilians are successfully rescued from structural fires without incident. The Fire Service seems to have become so negative and focused only on the BAD OUTCOMES. How about the extraordinary Rescues that are made and keep firefighters motivated to train for the ultimate rescue. I have seen a lot more civilian saves “from the interior of working fires”  than I have seen LODDs. I study all Fire Ground LODDs to learn from them and not repeat history. But, also we must continue to move forward and do what this great occupation has been doing for a long time. SAVE LIVES and Property!!!!

39 thoughts on “The UnBurned Side!! Is that where we take it??

  1. The first line’s job is always to get between the advancing fire and the rest of the structure. There are circumstances which a direct attack will have a faster and better result. Having said that it has to be aggressive and not a fog pattern whup it around attack. If you going to have to advance through extreme clutter and are going to get jammed up there by letting the fire flash/roll over you then a direct attack would benefit. Can this attack drive the fire, yes and if done lazily it will. You have to hit hard and with extreme prejudice against the fire. Hit it like it smacked your mother. Burned side attacks should be the rariety not the norm.

  2. I agree with Kevin. Separating the fire from potential victims is the mission of the first line but there are occasions when a direct attack with a smooth bore or straight stream can be used. Done properly, this method can either achieve knockdown or allow you gain a better position thus separating the fire & victims.

  3. Most of our fire district it would be impossible to make a push from the rear of the structure with hoarders and clutter. A direct attack is almost a must.

  4. I can’t remember if it was you Curt or Ray or it might have been John Norman but somewhere and I want to give credit where it is due but there are so many unknowns about stretching to the back of the structure and then factor in the time extra manpower and by the time you get there you will be too late. Also, in a two story structure where are the stairs to the bedrooms located? Probably right inside the front door. A well placed handline has saved more lives than anthing else we do. It even saves our lives. I subscribe to the Idea of trying to get the most information possible but if the bulk of the fire is in the front unless you know something different knock it down and then advance and put it out.

  5. Personally I think the line should go wherever it can immediately start putting water on fire. Sometimes it’s “text book” and protecting the stairs from the unburned side… Others times it’s through a window or back door from the burned side… Maybe I’ve been spoiled with smooth bores and just “getting lucky” at the fires I’ve gone to, but I am personally not experiencing anything other than the fire going out. Is it my first dues construction type? Is it our staffing? I doubt it… We are understaffed like everybody else and going to wood frames like everybody else. One thing we are not doing is Lolly-gagging in the front yard with magic markers and caution tape. When the air brake sets, we stretch…. When it is hot, we squirt water. When people are unaccounted for, we search. Great topic!

  6. Good stuff so far, however there is a time and place for everything. SOME FD’s require exterior interior attack modes and it works very well. Some have the staffing and ability to “fill the house” with firefighters and that also works very well. It is really a matter of the ability to adapt to the situation and be familiar with your resources.

    I know of some rural places that run 300 gallon CAFS rescue trucks, still attacking the fire with the CAFS booster reel and backing that up with a 1K gal. Engine…1st due. Guess what? IT WORKS FOR THEM, they put out fires from the interior, exterior and make grabs and have for MANY years. Is it right? “safe”? smart? hayell no! BUT they are severely minimum staffed with 2 (maybe 6 total + an active command Chief) for working fires and do what they have to do to get the job done.

    As for me punch the fire in the face, whether it’s through the fire front door, window, wherever, but it has to be calculated and overwhelming. It seems to me, we are still getting hurt because of the inability to adapt correctly. It’s a tough, fast paced, extremely dynamic business for OIC’s(and FF’s) decision making processes and all the more why they should NEVER stop learning and studying!

    And County Fire Tactics is a good place to start! plug-

    • I have been fortunate to work heart of Houston and rural as well. Some of those “low staffing” 6 person attacks are some of the smoothest fires I have been to. I have also been to those fires where firefighter oxygen displacement tactics where used i.e. if you send enough FFs you will eventually displace all the oxygen and the fire will go out. Those are usually bottle banging clusters and still don’t go out.

  7. I agree with the same sentiments. One scenario I hadn’t read about in these comments yet is the garden apartment. Rarely is there an option for an alternate doorway entry, therefore a front door burned side fire attack has no other choice. The sooner water gets on the fire, the sooner the problems dissipate.

  8. Lots of great stuff here already. I’m glad to see the consensus around the idea that when we put the fire out, everything gets better. Proper nozzle use and application is the key, whatever the attack. Transitional works on the fire belching out the window, just do it right. I’m all for protecting stairs and what not, but coming from a rural area of limited staffing let me say, putting the fire out protects those egress points pretty darn well. UL has proven we don’t push fire when attacking from the burned side, and proper stream placement (firefighting) can cool the surrounding area to provide a real chance to potential victims. Why stretch to the back when the fire is right here? Great topic.

  9. As with all fire responses, the conditions and layout will dictate where the first line goes into operation. I have been around long enough to know that fog nozzles will push the fire when used incorrectly, therefore causing injury or death to firefighters operating or civilians trapped. Smooth bore or straight stream application, fast and hard from the exterior or interior to provide a rapid knockdown of the fire will give crews a safer interior working environment than taking the time to stretch to a “unburned entry point”.

    Proper ventilation must take place, if the fire has not vented already. Take the scenario of stretching to an unburned entry point and opening the door, where will the fire travel to then? Straight to the opening you have just made to gain entry.

    Reduced manpower, modern construction and modern furnishings make it difficult for “textbook” attacks. Officers and their firefighters must understand building construction, fire behavior, proper line stretches and placement, proper line size, proper nozzle choice and water application, proper ventilation practices, and above all, safety on the fireground.

    • Excellent Stuff. Amazing that anyone would still advocate taking a line around back, just because the fire is in the front. Your point about the unburned side entry as an O2 feeder, is even more TRUE TODAY!!

      I use to teach “20 years ago” Left for Life and if it’s FLASHING, put the full fog over your head. Thank God someone showed me otherwise. I hope none of those firefighters still think that because of me.

      Roofers used to swing a hammer. Now they use a air nailer. We must continue to question ourselves, on if what we are doing is the best way.

      • Thanks for mentioning this issue as well. I mentioned to a Brother at a HOT class this year that I had been trying to up my game but found myself still suffering from “IFSTA Poisoning”. Where I come from, IFSTA has become the end all be all of firefighting, instead of what it is. It is a great entry level set of fundamentals to begin a career, as long as you have experienced firefighters and instructors giving real world input to give shape to the info. I like combination nozzles, but I learned pretty quick to keep the stream straight when I (or someone else) is inside.

      • I have ownership in this as well. It is shame it takes us a long time to see the bad side of things.

  10. Great Post!
    Front Door every time!!!
    1. 99.9 percent of the occupants exit that door everyday therefore it human nature to exit that way even if they have alternate exit routes. So if they are not hanging at windows on our arrival good chance they have attempted to make that front door.
    2. Since they exit that door everyday it will be mostly likely the least congested or blocked entry path for us.
    3. Most homes are layout where almost all areas have access from a doorway or hallway that leads to front door area.
    4. As mentioned before most stairways to second floor are usually just inside the front door area.
    5. I agree with what was said earlier it takes too much time and manpower to make rear or unburned attacks
    6. Lastly UL has proven we can’t push fire!!

    So considering human nature, construction layouts, lack of manpower and that we can’t push fire into unburned areas. I choose front door every time for attack unless there is something major obvious.

    Happy New Year to all

  11. I agree with the fast application of enough water and correct line placement. While going through the front door is a great concept, most departments are pulling an inadequate line and nozzle combination to get the job done. You can have the best intentions in the world, but if you are entering the front door of a residential structure with less than 150 GPM you are playing with your life. Todays fires have rapid heat build up, flame spread and massive amounts of smoke contained in the structure. This results in crews having to push in under less than favorable conditions.
    Do yourself a favor before try to implement something you have read, seen or listened to. Evaluate your capabilities as a crew and department, Ask for more information from someone who is already using that tactic. You might just be suprised to find out you brought a butter knife to a gun fight…..

    • Right on Mark. I was fortunate to see my Dept transition from 125 to 200 gpm in the 1 3/4″ crosslays. This had a huge impact on the job. The opposite side of your comment is what I’ve seen. Since Chicago does it that way, it must not work in my town. Why Not? Because the accent is different? We should be willing to train on nearly everything we see, safely, thoroughly, in a safe environment, before using it on the battlefield. Happy New Year.

      • Chicago, New York, Boston, St. Louis, fight a lot of fire and have some of the greatest most giving people, brothers who will bend over backwards to help anyone in the service. I get so sick of hearing we are not Chicago we are southern Illinois. Do people really believe fires burn differently in the city. Not saying the City brothers are perfect but they have great experience, that we can and should learn from

  12. I want to throw out the idea that sometimes the front door isn’t the main door used. Houses that have side driveways and entrance doors on that side most likely create that side door as the main entry point and thus the most familiar to the occupants. Knowing this information will come from paying attention to neighborhood trends in your area during “non fire” calls such as med calls and such.

    Houses that have such side entrys create a third possibility which is more of a flanking attack. If you can enter a side door with a quick stretch and get your line in position to knock the fire down while protecting the search team, that is a pretty good scenario to be in.

    With that being said, you still must pay attention to where the fire is and how quickly you can get there to get water on it. The simple fact remains that the faster water is applied to what’s actually on fire then things will get better. There is simply no way for us to say that it is always the best to do one thing or the other. Just like a good carpenter has many different tools that produce the same results in a different way, we must be able to take the situation given to us and make the best call for THAT situation. You just have to keep putting tools in your toolbox and know how to use them when the time comes for them to used.

    Here’s to a safe New Year!!

    • Just saw one my last shift( front door entrance was totlly clutter almost impassable)..on a med call of course!

  13. If possible you should try to stretch that first line in the most direct path to the fire and that usually means taking it in the front door. You, must however make sure that a proper walk around and size up is done prior to committing that first line because you could be dealing with several individual occupancies (duplexes or several sub-divisions) that may preclude you from getting to the seat of the fire. These kinds of residents are very common in South Florida and what may appear to be a single family dwelling from the outside may in fact be several different occupancies that do not connect on the inside. A good walk around and size-up before committing to stretching that first line is paramount in these types of residence.

    Good stuff guys…

    • A good trick to telling if you have multiple occupancies would be to count the mail boxes at the front of the building. Pretty sure I got this in Baltimore. It’s a good trick but you still need to finish the walk around.

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  15. 40 years in. I have always tried to listen to the Veterans and be a leach. I have always asked why do we do that? Nice to see science being brought in to get more information. I think a great number of us want it to be a cookbook. I have found that I have been most when I understand the concepts, assess the situation(while getting everybody busy) and apply the right tool at the right time and adjust as the situation changes. Got to monitor the changes !!!

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