Death on the Nozzle, Boarded Up, Trust Your Gut, Nozzle Firefighter, Coordinated Attack

A coordinated fire attack is essential in our modern fire environment where fires are burning hotter and faster than ever with our synthetic home furnishings. Civilian lives are depending on the synchronized actions of firefighters to remove heat and improve their oxygen-deficient atmosphere. Together the fire conditions and civilian lives present tremendous challenges for the incident commander and the nozzle firefighter that at times will require you to listen to that voice inside called gut instinct.

Oscar Armstrong

County Fire Tactics asks you to take a moment of pause while reading this article to remember the loss of Firefighter Oscar Armstrong II 18 years ago today, March 21st, 2003. In March 2003, Firefighter Armstrong was assigned to the nozzle position when his life suddenly ended in a flashover during a residential fire at 1131 Laidlaw Avenue in the Bond Hill section of Cincinnati Ohio. At the time of his death, he was 25 years old and left behind two children, and a fiance expecting the birth of another child.


When the incident commander arrives on the scene, regardless of rank or vehicle style, the framework for the overall success of the fire begins with the scene size-up, selection of the tactics that will put out the fire based on manpower available, and the tempo at which the tactics are carried out. The photo shows smoke coming from a one-story wood frame with a central hallway leading from the front to the rear. This older home is sealed up tight, boarded up windows, and a damaged roof tarped with furring strips. A gut instinct by the IC drove a slightly slower tempo in recognizing the potential for extreme fire conditions upon opening up this oxygen or ventilation limited fire.

257 Elm Street Atlanta Georgia

This fire occurred less than six months after Firefighter Steven Solomon lost his life in a fire that occurred on November 23rd, 2006 at 257 Elm Street in Atlanta Georgia. Chief Isakson attended Firefighter Solomon’s funeral and received a first-hand account from an Atlanta Fire Chief regarding the initial conditions and operations where Steven lost his life. Isakson’s gut instinct to slow the tempo and open up before letting his firefighters advance was based on the fire behavior similarities that the two fires presented.

Steven Solomon

The unedited house fire video below shows in real-time how the nozzle firefighter is challenged more than ever to read smoke, understand fire behavior, and prevent rapidly changing fire conditions through the proper application of water with a gallons per second mindset. Gallons Per Second is a firefighter’s primary weapon to level the playing field and defeats the enemy by controlling and reducing the heat, also known as the third leg of the fire triangle. The video also captures the actions of both firefighters and the driver operator confirming proper stretch of the attack lines, proper operational pump discharge pressure, and adequate fire flow to get water on the fire in the right gallons per second.



The time-delayed tactics employed during the operation included utilizing the booster backup concept from the second due unit, and utilizing the third due unit for a sustained water supply. The fire was controlled with only about 1,500 gallons of tank water from the first two engines on scene. Employing actions like these place people before water in support of incident priorities on the modern fire ground.

During the initial fire attack, the ongoing size up revealed a separate one-bedroom apartment only accessible from the Charlie side of the structure. The line going down the Bravo side continued the interior fire attack in this section of the converted single-family home. Direct water application through interior fire attack allows firefighters to rapidly remove heat, and replace it with oxygen through our fire ground tactics. Water creates and maintains survivable space giving trapped civilians the highest probability of survival. View a related article titled “Gallons Per Second, Creates Survivable Space, 2.50″ Smooth Bore Attack, Water On The Fire”.

As referenced above, from the Nozzle Firefighter to the Fireground Commander, knowledge and understanding of fire behavior and fire dynamics is more important than ever before. By studying ALL of the UL studies we can continue to operate as an aggressive fire service utilizing scientific facts to occupy interior space and improve incident outcomes for civilians and firefighters. Part of this knowledge must include the opportunity for more than one flashover event.

Maurice Bartholomew

While the first room may flash in as little as three minutes and twenty seconds (00:03:20), other compartments within the structure will continue to heat and await additional oxygen as seen in this ventilation limited fire. UL has conducted tremendous fire behavior research in real structures over the past decade. UL’s scientific research indicates the first flashover in a structure occurs between 00:03:20 and 00:04:50 during four experiments under similar conditions from 2009 to 2020. View the newly produced UL fire video.

Fire conditions rapidly evolve and as professionals, we must continue to educate our peers, and superiors on the need for training, proper fire flows, and nozzles capable of punching the fire in the throat. Train and mentor your brother and sister firefighters. This article is written in memory of Maurice Bartholomew, Steven Solomon, Oscar Armstrong, and all firefighters who have died on the nozzle.

Aggressive Firefighting Saves Lives!!

I will not make excuses for supporting Aggressive Interior Firefighting. I have supported Direct Water Application since the 90s and have been teaching it for nearly 15 years. I supported going through the front door even with fire venting through that same door way before some test burns proved that we don’t PUSH FIRE with straight and SOLID streams. Urban Firefighters have been teaching Direct Water Application/Entry through the front door most of the time regardless of fire location. They taught this based on hundreds of FIRES they had been apart of extinguishing, at all times of the day and night. Fires that were not in a controlled environment in the middle of the day. These fires were in all types of structures with different fuel packages and different tactics. There was a time that the Urban/Fireground Experienced Firefighter was valued. Their time fighting REAL FIRES under emergency conditions were valued as a positive and not as a negative. It seems that some feel just reading books and spending time on social media certifies them to tell others how its done. I realize not all firefighters have the opportunity to get fight fires frequently and that’s ok. I respect the firefighter that continues to read and train so when the do have a fire, they are that much more prepared for BATTLE. Battle is what fighting fires is and always will be. You can not completely replace or reach the same level without the experiences. Its like our USA Women’s Soccer Team. They won not only from skill but the experience of playing in BIG MATCHES. Experience Matters! Take classes, Train in a drill tower, Get Acquired Structures, do whatever you can to prepare yourself for BATTLE. But at the end of the day you cant fully replace time compressed decision making under emergency conditions. The Fireground is a unique place and so many can do a certain tactic on the drill field, but fail to be able at 2am when fire is blowing out multiple windows. Time teaches us all that experience matters in so many parts of life. Kids thin their smarting than mom and dad until they get older. Life teaches us lessons. I wish more were looking to study the Urban Firefighter and working towards making the most with their staffing instead of making up excuses. Time Delayed Tactics is part of limited staffing. Figure out what needs to be done and then prioritize. You may need to delay some tactics until more staffing arises. Stop Making Excuses and figure out how to do the best you can, with what’s provided to you. I realize some do not have the staffing to vertically ventilate. But just because you do not have the staffing does not mean its not needed, just that you can’t do it based on staffing levels. We haven’t been doing it wrong. We have been very successful in the fire service at saving civilian lives and property. We continue to save lives everyday. We must continue to look for the best way in and sometimes/most of the time that’s the FRONT DOOR.

If we do not slow down on this push for exterior fire attack at fires, Civilians Lives will be lost in larger numbers. I have studied a large number of civilian rescues/grabs. The Grabs/Rescues were done on firegrounds were AGGRESSIVE INTERIOR TACTICS were used from the start. Civilians are mostly dying from smoke inhalation and not thermal burns. You can FLOW WATER from the yard all day and COOL the environment. But if FIREFIGHTERS are not getting inside rapidly to locate and remove the trapped civilians, they will die regardless of how COLD your HARD FROM  THE YARD is. This is not a HOT and COLD topic. Its a LIFE and DEATH topic.

Lets get back to putting the CIVILIAN FIRST!!

I am VERY proud to tell my family and neighbors that they come first when I am on-duty ready to SERVE. I am ready to serve them like the Soldier is serving all of us to provide FREEDOM. We are/become so SAFETY CONCIOUS were almost hang cuffing ourselves. Safety is Great until it cost more Lives than its saving.

Let me say that again….. SAFETY is GREAT, Until it Cost More Lives than its SAVING!!

Aggressive Firefighting Saves Lives and Property.

If you want to save firefighter lives than push for better diets, more time getting physically fit, better annual physicals, less stress in the firehouse, and WEARING SEATBELTS..

Wish I had more time to RANT.

I support Transitional Attack when staffing or the Fire Dictates. But I do not respond looking to do that as my first option. I hope that staffing and fire conditions allow an Offensive Interior Attack, utilizing the front door.

Have a Great Day!

Thanks-Curt Isakson

Searching Without a Line!


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Risk analysis models influence much of the fireground decision making in the fire service today. But at times we are called to go against these models, act against the odds. The results of such actions are sometimes tragic and sometimes successful. Regardless of the outcome, the fire service must remember that we are a human service, and a standard set of rules or guidelines cannot always dictate the actions of the firefighters who serve the public.
On the evening of January 29, 1998, at approximately 6:30 p.m., a full first-alarm assignment was dispatched to a report of a fire on Townsend Street in Buffalo, New York. The assignment consisted of three engine companies, two truck companies, a rescue company, and a battalion chief.
Truck 11 arrived right behind Battalion 3; the fire was only two blocks from the unit`s quarters. It is a single unit stationed only with the chief; it carries no water and was staffed that evening with five firefighters and an officer. On arrival, the fire was observed venting from two doors and two windows on the number 4 side, from the first-floor rear apartment of this two-story wood-frame dwelling.
With very heavy fire venting from every opening on the number 4 side of the building except one and no engine company yet on location, the prudent decision would have been to await the arrival of an engine and the stretching of a line. However, there were also a frantic mother and father screaming that one of their children was not yet out of the apartment.
Battalion Chief Tom McNaughton also relayed to us that a child was indeed inside the building. He requested that we attempt to enter and search for the child.
There were no openings on the number 3 side of the structure, and windows on the number 2 side were immediately inaccessible by security bars (doors to the apartment were on the number 4 side).
I made the decision to enter the only remaining window into the apartment that was not venting fire. Heavy smoke pushed from the window. Firefighters Tom Jackson and Chuck Sardo and I entered the window into a bathroom. There was a high heat condition in this room. Ahead was a small hallway, where fire was rolling across the ceiling. Jackson crawled through the hallway and into the kitchen. Conditions were worsening rapidly. Fire was heavy in the kitchen.
Outside, Truck 11`s driver, Firefighter Tom Schmelzinger, handed a 212-gallon extinguisher into the bathroom window to me while Firefighters Tom Sullivan and Mike Taube went to the number 2 side of the building to force entry through the security bars on the windows there. (There were also scissor gates on the doors of this apartment house, though they were not a factor in the fire.)
Jackson traveled through the kitchen, with Sardo following. I tried to protect them as much as possible with the water can. Then Jackson entered a small bedroom off the kitchen. He searched a set of bunk beds in this room, with negative results. He came to a pile of clothes in front of the bedroom closet. He found a two-year-old boy.
The bedroom window was barred, providing no exit. Jackson rushed the baby out of the room and almost became trapped in the tiny space at the beginning of the hall between the kitchen sink and hallway wall, which measured less than 18 inches. His helmet was dislodged halfway off his head. He handed the baby to Sardo, who handed the child to me, and I passed him outside to firefighters. The child was in cardiac arrest, and the firefighters performed CPR as they rushed him to a waiting ambulance.
Meanwhile, I used the water can to protect Jackson and Sardo as they made their way forward to the bathroom. It did not extinguish much fire but slowed its progress. I ascertained from Chief McNaughton that this was the only person reported to be in the structure, and we exited the structure. Engine 3`s crew had advanced a line into the building by this time and pushed into the apartment, quickly controlling the fire.
There was tremendous heat in the bathroom, where our team entered. The tub surround had melted into the bathtub, and a medicine cabinet had melted off the wall. Firefighter Jackson received minor burns to his head when his helmet was dislodged in the hallway. These types of conditions normally would indicate that entry should not be made without a handline.
However, with reliable reports such as those given that evening by the child`s family, an attempt must be made to enter and search. If a handline had been immediately available, it still may not have guaranteed success; it most likely would have been advanced in through the apartment door, and crews would have had to delay the search while this line was advanced.
About two months after this fire, a man and woman walked into the quarters of Truck 11. With them was their son, Elijah, the boy rescued from the fire. The child had a fairly large burn on his head that was still healing, but otherwise he was in great shape. If his parents were asked about the firefighting risk vs. benefit of the rescue of their child, there is no question what their answer would be. And with the successful rescue of the baby, I am sure that the collective fire service voice is in agreement.
At the time we entered, Elijah Hall`s life was in the balance, and the duration of that life would be decided within the next few seconds.
But what happens when the child does not survive, or a firefighter does not survive or is seriously injured? It seems, then, that the collective fire service voice is very muddled with armchair quarterbacks saying, “I told you so.”
Decisions such as the one made on Townsend Street are not made by a computer or in a classroom with time to ponder. They are made in a split second and often without complete information. Elijah Hall`s life was saved primarily by the actions of Firefighter Tom Jackson, but also in part by all the members of the team of firefighters who responded that evening. He was saved because Tom–with his training and experience and his team behind him, fully recognizing the risk–“went out and did what he had to do.” And that`s the essence of the fire service.
Events like this take place throughout the fire service. We seldom see names associated with these types of actions. They are not a component of ICS. What drives them cannot be taught in the classroom. Even with our ever-increasing reliance on technology and business management philosophies, the fire service must not lose sight of our primary mission–to save lives–and the fact that it is often the immeasurable personal qualities of individual firefighters that are the driving force behind the accomplishment of that mission. n