Transitional Attack: Scared or Smart Firefighting?
Just the title alone should elicit strong opinions on either end. At a recent fire academy class, we were observing a live fire demonstration. I remarked to the instructor next to me that I tend to favor a transitional attack. Please keep in mind (and I want to make this VERY clear) that this comment was made with the mindset that it can be confirmed that there are no potential victims in the fire room and/or structure to be burned by any steam created by the water stream.
I know I’m not going out on a limb by saying what we all agree on and that is if someone is inside, we have no choice but to go in, and in that case, prioritize search and rescue. Risk a lot to save a lot. Although I have heard on more than one occasion of a Chief making the call to not go into a fully involved structure maintaining the position that no one could survive the conditions.
The other instructor turned to me and said “that’s just scared firefighting”. To his credit this particular individual was not only a career firefighter but also ran with a volunteer company and had a lot more experience than myself and was now looking to become an instructor. That said I sensed the machismo and sarcastically said to him “What are you going to do, save a couch”?
I certainly understood his point that in order to put the fire out you have to go in, find it and put the wet stuff on the red stuff. In a recent fire where two duplex apartment buildings burned completely, I saw two different attacks simultaneously. The first building had pets where firefighters including my son went in and rescued a cat. The other building also had no residents or pets, had burned through the roof making ventilation unnecessary and several companies set up hose lines of various sizes including a blitzfire (which is where I was) to pour water in from the outside before firefighters went in to finish the job. That was smart firefighting.
Don’t kid yourself, however, transitional attacks where extinguishment is first attempted from the outside and only when sufficiently knocked down do firefighters go in to finish the job has been around for decades. The fire service may not have called it a transitional attack and the techniques may have slightly changed but the bottom line is it’s not new. Some departments use the ceiling or interior wall to bounce a water stream off of but the one I observed at the academy the instructors had our class bouncing the stream off the window frame and into the fire room.
Now take a look at this from an instructor’s perspective. How, with what will likely be strong opinions about which type of attack is best (and you can substitute any topic in the fire service) should an instructor go about demonstrating what may not be a popular strategy. The answer is don’t bother getting into the politics of it. Depending on your location there will be multiple opportunities to set up live fire training and although a given company is going to concentrate on what they will face most often there is always room for additional techniques. An instructor’s approach should be to emphasize that it's just another tool for the toolbox; to add to your experiences because on the fireground you never know what you’re going to encounter and the more techniques you have awareness of the more prepared you will be to get the job done.
Why is this important? Because education whether it’s the fire service or even at the secondary level is cyclic. Fire attack strategies that are popular now won’t be in ten years but might be again in twenty years depending on the needs of your district. There is one universal truth about being an effective fire instructor though and that is calling out your firefighters, as did this other instructor, is never a good idea and a “sure fire way” (pun intended) to lose the respect of those firefighters. This is especially true when you don’t know the blackhats in your class, their SOPs or the situations they typically face in their district.
At the end of the day, as an instructor the best thing to teach is that regardless of the strategy used for fire suppression - there are many valid ones and there really isn’t a wrong one, the worst decision is indecision (as opposed to a particular strategy).