The Predictability of Occupancy Performance and Tactical Patience

Today’s incident demands on the fireground are unlike those of the recent past, requiring incident commanders and commanding officers to have increased technical knowledge of building construction with a heightened sensitivity to fire behavior, a focus on operational structural stability and considerations related to occupancy risk versus the occupancy type.

There is an immediate need for today’s emerging and operating command and company officers to increase their foundation of knowledge and insights related to the modern building occupancy, building construction and fire protection engineering and to adjust and modify traditional and conventional strategic operating profiles in order to safeguard companies, personnel and team compositions.

Strategies and tactics must be based on occupancy risk, not occupancy type, and must have the combined adequacy of sufficient staffing, fire flow and tactical patience orchestrated in a manner that identifies with the fire profiling, predictability of the occupancy profile and accounts for presumptive fire behavior.

The dramatic changes in buildings and occupancies over the past ten years have resulted inadequate fire suppression methodologies based upon conventional practices that do not align with the manner in which we used to discern with a measured degree of predictability how buildings would perform, react and fail under most fire conditions.

We predicate certain expectations that fire will travel in a defined (predictable) manner that fire will hold within a room and compartment for a predictable 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 and given an appropriately trained and skilled staff to perform the requisite evolutions, we can safely and effectively mitigate a structural fire situation in any  given building type and occupancy.

Past operational experiences, both favorable and negative; gave us experiences that define and determine how the fireground is assessed, react and how we expect similar structures and occupancies to perform at a given alarm in the future; this formed the basis for the naturalistic decision-making process.

Implementing fundamentals of firefighting operations built upon nine decades of time-tested and experience-proven strategies and tactics continues to be the model of suppression operations. These same fundamental strategies continue to drive methodologies and curriculums in our current training programs and academies of instructions.

Are you aware of the defining changes in structural systems and support, the degree of compartmentation, the characteristics of materials and the magnitude of the fire-loading package in today’s buildings and occupancies? When was the last time you were out in the street with the companies, or spent some time doing a walk-through of construction or renovations site? Have you asked you commanding officers, division or battalion chief or your company officers for insights into what operational demands and risks are being imposed upon them while operating in the street and within the buildings, occupancies and structures that comprise your jurisdiction?

The structural anatomy, predictability of building performance under fire conditions, structural integrity and the extreme fire behavior; accelerated growth rate and intensively levels typically encountered in buildings of modern construction during initial and sustained fire suppression have given new meaning to the term combat fire engagement.

The rules for combat structural fire suppression have changed; but no one has told us. The IAFC Safety, Health & Survival Section (SH&S) spent that past year refining and updating The IAFC Ten Rules of Structural Fire Engagement. First published in 2001, the original Ten Rules of Engagement for Structural Fire Fighting provided a set of principles and parameters that incident commanders, commanding and company officers could utilize and implement during incident operations to decrease operations risk, increase and amplify personnel safety of operating companies.

The section moved to develop rules of engagement for structural firefighting to serve as nationally developed model procedures (SOPs) offered by the IAFC. These new Rules of Engagement for Structural Fire Fighting have been posted on the IAFC SH&S web page and were officially rolled out the Fire Rescue International in Chicago this past August.

The Rules of Engagement for Firefighter Survival and The Incident Commanders Rules of Engagement for Firefighter Safety will provide a crucial link towards integrating occupancy risk considerations with more educated and informed understandings of buildings, occupancies, and the behavior of fire with a structure.

It’s no longer just brute force and sheer physical determination that define structural fire suppression operations, although any seasoned command and company officer knows that at times. It’s what gets the job done under the most arduous and demanding of circumstances.

However, from a methodical and disciplined perspective; 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 strategic processes that are executed under battle plans that promote the best in safety practices and survivability within known hostile structural fire environments.

The demands and requirements of modern firefighting will continue to require the placement of personnel within situations and buildings that carry risk, uncertainty and inherent danger. As a result, risk management must become fluid and integrated with intelligent tactical deployments and operations recognizing the risk problematically and not fatalistically, resulting in safety conscious strategies and tactics. Today’s incident commanders need to think about the Predicative Strategic Process, refined Tactical Deployment Models integrating intelligent Structural Anatomy and Predictive Occupancy Profiling, while implementing Tactical Patience.

Think about the following;

  • Read, comprehend and implement the new IAFC The Rules of Engagement for Firefighter Survival and The Incident Commanders Rules of Engagement for Firefighter Safety
  • Take a tour of your response area, district, community or city. Take a good look around and begin to recognize the apparent or subtle changes that are affecting your incident operations; Take note and think about what needs to be adjusted, modified or changed in your operations.
  • Read up on the latest research and technical literature on wind driven fires, extreme fire behavior, structural ability of engineered lumber systems, fire loading and suppression theory
  • Take the time to personally read a series of the latest NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program LODD reports and relate them to your organizations operations and jurisdictional risks.
  • Start thinking in terms of Occupancy Risks versus Occupancy Type an align your operations and deployments to match those risks
  • Increase your situational awareness of today’s fireground and refine your strategic and tactical modeling
  • Implement both Strategic and Tactical Patience; Slow down and allow the building to react and stabilize, for fire behavior to stop behaving badly and for your companies to increase survivability ratios while meeting the demands of  conducting fire service operations
  • Reprogram your assumptions and presumptions and options on building construction and firefighting operations; the buildings have changed, our firefighting has not; what are you going todo about that gap?

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 that is no longer acceptable within many of our modern building types, occupancies and structures. 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.

Without 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, company-level supervision and task-level competencies … You are derelict and negligent and “not “everyone may be going home”.

It’s all about understanding the building-occupancy relationships and the art and science of firefighting, equating to Building Knowledge = Firefighter Safety.

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Chris Naum

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    The Predictability of Occupancy Performance and Tactical Patience
    Amen Brother! Good Article :)
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