The desire to incorporate best practices and accurate information into training programs is nothing new. The National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) and UL are producing reports based on scientific analysis of fire in the structural firefighting environment. Millions of dollars are spent, and voluminous reports are generated. The problem: Research is slow to reach the drill ground and department standard operating procedures (SOPs).
In a bold move, the International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI) published a position statement calling for radical change. This is a call to action to springboard research-based intelligence into fire service training and operations. The ISFSI position statement encourages fire departments “to adjust their tactical plans and training programs to incorporate [NIST & UL] research into their emergency response operations.” With that in mind, in this article, we address just how this call can translate into action for you and your fire department.
At the heart of this training evolution is an updated operational acronym, SLICERS, which drives us to consider the importance of an awareness of flow path and cooling during fire attack. SLICERS directs us to conduct the following sequential activities:
• Size up all scenes
• Locate the fire
• Identify & control the flow path (if possible)
• Cool the heated space from a safe location
• Extinguish the fire
• Rescue and Salvage are actions of opportunity that may occur at any time
But before we delve into SLICERS and how it can improve fireground operations, let’s first remember how research has driven changes in the past.
History Meets Innovation
The primary assumption we must first accept: Research is not an attack on tradition, nor is it a statement that we’ve been doing it wrong. Legacy fire service tactics and training techniques are not suddenly obsolete based on new information. Our existing firefighting tactics and best practices must be assessed. We should keep what works, discard what doesn’t, and modify others to increase their effectiveness.
Evolution of this kind is not new for the fire service. Passive Rapid Intervention Teams (RITs) have evolved into proactive RITs. This evolution was driven by research, primarily out of the Phoenix Fire Department following the 2001 death of Bret Tarver, and the extensive research published by the department. The realization that RIT isn’t actually rapid, and a two-person team simply isn’t enough, grew from research. Today we accept this new paradigm. We’ve adjusted our SOPs, tactics and our training for RITs. This is a shining example of how research can, and should, translate into improved firefighting operations.
A shift in paradigm is now needed in engine company operations based on the UL and NIST research. The engine company objectives are unchanged in the new paradigm; we still locate, confine and extinguish fires. In recruit school, many of us learned to vent early and vent often to support fire attack crews. On the attack line, we were taught to “crash, dash and splash.” Now we are discovering the strategic importance of ventilation, and in some cases anti-ventilation.
Our firefighting forefathers talked of controlling “draft” to control a fire. With the evolution of PPE and breathing apparatus, we aggressively engaged interior attack at the seat of the fire. Most of us grew up with the familiar RECEO VS. On every fireground, the following need to occur in priority order: Rescue, Exposure, Confinement, Extinguish and Overhaul. Ventilation and Salvage are to be completed when appropriate to support RECEO.
Today we know from clear research the importance of controlling ventilation. We must evolve our training and tactics to incorporate lessons learned from research.
SLICERS from an Engine Perspective
So exactly what does the transition from RECEO VS to SLICERS mean to today’s firefighter and fire officer? To answer the question, let’s distill fireground operations to basic components of engine work and truck work. Though the rivalry of trucks and engines will outlive all of us, viewing SLICERS in the context of these two paradigms clearly outlines what is the same, and what has changed.
The job of an engine company is to locate, confine and extinguish the fire. Truck companies are guided by the acronym LOVERS U (Laddering, Overhaul, Ventilation, Entry, Rescue, Salvage and Utilities). Figure 1 (p. 42) shows how engine and truck duties crosswalk to SLICERS. This article concentrates on the engine work.
The first step in SLICERS, and the element not present in the legacy protocols, is a size-up on all fires. This critical step involves recognizing and broadcasting current conditions, a declaration of command and a guide to action. We have institutionalized the use of ICS on ALL calls. We can certainly learn to conduct a size-up each and every time we respond. Conducting a size-up every time rather than saving it “for the big one” will institutionalize size-up into all of our operations.
A complete size-up (full 360 of the occupied structure) will allow us to determine and broadcast the location of the fire in most cases. This important second step, the L in SLICERS, is an overlap with the engine company legacy task of locating the fire.
The greatest departure from RECEO in the SLICERS acronym is identifying the flow path. This is also the most important keystone behind the concept of “thinking firefighting.” Though it could be said that this is just an expansion on confining the fire, there is much more to it. We must recognize flow path and be deliberate about discussing it at every fire. Make this a part of tailboard critiques and after-action reviews. By increasing awareness you can improve perception.
Outside of actual response, flow path recognition can be learned in a virtual environment. Navigate to NIST/FIRE (www.fire.nist.gov) and view as much as you can. Look at the videos of the Station Night Club Fire and the associated fire modeling. Discuss the flow path with your crew.
Look at the fire models on the NIST site with an eye toward fire growth and travel. Observe just how quickly conditions change when air is introduced into the fire buildings. Make predictions on flow path and fire growth and travel when reviewing videos. Whether on YouTube or viewing videos in the training division library, each fire video reveals aspects of flow path.
The importance of identifying the problem of flow path cannot be underestimated. In the words of Charles Kettering, an influential designer with General Motors, “A problem well stated is half solved.” By identifying flow path, you’ve identified the path to success. This may be by controlling flow path, or operating in harmony with it. The identification of flow path is an item that should find its way into every after-action review.
In next month’s article, we’ll address the remaining elements to SLICERS: Cool the heated space from a safe location, extinguish the fire, and rescue and salvage.
By building on the success of legacy fireground protocols, we push the evolution of fireground and training. Embracing SLICERS without abandoning LOVERS U and the legacy principles of locate/confine/extinguish improves success and increase safety. Rely on SLICERS to improve operations. Size up every scene to set the table for success. Locate the fire to determine your actions and identify flow path on every fire. Practice in the firehouse, on the computer, on the drill ground and at your next fire.
The bottom line: Research can save lives without killing tradition. missing image file
Sidebar: Sample Drill
Hoseline Length Estimation & Lead-Out Initial Attack Line
Overview: It is well known that the success of many initial-attack operations, ranging from car fires to structure fires, relates to how effectively the engine company is able to lead-out the attack line. This drill will emphasize these skills in order to improve your company’s initial-attack efficiency.
Outcome: Develop skills necessary to estimate the amount of hose needed to mount an initial attack and to place it into operation in a smooth and effective manner.
Practice Application Suggestions
- Complete this practical exercise before conducting the drill to reinforce lead-out estimation skills.
- Have members mark the spot inside the building where they believe the assigned hoseline will reach from the engine’s position. Use a chalk mark and have each member initial their estimate.
- Identify the length of available hoseline to be used for the drill.
- Obtain this length in clothesline or a rope bag.
- Attach one end of the line to the engine and lead the line into the building to see where it ends.
1. Instructor will determine the initial-attack line(s) that will be used for this session.
2. Give members instructions on department procedure for pulling line and leading out.
3. Identify an objective such as a doorway or other area to simulate fire area.
4. Identify protective equipment required for
this operation and instruct members on proper use.
5. At instructor’s order, deploy attack handline(s) to objective area using the number of members who would normally be assigned to that operation.
6. Using stopwatch, time the length of each trial of this drill until a satisfactory time is reached by the crew.
7. Rebed hose as instructed.
8. Review crew performance.
9. Repeat as necessary.