Chief John Salka recently posted a blog entitled "Transitional Attack is Whack".   The blog and quite a few replies can be found at


I have a great deal of respect for Chief Salka, his experience, and his expertise, but I believe that his description of "Transitional Attack is Whack" is neither complete or accurate.  From the article, I don't think that Chief Salka shows a complete understanding of what a Transitional Attack really is, when to employ it, or how to coordinate it.  He didn't discuss any of the issues of modern fuel loads, todays hotter, faster fires, lightweight engineered residential construction, or long-span open architecture that can indicate the need for a Transitional attack.  He also didn't mention the lack of manpower that many fire departments face, but that wasn't an issue during his career with FDNY.


It's pretty basic. A quick burst with a straight stream from the exterior isn't going to make a bunch of steam, it's not going to push fire anywhere, and for departments who don't have big-city quantities of firefighters arriving on the first alarm, it may be the ONLY alternative to standing there doing nothing until enough firefighters arrive to mount an interior attack.  Appropriate training, well-disciplined firefighters, good size-up, and appropriate Command decisions will keep the exterior part of Transitional attacks, short, sweet, and to the point. 


For those departments without the initial manpower to mount an interior attack, the fire keeps eating at the structure...not a good thing as we all know.  It isn't necessary to stand frozen in the yard aiming the stream at the ceiling.  What IS nececessary is to avoid fog streams, and to avoid continuing the exterior part of the Transitional attack after there is a quick knock on flashover venting to the exterior - usually through a window.


Now about that lightweight, engineered construction - something that is rare in NYC but that is common in a lot of other places... With fires in the void spaces, unsupported long spans over the open downstairs in SFDs, and the differing air flows in current construction just don't make the fire behave in the same way as it does to the legacy, multi-residential construction with which Chief Salka is most familiar. The variables - and the rules - are simply different anywhere with lightweight engineered construction.  Add response delays, low manpower, and/or water supply limitations, and you have a situation that may call for a Transitional attack as a terrific initial company operation.

In lightweight engineered construction, early structural collapse is much more likely than in legacy construction due to engineering being substituted for structural mass. Structural mass resists fire. Engineered trusses, glue-lam, or OSB I-beams do not. In those cases, entering beneath self-venting fire is essentially a well-intentioned suicide attempt. Basic fire cause and origin classes tell us that in engineered construction, the largest volume of fire is where the fire has been burning the longest and thus, where the structure is most compromised. Hitting that fire from the exterior can often be the ONLY way to prevent that early collapse.

We should be past the point where we only have one way to do things, particularly where the variables are so different.  We shouldn't ridicule scientific studies, particularly when those studies are backed up with real-world experience from those who actually applied those techniques a long time before they were studied scientifically.  Transitional attacks have been discussed in firefighting textbooks as far back as 20 years ago, and were used in some places before that.

The problems Chief Salka describes with hitting the fire from the outside are not problems that arise from a true Transitional attack. They are problems that arise when the firefighters pass "Transitional" and go to "Defensive".   Using the wrong nozzle pattern is a bad thing whether done from inside or outside, and putting water into a room after knockdown is also a bad thing regardless of whether its done from inside or outside.

True Transitional attacks won't have an outside line hit the fire as an interior line is reaching the fire room - the FIRST line will hit the fire before another line is stretched.  In most cases the exterior line will be moved to the interior before the manpower to stretch the second line is even on scene.  If not, there's a simple way to avoid opposing lines - the miracle of radio communications and the interior company officer carrying a TIC and paying attention to interior conditions will take care of that.

Then there are the hotter fires, more rapid firespread, and earlier flashover caused by the high fuel loads from polymers, artificial fabrics, and foam-filled furniture.  Every SFD with those fuels is essentially a smal version of the Sofa Super Store fire waiting to happen.


Case in point - a couple of years ago, I was the first-due chief on a lighweight engineered construction SFD, pictured above.  (Photo taken prior to FD arrival.)  This fire was well involved from a lighting strike, a delayed alarm, and subsequent electrical arcing throughout. The A-B corner was already collapsing from fire damage when an engine, a medic unit, and I arrived. The fire was extending to the Bravo exposure. Two members of the engine stretched a handline and protected the exposure, one of the medic members caught the hydrant and charged the supply line, and the second medic member used the deck pipe with a solid stream to knock down the main body of fire. Two (later-arriving) additional engines took handlines 2 and 3 in from Side Charlie, and a truck went with them to search and to open ceilings to ensure that no fire that might attack structural integrity was passed. Fire driven into the structure - Zero. Additional structural collapse - Zero. Victims steamed - Zero. (there were none, but the viable parts of the structure were kept viable by a controlled Transitional attack.)

For those who who claim that those of us who advocate for the situational use of Transitional attacks probably haven't "taken the heat in a hallway" lately, I agree.  The lightweight, engineered construction buildings I'm discussing don't HAVE hallways.


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I can't tell you how much I appreciated your post.  I have come to the conclusion that there is a huge misunderstanding in our industry about what a transitional attack really is.  I agree 100% with your description and reasoning.  I would add that the average exterior attack portion of transitional is less than 60 seconds in duration.  My favorite is deck gun transitional on tank water as the first hand line is stretched.


Has anyone been noticing an increase in the number of firefighters that are being caught in a flashover?  Maybe we are better at reporting it and other near misses now however I think it is an indication of an increasing trend. 

I think this would be a great rebuttal to the comment section of the blog. When I first read the blog, I also reached many of the same conclusions as here and how Chief Salka let personal opinion cloud the bigger picture. While I agree Chief Salka is a well versed, well respected, very experienced leader in the fire service, it doesn't mean what is said is always right either. I also sometimes see how one's own experiences of such speakers, etc do not take account for the audiences and the diversity involved.


The comments Chief Salka makes do not account for all the situations where such a transitional attack is warranted nor the precious time that can be given for crews to initiate an attack. As mentioned here, there IS a place, time, technique and proper use of such a tactic, but to dismiss it entirely as Chief Salka has, is a disservice to the fire service and does not account for differences out there.


To me, I think this should show any person out there the importance of keeping eyes and ears open and not to just accept one person's opinion as matter how well versed or experienced they may be, because they do NOT work in your dept or environment. For me personally, this is not the first time that a speaker/instructor from the FDNY may seem to forget their audience doesn't always comprise of coworkers and what their dept does, or has staffing for, is quite the contrast for many depts out there.


A particular speaker from the FDNY came to my dept for a presentation. There was definately some greta topics covered, advice, experience and learning going on, but one particular topic I disagreed with and sticks out to me. A scenario was given a FF was on the nozzle and going in and they come across a victim and what do they do. One of my co-workers stated (as I was also thinking) you make the grab and get the which the speaker said " call for another company and then attack the fire". While in context the message was about getting the fire out reduces the other problem......such an answer doesn't account for the fireground staffing, the building, the tactics, sizeup and so forth. Point being is while in FDNY when they have the equivalent of a second or third alarm resources of many depts out there, with their first alarm....they can operate differently, but doesn't make them right, nor other wrong. With such a simplistic scenario, it didn't take in account if it was one person unaccounted for, what the truck company/rescue company was doing, where the back up line was and so forth...............Point being, there are just as many reasons as to why a grab SHOULD be made as well as why wait for another. In many depts, there really may not be a company available to go in to make the grab so the attack could bypass.


This is why when it comes down to such speakers, topics, presenters and so forth in the fire service that it is up to the individual and dept to apply the lessons for them, how it fits for their staffing, buildings, layouts and so forth. For one to easily take what Chief Salka said about transitional attack, without considering what was written here becomes a perfect example of tunnel vision.


The most definately is a place for such a tactic, and while Chief Salka so easily tossed aside the scientific evidence as "what could be done in a test facility" and countered with his own "In my experience" to dismiss such evidence.....well that doesn't really supply empirical evidence either does it. So to take a page from such a playbook, while there is testing and evidence done on transitional attack.....I have also seen it personally used in the "real world" and was successfully done to buy enough time to make an attack.

For those that say that the Transitional Attack is for people who cannot take the heat, you just need to look at our brothers in Detroit. They see more fire in one day that most of us do not see in a career sometimes, and they use the Transitional Attack very effectively. They will use the deck gun and empty the tank while water supply is being established and then begin the interior attack. While they do not do this on all fires, it is a tactic they keep in their back pocket. It is a tool, that when used correctly, can effectively knock down a fire quickly and save an otherwise lost structure.

I read the article a couple days ago and didn't finish because I was so surprised at the negativity towards the transitional attack. I have trained on this type of strategy many times and seen it used a few times during fires and when done properly, it is a great strategy and is very effective.

Just like everything else we have, it is another tool in our arsenal. One, that when used properly and in the right situation, is very effective.

Very good post Ben, thanks.

I just returned from this same discussion at my state fire academy today.  One of the key things brought up by our new Fire Academy Superintendant, Shane Ray, is that we used to fight fires that put off around 1 megawatt of energy in a room-and-contents fire.  We now fight fires that put of 5 megawatts or 10 megawatts of energy in the same size spaces.


That extra energy makes rooms flash over much more quickly, it damages the structure more quickly, and it makes it much more difficult to claim that we saved anything of value, since the flashovers occur within 2 to 5 minutes, unlike the 20 minutes or more we used to have.


The quickest way to remove the energy from those fires is to hit it Transitionally, remove the big energy from the fuel, stop the pyrolysis, and to realize that NO ONE is going to survive in close proximity to that flashover. 

Good point and well stated.

He is a chief with the FDNY.  The FDNY is one of the  best staffed fire departments in the country.  He is writing from his point of view and I agree 100% with Chief Salka.  Some of you are so hypocritical with your posts.  You get upset and complain about how he doesn't understand small departments.  Well he DOES NOT work for a small department.  If every article had to be catered to every fire department in the country then this article would be endless.  Stop taking things so personally and do what works for your department.

It's actually very annoying because a few guys on here attack me at every chance they get when I post a tactic or idea saying that it's "unnecessary risk" or that I'm forgetting that some people don't have the resources I do in Washington, DC.  Yet, those same people post their own tactics about their tanker operations and difficulties with small or less trained crews.  

I post my tactics because that's what we use.  They obviously work considering the DCFD has been around much longer than most departments in the country and has seen quite a bit of fire.  Many people come to train with departments like the DCFD and the FDNY(both run because of the advanced training and experience, even though many that use that training in their own department due to their resources.

Detroit isn't like most large city departments.  I know several Detroit firemen and they are very aggressive.  However they do not have the resources that other departments their size do.  If they did, they probably wouldn't be doing this.

This is what I was attacked for the other day when I made a comment that if there's no fire, there's no problem.  That's what the FDNY firefighter was getting across during that presentation.  If people are showing up to a presentation from someone that works for the FDNY, then expect his view points to be from how things are done in NYC.  Why would he talk about anything else?  People should know this going into these things.  If you don't want to know the way they do things then don't ask.

The problem with Ch. Salka's article is not that he disagrees with the article, it's his attitude.  He doesn't present a well thought out rebuttal or counterpoint to the tactic.  In fact, I'd say he didn't really consider how the tactic is used by other dept's around the country.  FDNY is a great dept.,  but their tactics and procedures are designed for their city.  They don't work in many places for a variety of reasons, and if Ch. Salka is going to write opinions on firefighting tactics addressed to the rest of America, then he needs to understand that FDNY is not the be all, end all to firefighting.  He needs to understand how the rest of us function, and he needs to present a well thought out opinion, not a rant.

Wow, I also know numerous Detroit firefighters and have gotten to work and train with them on occasion. I understand their situation, and that is why I brought them up. They struggle with resources at times with rolling black outs and they sometimes use the a transitional attack. I also understand that for departments that have the manpower, this tactic is not something they would use (I would not use this tactic unless absolutely necessary based on manpower, also not very good to dump your tank with the deck gun if you do not have a readily available water source). I only brought up Detroit, it has been said before on other threads about this topic, that an aggressive department with aggressive and well trained firefighters would never use this tactic.

I understand what you're getting at and wasn't trying to call you out.  Just pointing out that Detroit is kind of a rare exception.  They are some of the best around but still so different than most big city departments.  Not because of their attitude or aggressiveness, but because of their manpower.

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