VCOS speaker puts you in service faster than a residential sprinkler. Bill Carey


At the IAFC's Volunteer Chief Officer Symposium in Flordia last week, an interesting statement was made about the future of our nation's fire service. USFA Prevention and Leadership Development Branch Chief Ken Farmer was speaking in Clearwater about how the fire service must adapt to change, Much of what was written about Farmer's beliefs are correct, that we should begin to look earnestly at the changing populations we serve and our educational process. Unfortunately two statements about firefighting are disconcerting to me and should be to you.

"Stop fighting interior fires," he said. "Don't go into those fires anymore. It's not worth it. They build disposable houses these days. Our lives are not disposable."

By fighting fires from the outside, he believes firefighters will be safer and more line of duty deaths will be prevented.

"Every day I drive by the flag. If you've ever been to the National Fire Academy and never seen the flags at half staff, you haven't been there for more than 24 hours."

Understanding statements in the context given is key. "Those fires"? Which fires are "those fires"? Vacants? Lightweight truss? Non-sprinklered? Or are "those fires" interior fires?

As I have always written, and continue to do so, to ask you to challenge and question what may not make sense, are you expected to believe, by the speaker's statements, that the large reason why the flags fly at half mast for nearly every day at Emmitsburg is beacuse firefighters are dieing inside burning buildings?

The numbers say something very different. Don't just take my word for it. Look at the USFA's database.

Along with a decline in fire deaths, fire-related injuries also are down. A report released by the NFPA showed that such injuries last year were down to the lowest level in 30 years and decreased by 8 percent from 2009.

"How cool is that? That's a pretty amazing statistic," he said. "It also shows demand is down."

So, if the number of reported injuries is down then it means that the demand for our services is down? I'm not a math expert, but I'm quite sure there is little correlation between the public's need for us to respond to their fires and other emergencies and our being injured while on duty.

Maybe Andy was right when he said "don't worry about that nozzle kid, cause we don't do fires anymore."


"USFA Official: Fire Service Must Adapt to Change" Peluso, November 2011

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Tactics. Vital to success. A more intelligent approach to ventilation, based on local resources, and NOT based on what somebody else does, along with using the best possible weapon for the fight that your staff, and only YOUR staff is capable of putting into service quickly, efficiently, and with good mobility may also go a long way in improving firefighter safety.


The actions, procedures and policies of a fire department must absolutely be based on the actual ability to put those procedures into operation. Not some fantasy, follow-the-leader type attempts to mimic what the actions of those with 24 equally trained and capable firefighters on the first alarm departments do.

Now, putting that aside, look at your community. Speaking for mine, there are many older residential dwellings, rooming houses, victorian-type guest houses, commercial occupancies, and some construction that is particular to our type of area...Seashore community. Balloon construction, concrete block motels, and hundreds of new, light-weight townhouse and condo units.


So the best approach is to just stay out? A blanket approach? How about developing risk-assessment guidelines that are realistically based on your resources? Although our state has a placard system of identifying wood truss floor and roof construction, not all are in compliance. Some properties look identical, yest one may be conventional-type frame construction, the next door being all light-weight.


That's where size-up comes into play. Size-up, and resources, (staffing, apparatus: how many, how quick?), then the risk vs. gain evaluation (risk assessment) and with out a doubt, using the maximum flow rate with consideration to mobility, potential and probabale fire spread, and a solid command structure.


Those things vary from department to department. All these little incidentals considered, a good foundation of experience, knowledge, training, and enough of all  to listen to your gut reaction is what strategy and tactics are best based upon. I don't think the balnket, one size fits all approach of kicking back and using the transisitional approach provides the best level of service to your community.

However, if your community for what ever reason removes all the funding for your department making it impossible to maintain the resources to provide protection, then that may just as well be the best alternative.

I had quite a lively discussion with a fellow instructor the other day on this topic.  It involved some serious discussion and some baiting just for the fun of the battle.  But the truth is the fire service is divided right now and the division is getting wider.


We have those that are willing, under the right circumstances, to make calculated risks to save lives and property, and those who seem to believe that risk of any ,kind is unacceptable.  The truth is we need to spend FAR more time teaching students building construction, how far attacks building components, how to read smoke, how to predict fire travel, tactics and hose line selection and placement, AND proper ventilation based on a proper size-up.  A tall order to say the least, but with fire activity down in most places training has to be better to replace the OJT that firefighters use to get actually fighting a ton of fires.


The one element that seems to escape so many in this discussion is simply this, a fire in a compartment (room) that does not breach the ceiling, walls, or floor, is exactly the same fire whether it is in lightweight construction with dry wall, or turn of the centruy construction with lathe and plaster.  How you say?  Because the structure itself is not under attack, just the contents.  However, if the fire breaches the walls, or ceiling and attacks the structural components the game is entirely different.  Then lightweight construction is at a significant disadvantage and different tactics may be called for.


The one thing I ALWAYS look for when arriving at a structure fire is smoke showing from the soffits, and roof or gable vents.  To me this is an indication those structural members holding up the roof are either under attack, OR soon will be.  In that case perhaps with lightweight construction we limit our interior time to a brief hit on the fire to see if we can knock it down quickly, and a rapid search for survivors.  If we can't QUICKLY control the fire then it may be entirely appropriate to pull fiefighters from that area.



My summation of this topic from and earlier thread:


I read the article and find it nothing more than a person's opinion. The simple reality IS the fire service has been changing and adapting, tactics have changed, technologies have changed, operations changed, and so forth. To me it is almost as though this speach is several decades too late for what has been addressed.

Along with the stuff mentioned, there also seems to be a lack of foresight to the realities that are faced today that we just simply always can't make the changes so easy as the speaker alludes to.


"We've got to work to reflect our population," he said, adding that fire departments need to focus on recruiting more minorities..............


Really? As though this hasn't been already happening? Sorry buddy, you can not make people apply for and test for a job. I believe in requirements to meet the job and the best person gets the job, not just the goal of meeting demographics.


"Stop fighting interior fires," he said. "Don't go into those fires anymore. It's not worth it. They build disposable houses these days. Our lives are not disposable."


He must forget the concept of protecting property. While I understand the context here, I also believe this is a wrong approach as well. There is a lot that can be said to save a property where a business, owner, etc can rebuild lessen displacement of business or taxbase and get jobs back or homes restored faster because of quick intervention. Now, such interior tactics do depend on tactics and training, but the reality is there are countless small fires extinguished quickly with minimal damage because of interior interventions. Lets also not forget how the speaker seems to omit the mere fact of people possibly being inside. To me, such comments are talking points from someone who no longer does the job. There is much more to interior tactics than just about disposable buildings.


By fighting fires from the outside, he believes firefighters will be safer and more line of duty deaths will be prevented........


As has been the sermon points of anyone who doesn't believe in interior ops. Let's not forget the number of injuries and deaths which occur AFTER the fire is knocked down or during overhaul, etc. You still have to (or at least should) go in even after a defensive operation in order to assure the fire is completely out. This ideal of being able to do everything from outside is a dream, not the realities. As taxpayers and citizens, people also come to expect a certain service level from their tax dollars and this is also the nature of the job.


Also, lets not forget the number of LODDs that don't occur from the fireground. Most deaths today seem to come from vehicle accidents, after responses, medical issues etc and have nothing to do with the fact of going inside a structure. Sure is easy to feign LODD as a reason to sit outside, but the facts tell us otherwise.


He said that fire departments must stop merely responding to fires and instead find better ways to make sure they don't occur in the first place........


As though this isn't already happening? Sorry, there is still a limitation in being able to watch and see what individual people do. I know and heard all the data on getting out and staying out, yet how often do we hear of people going back in? Cooking fires are the number one cause of fires....yet they remain. There has been a push for residential sprinklers which have gained some ground, but then knocked back because of the construction industry lobbyists. We physically can not take out the human factor and hearing such stuff over and over again like we have to do more is becoming moot. There really IS only so much that the fire service can physically do.


"We have to shift from the response and the exciting part of fighting fires -- which I love -- and focus on prevention and mitigation," he said. "We have to stop thinking that we are 'cleanup on aisle 7' and start analyzing these incidents."..............


We also have to be ready to respond for the "what ifs" which means you still have to train and be ready for "the exciting part of the job". Besides, there is a reason one wants to become a FF and the exciting part is a big part of it, the realities can change a person over the years, but once again it is a person's personal perception. I haven't worked with a single person over my years who didn't understand the importance and focus on prevention, but yet you still have to be ready to intervene and mitigate once the prevention aspect has been breached.......let's not forget the real reason the fire service is here.


Now, Farmer was making this speech at the IAFC's VCOS (Volunteer and Combination Officers Section), so the question can crop up as to the audience. While there are many depts that already meet these changes and have adapted, there are still depts out there that haven't. We still see "good ol boys" clubs where education and prevention efforts take a back seat to having some drinks at the fire hall. Some of the stuff said is not far off either, education is being more paramount today, we see the use of social media spreading training and education messages. It is nothing to look on Youtube and get some training ideas or even find videos to learn from and do size ups on and so forth.


I adamently disagree with the staying outside concept. Part of our education that is being promoted and even touted here is recognizing situations, learning the buildings, preplan, train, and know when to go in, when to get out, how to attack etc. When making a statement like fight fires from the outside, you have now essentially said all this education we want you to know is now a crock because we have dumbed down a scene approach for you.

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