A building fire may seem like a chaotic situation, and in many ways it is. But fire is actually fairly predictable in consistent conditions. It’s the unexpected or unknown that can mess up fire command’s predictions of fire behavior. The dangerous aspects of fire are the real world variable factors that follow …
 Building design, layout, and material — sometimes unknown (especially contents)
 The location of the origin of the fire — sometimes not known initially
 Ventilation openings in burning buildings, such as windows, doors and holes that are created by firefighters or the fire itself; and the weather conditions that move air through the ventilation openings
At a recent firefighter training session on June 26, 2014 in Palatine, fire chiefs and firefighters invited the media to explain the benefits of increased safety and effectiveness of new operational guidelines of three fire departments in the northwest suburbs. Rural Palatine, Palatine and Rolling Meadows firefighters (together known as RPM) started an extra effort to combine fireground response guidelines from each fire agency about eight months ago. Their fireground operations were similar, but each department had their own nuances. Now the combined effort of fire chiefs Hank Clemmensen (Palatine Rural), Scott Andersen (Palatine), and Scott Franzgrote (Rolling Meadows) and committee members have produced unified guidelines for their respective departments. The combined effort is particularly important for safe and effective firefighting, and is based on research of fire behavior that highlights the importance of firefighter actions on the fireground — especially regarding ventilation, such as occurs when firefighters break windows and open doors.
Large scale research projects at The National Institute of Standards and Technology, Underwriter’s Laboratory, and The 2012 Governor’s Island Research Project (By Fire Dept of New York) have analyzed fire behavior related to ventilation flow paths to help firefighters better predict fire behavior. With improved prediction and understanding of fire behavior, fire chiefs and firefighters have adjusted firefighting tactics to improve fireground operations effectiveness and safety for the departments these three departments that often work together at the same incidents.
Underwriters Laboratory (UL), for example, has published a 405-page document titled “Impact of Ventilation on Fire Behavior in Legacy and Contemporary Residential Construction.” One important issue to understand in ventilation change is how long it takes for the fire to respond to the air provided by the ventilation event and to know when the environment becomes untenable for firefighters operating in the structure.
UL conducted 15 experiments varying the ventilation locations and the number of ventilation openings. Ventilation scenarios included ventilating the front door only, opening the front door and a window near and remote from the seat of the fire, opening a window only and ventilating a higher opening in the two-story house. The temperature was compared to examine the conditions in the houses dependent upon which ventilation openings are made. Multiple houses were constructed actual size with real building materials in a large laboratory. Based on the results, firefighters are taught to ventilate based on the location of the fire and in coordination with the operation that is being implemented.
For some practical results, here is an example of the findings of the UL research:
Opening only a door to the house was related to the slowest burn to peak temperature at 1290°F for a fire in a living room.
Opening a bedroom window and the front door allowed the fire to reach a peak temperature of 1520°F in the living room — and reached peak temperature about 30 seconds faster than the previous scenario.
Opening only a living room window allowed the fire to peak faster then the previous mentioned scenarios and allowed the fire to reach a hotter peak temperature of 2190°F.
Opening the front door and the living room window caused the fire to reach the hotter peak temperature in excess of 2190°F even faster.
Opening the front door and four windows, including the living room window, caused the fire to reach close to 2190°F with a time of 20 seconds faster than the open front door/living room window scenario.
From the research, it’s obvious how important it is for the Battalion Chief in command to have a handle on what is being ventilated, and to be aware of the weather conditions and other variable conditions. The job is safer and more efficient when firefighters have a good understanding of what to expect for their assignments.
The RPM committee created a unified Fireground Operational Guidelines flip chart (FOG) that incorporated the latest research available regarding fire behavior and ventilation flow paths.
Over the winter as the FOG was being developed the RPM Committee conducted numerous classroom training sessions reviewing the experiments and conclusions reached by the aforementioned research projects. In May 2014 the FOG was rolled out via several additional classroom sessions and tabletop scenario evolutions.
In June 2014 RPM firefighters have been conducting real time training evolutions involving every member and piece of apparatus from the three departments as the final piece of rolling out and implementing these fireground operational guidelines. Firefighters reported they were very fortunate that the owner of this property and the neighbors have allowed them to utilize a single family residence to provide this extremely valuable and important training.
The Fireground Operations Guidelines (FOG) or Field Operation Guide is published in a color-coded, well-organized flip chart format, and is expanding in scope beyond the single family residence to include …
Rural Water Supply scenarios Large Multi-Family/High-Rise scenarios Commercial/Industrial scenarios Hazardous Materials scenarios Water Rescue scenarios Technical Rescue scenarios Department Specific scenarios