Building a Better Definition of Fire Attack

By Shannon Pieper


Culture of safety vs. culture of extinguishment. Offensive vs. defensive operations. Interior vs. exterior fire attack. The classrooms of fire service conferences, the pages of trade journals, and the kitchen table conversations of stations across the country have been filled over the past five years with a heated debate about the changing fireground and whether traditional tactics need to change as well. Some see the introduction of new tactics such as transitional attack as a failure to live up to the fire service’s sworn mission; others argue such tactics are not new at all. Bring up positive pressure ventilation and flow paths, and the conversation becomes even more complex.

“If you ask people what they mean by ‘fire attack,’ that can mean 20 different things to 20 different people,” says Chief Rick Mueller of the Waterford (Wis.) Fire Department, who retired recently as a battalion chief from the West Allis (Wis.) Fire Department. He sees the debate as less of a controversy and more of a misunderstanding. “If I qualify what fire attack means, now it locks me into behaviors that some people don’t necessarily want to be accountable for.”

For Mueller, defining what fire attack is—specifically defining its various stages—is essential to ensuring that the fire service doesn’t continue to lose and damage firefighters to preventable line-of-duty deaths. “Today, science has caught up to our tradition,” Mueller says. “Science is saying to us, maybe you should think about the way you think about fighting fires. Because that will in turn affect what we actually do; it will affect our behavior.”
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