Thursday, June 21st, 2012 8:06 am
By Joe Minocchi
of Leatherhead Instructors, LLC
I am sure that most of you are familiar with the terms tenable and viable. I realize that many use the concepts and ideas associated with these terms without using the label. Nonetheless, our tactics determine what conditions are tenable and viable just as much as the conditions affect our tactics! Here is my take on what is meant by tenable and viable…
When the word “viable” is mentioned at a fire scene, I believe it is referring to the following: is a fire victim savable and at what risk. The concept of “risk a lot to save a lot” is definitely a forethought in determining whether a victim is viable. We understand that victim viability takes into account current fire conditions and whether or not a civilian can sustain life in particular conditions.
What factors determine the level of risk involved in saving?
- The department/firefighters’ specific skills and abilities
- skills and abilities are determined by the type of training
- Training quality and quantity
The concept of “tenable” takes into consideration the same ideas for interior fire conditions. When faced with this decision, we ask ourselves, “Can we, as well-trained and properly outfitted firefighters, not only enter the structure, but operate safely in the current fire conditions?
In determining what conditions are tenable, we need to identify a few factors:
- Where is the fire?
- Where is the fire going?
- What rate is the fire traveling?
When we know where the fire is, we have the ability to figure out where it will spread. Again, our training will aide in this process. Training classes or programs such as Dave Dobson’s “Reading Smoke” series can greatly impact our abilities to quickly figure out fire location and spread. Attack lines will be deployed to stop or slow fire progression, making fire conditions more tenable and prolong victim viability.
Other factors to consider in regards to tenability:
- Building construction
- What type of structure are we dealing with?
- How will it behave or react during fire conditions?
In my jurisdiction, we have a three-story ordinary-type construction building that has been vacant for many years. Currently, the ground floor has a major collapse issue that makes rescue of a person very difficult in even non-fire conditions!
What about cold storage facilities? Large structures make it more difficult to locate the fire and fire victims.
What buildings in your district make search and rescue more difficult for your department? How do you plan or how did you address the concerns you had with these structures?
I expect that we could have a week long discussion on fire conditions and understanding the concepts behind the terms “tenable and viable.” I believe that training on each and every aspect of the job is the most important factor in determining what is tenable and viable. It seems that time can either help our situation or hinder our efforts. Proper training can greatly reduce the amount of time needed to be effective on the fire ground: from apparatus placement to hose line deployment; the basics of proper ventilation and search and rescue (including drags, lifts, and carries). Quality training increases crew confidence, helps maintain physical fitness, and mentally prepares firefighters to be safe and effective in whatever situation arises.
Training on personal protective equipment (PPE) must also be addressed. Learning the design feature of the gear and the purpose of each feature should be included. When new gear arrives, don’t discard the tags without reading them – they are important to giving you an understanding of the gear and the protection it provides. It is also important to be attentive to the manufacturer’s recommendations for the care and maintenance of your gear. Clean gear that is well taken care of is vital.
The quality of our PPE, in essence, helps determine which conditions are tenable. PPE may even determine your own viability if you should become trapped or incapacitated during interior operations. If properly cared for, maintained, and worn, the PPE ensemble will protect you if conditions rapidly change or deteriorate. Understand that all fire gear, no matter the manufacturer, has limitations. However, fire gear today offers more protection than ever before. As the conditions we enter into evolve, so does the PPE. More plastics and polymers lead to more BTU’s, causing rapid fire spread and almost constant changing fire conditions. With the fire burning hotter and faster and building construction materials failing faster, our fire gear has become more important than ever.
It has been suggested that “fire gear is too good, at times” – referring to the fact that improvements in gear allow firefighters to get in closer and deeper to the fire than ever before. The gear often makes it difficult to realize how hot the fire conditions actually are or have become – exposing firefighters to higher temperatures and causing injuries or even death.
I tend to disagree with this line of thought. In most cases, the lack of situational awareness or proper training is what leads these firefighters into trouble. As mentioned before, fire conditions constantly change. Firefighters have to invariably be aware of their surroundings. They must have the proper training to be able to identify changing conditions and understand how these changes affect their current position. There are instances where rapid, sudden changes occur in fire conditions. Although no amount of training or experience will prepare you for such an emergency, today’s gear, when properly taken care of and donned, will give firefighters a better chance of “getting out alive” with fewer or no injuries.
I hope this discussion has assisted in the realization that there are many factors in determining what is tenable and viable. Firefighter mayday will be a very different situation depending on the department. Again, properly donned PPE and training both play into the determination of what is tenable and viable.
What constitutes tenable conditions for an entangled, entrapped, or incapacitated firefighter who may or may not be viable? Here we are, back at “risk a lot to save a lot” for determining what is tenable and viable!
I look forward to reading your comments and replies! Stay safe and train!