Ventilation Limited Fire: Keeping it Rich and Other Tactics Based Off Science

By P.J. Norwood and Frank Ricci

For Fire Engineering

Scientific research and data is critical to increase our understanding of the dynamic environments we face as firefighters. However, it is important that the message does not get lost in the noise. Although our service has been attempting to reconcile the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and National Institute of Safety and Technology (NIST) studies, we will focus on the practical application.

We have found that the new understanding is not as scary as it seems. What we consider as new is based off tactical pieces of the puzzle that have been in practiced by experienced truck and rescue companies for years.

No, we are not talking about the engine member who is riding the truck and getting his first taste of breaking windowsindiscriminately! We are talking about how venting and limiting venting has to be coordinated. There is no change; tactical discipline is and has always been critical in controlling the building. What we are learning is that it is even more important than we thought, and the fire behavior model of the past is not the same model of today.

As we discuss the UL and the NIST studies, we are finding that the latest science has just given us the full picture to link understanding and improve on our tactical disposition.

Terminology is critical to understanding. However, just because an event has a new name doesn’t mean it is something altogether different. A fuel-limited fire is no different than a fire that is producing high volumes of smoke that firefighters were taught not to break windows until the line was applying water. We have called this “keeping it rich.” This practice should continue with a better understanding of the implications of your actions and inactions. The fact is the fire environment has become less forgiving. As an example in truck school, we were taught not to vent before the application of water. We have all witnessed a member taking windows indiscriminately in violation of this rule and getting away with it. Now, we are seeing these faults resulting in catastrophic consequences.

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