Author(s): Kathleen Almand. Published on November 4, 2014.

IN SEPTEMBER, NFPA'S URBAN FIRE FORUM released a position statement it called “Fire Behavior and Tactical Considerations.” The statement was crafted in recognition of the fact that, as the methods and materials of construction in today’s structures change, firefighting tactics must change with them. We can no longer rely on decades of accumulated experience to drive that change—instead, we must look at the underlying science to understand new hazards and adapt our firefighting techniques to meet them.

I take this statement as a challenge for the Fire Protection Research Foundation. An essential part of our mission is to improve the technical basis of NFPA’s codes and standards, including documents designed to assist emergency responders. Over the past several years, the Foundation has conducted many projects in collaboration with the fire service and the academic community designed to impact those standards. These projects have provided needed information on personal alert safety systems, firefighter breathing apparatus, personal protective equipment, and many other resources designed to make the emergency response environment safer.

But what about tactics? The shining star in our portfolio on this subject is the research, conducted over the past two years, to support the training of emergency responders on electric vehicle (EV) incidents involving lithium-ion batteries. The new hazards presented by these vehicles demanded a fresh look at tactics for fire incidents, and resulted in guidance and associated training for safe firefighting. In this case, our work informed a widely distributed emergency response handbook and associated classroom and online training.

In addition to our EV work, we conducted a 2007 study that explored best practices for overhaul on the fireground, including a comprehensive survey of those tactics that focused on the use of breathing apparatus. In 2009, we collaborated with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), along with the Fire Department of New York and the New York University Polytechnic School of Engineering, to explore the wind-driven fire phenomenon in high-rise buildings and to develop tactics and equipment to enable firefighting in this challenging environment. Most recently, in collaboration with the University of Arizona, we undertook a project exploring the use of crowdsourcing in developing standard operating procedures for EV firefighting.

The Urban Fire Forum’s latest call to action promises to draw upon all of our accumulated knowledge around firefighting tactics. There is a growing body of research work, conducted by Underwriters Laboratories, NIST, and others, that indicates we must fundamentally rethink firefighting in the most widespread of applications, the single-family home. Modern home configurations, materials, and contents can result in a much shorter time to flashover, presenting responders with more challenging fire scenarios and necessitating a new look at the tactics used in those situations. There is a growing awareness on the part of the fire service that its standard operating procedures must evolve to meet these conditions. A request, currently under review, was recently submitted for a new Technical Committee project to address the basic framework for firefighting procedures and guidelines, based on new and emerging research. The outcome of such a project could assist curriculum developers to align the delivery of fire service curriculum and training with a validated set of practices.

Meanwhile, the Foundation looks forward to the challenge of providing a bridge between science and the fire safety community in the area of firefighting tactics—a key part of the Foundation’s mission.

Kathleen H. Almand, P.E., FSFPE, is vice president, Research, at NFPA, and executive director of the Fire Protection Research Foundation.