By Ray McCormack
Defensive fire operations may start upon arrival or sometime afterward. Defensive fire operations, by their very nature, use a fall-back mode strategy of containment, withdrawal, and extended operational time just to name a few. Fires that do not respond to or thwart interior operations graduate into defensive fires - and utilize exterior hose streams.
Shooting water through windows and doorways during an exterior fire operation are the primary delivery points available to us. Operating through doors and windows limits our attack scrub area, but it is usually all that remains. Determining when to go defensive through exterior stream placement is a decision not taken lightly; however the choice of less efficient extinguishment always trumps potentially catastrophic results if not undertaken.
A defensive fire posture is not always handled from outside the fire building: Engine companies can switch from aggressive to defensive within the frame work of interior attack. When additional areas or larger fire rooms are come upon, it is not unusual to be in a battle that does not show instant promise. This slug fest often happens at the onset of a good job when the engine is temporally hunkered down due to amount of fire, limited access, and along with below and above grade fire attack.
Not all engine attacks are without pain; some of the pain is relegated to growing; if you believe that things always go like the training tower, that is not the case. Fire areas have a tendency to create surprises in layout, increased hoseline drag, and fire intensity. You must cross the threshold with determination supported by a plan, skill, and teamwork. Aggressive interior attack is the most efficient method of direct extinguishment and egress protection that is provided by limited staffing - the nozzle team.
The need for us to be defensive in our attack also correlates with a thorough fire attack. In other words - really work the room. Moving the nozzle to provide total coverage of the fire room with your initial pass is something the nozzle team needs to work on. We defend ourselves as we march through the fire area by not missing rooms or by an inadequate fire knockdown.
There are special teams in the fire service such as RIT, but there is no special ‘defense team.’ We all must be aware that elements from fire-attack-slowdown, through operational withdrawal, are all part of our game. Upon arrival, we must provide containment and extinguishment; if we switch to defensive, make sure you bring it on just as you should when you go inside. The plan for the game should not be fought within a restrictive framework that dismisses alternative strategies without regard; however, there also needs to be a firm understanding of base extinguishment techniques so that we can provide tactical safety no matter what mode we’re in.
Many have touted that the back-up line should be larger than the one it is backing up. For exterior hose streams, that guideline makes sense. When our attack is rebuffed initially due to a large body of fire or other ingredient that overwhelms us, we need to get a larger line. This next size up larger line may have won our initial battle, but because it was not first choice, we have inherited a defensive posture. The larger line will assist us with extended reach and penetration power and increased efficiency by delivering a substantial increase in extinguishment capability albeit from a limited access vantage point.
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