Thursday, May 20, 2010

Fightin' Fire Like The King Of Pop

So, after a conversation with my dad last week about some new fire tactics they are training to recruits up at the academy, I put out a tweet asking if anyone had ever heard of "Michael Jackson Firefighting." Seems that no one that follows me (all 52 of them) had ever heard of it. Though I will say, the idea of moonwalking around the fire ground did seem to pop into a few peoples minds at the thought of "Fighting Fire Like The King Of Pop." So, now that I'm firmly settled into my week long vacation here in Chicago with the lady, I've got a chance to explain myself.

The topic of this is really pretty straight forward, it just requires a slight departure from "normal thinking" (at least on the West Coast).

So, we all know flashover will typically occur at temperatures of around 900-1100 degrees at the ceiling. This is typically when the gases put off by all the toxic crap in the room will ignite and turn your room contents fire into an oven. If I recall what I've been told, this typically translates to around 500 degrees mid-wall. And we all know PPE makes us somewhat immune to temperature changes of say, an increase from 250 to 350 degrees in many cases.  And for many departments (including mine) a TIC isn't available (though I certainly wish it was).

During pre-entry procedures at the door, I will pull my glove off and feel for the radiant heat through the door to find the heat level inside, then signal it to the crew. I think that is a pretty standard practice. Once inside, we stay low and advance/search around in a systematic fashion, I think that's also pretty standard. But if you asked me to tell you what the temperature is at the floor, I wouldn't be able to tell you any more accurately than "not bad" or "too f'ing hot." When we're searching for victims, we are searching in "tenable spaces" or, areas/structures where someone could still be alive. If it's 400 degrees at the floor where we're crawling on our knees, it is VERY unlikely anyone is going to be alive in that area. And if there is no chance of fire victim survival, then we need to transition to a recovery effort after the fire has been tapped and move on from there. As the saying goes, "risk a lot to save a lot, risk a little to save a little and risk nothing to save nothing."

So how do we determine if the temperature is too hot at the floor for fire victims to survive? How do we tell if the temperature in the room has increased to the point where there is a likelihood of flashover, or even to the point where it's about to happen?  Well, this is where we take a pointer from Little Michael...

What they are teaching guys in the fire lab is to take a glove off and raise your hand up towards the ceiling.  Evidentially it is human instinct to rapidly withdraw from heat at 400 degrees (something which I have tested over an oven door and found to be pretty damn accurate.  At around 350 degrees it wasn't bad, at around 400 degrees, I couldn't force myself to keep my hand there for more than a second or two.  Now, I'm sure you're probably thinking the same thing I was when I first heard this, "I'm not interested in burning the crap out of my hand."  Well, interestingly enough, our body naturally pulls away from the heat before that can happen.  It takes more than 400 degrees to burn the skin, as proven by the fact that everyone went through this lab without burned hands (including my dad).  Matter of fact, there was little evidence of any significant heat exposure at all (at most it looked about like a minor sunburn).  My next concern was steam burns.  Well, if you're getting a good knock on the fire, you're watching your thermal level, using the right pattern (read: Not fogging the shit out of the room), and the space is ventilated (like it should have been before we went inside), there really is very little risk (almost none) of steam buildup down where we're at.

It is my understanding that this tactic came from a local department, which has been using this tactic for some time.  Evidentially, they go in and fight fire with only 1 glove on in many cases so they can continually read the heat and get a better idea of where they are at so far as temperature in relation to flashover risk.  It was these guys that coined the phrase "Michael Jackson Firefighting."  I will also mention that this department runs quite a few fires, so I feel comfortable saying that if this is something they are doing, they have had plenty of opportunity to test it out.  At first, I was not particularly supportive of the idea.  However, having some time to think about it some more, talking with some guys who's opinions I value and trust, and trying my little oven experiment, I have decided that it is in interesting idea, which could have great potential.   I'm planning to get into one of these fire behavior classes at the Academy in the very near future, once I've gone through the full program and can speak not only from personal experience, but also with full knowledge of the curriculum and science behind it, I will write another post about all this stuff.

Until then, I will continue to research and read up so I will actually know what I'm talking about.

Stay safe, stay low and wear your seat belts.


No comments:

Post a Comment