Rebuttal – Fire Science vs. Reality
Submitted/Authored by Jeff Chandler – Tacoma, Washington
I would like to offer a rebuttal from the “fact resistant” side, if permitted (I don’t have a web site of my own). Skepticism is necessary to keep science moving in the right direction. Skepticism is often based on experience which, when taken in context, IS science. To say any of the outlandish claims currently circulating through firehouses and the internet is “scientifically proven science” is ridiculous. Many have taken small portions out of context to bolster their personal opinion. For instance, let’s look at lightweight construction. Do TGIs and lightweight trusses lose strength when exposed to fire more rapidly than conventional (“legacy”) construction? Absolutely, but here’s where we take that science to divergent positions. The “new guard” has taken this and made rules in some departments against vertical ventilation and severe restrictions on entering these structures for fear of floor collapse. My take-home from these “scientifically proven studies”? Make sure you don’t have fire below you if you’re inside (do a 360) and use caution with fires that are in the attic (like always). The “new guard” forgot that these failures were from EXPOSED lightweight members. They are not exposed if sheetrock is protecting them. It didn’t require a college degree to figure this out, just experience and simple scientific reasoning yet many departments took away a tool from their toolbox.
The condescension that comes from many of the “new guard” while they proclaim that their life is the most valuable (yes, I’ve heard it said out loud on several occasions), that we should never vertically vent, that “transitional attack” is new or preferred, that “fires of today” are a new phenomenon or that their education makes them superior to the “traditionalist” necessarily brings a gut level response from those attacked. The ‘traditionalists” aren’t the ones calling for radical changes based on experiments that don’t even begin to scratch the surface of the variables we face every day. Discounting experience gained “data points” because they come from “traditionalists” who suffer from the “disease of ignorance and an aggressive form of laziness towards having to learn new things” is in itself ignorant, in my uneducated mind. Ironically, you advertise the 110 years of combined experience on your site rather than the combined college degrees. Maybe we should study the experience levels of the two sides? Anecdotally it seems that more experience breeds more skepticism. There’s a reason for that. There is a reason that some legends of the fire service are speaking out against the current trend. I value their decades of experience and leadership, their love of this profession and their work ethic to ever characterize their opinions as fear of learning something new. For the record, I count experience fighting fires, not simply being present in a fire station.
Science once proved the earth was flat. Skeptics disproved that because it was a theory, not a conclusion. Don’t assume that skepticism comes from a non-scientific viewpoint. Assuming that there is even one percent of necessary study to reach a “scientific conclusion” about fire attack is not realistic.
For example, synthetics have been around for over a hundred years. The fact that more civilians die each day in fires than firefighters annually die due to flashover is testament to the fact we have adapted. We’ve adapted to all these new developments through experience, some of it through very hard lessons. To discount this experience by proclaiming we finally have scientists to fix us is a slap to all those who have sacrificed and helped us change over time. “Transitional attack” is what we did before SCBAs. Why did we make and stay with the interior attack model if it wasn’t a success? Wasn’t that a significant change the old guard had to make?
Firefighting is learned primarily through experience. There are no books or classes that cover the entirety of the profession. It is not just squirting water on fire by uneducated individuals holding a “labor job”. We build on our profession through a lifelong endeavor to be better and learn more. Maybe that includes a degree, maybe that includes working somewhere that you see a lot of fire. I have embraced and used many scientific findings from Governor’s Island and NIST/UL. My read on transitional attack is that if your staffing dictates it’s the best you can do, that’s OK, do it. Not a new concept. The pushback is a result of the push to “progress” without regard for the decades of real world experience that remains untapped.
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