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Be Smart About The Hype: Transitional Attack, SLICE-RS, and Our Blue Collar Roots

The coupling of transitional attack and SLICE-RS together is a complete fallacy that is bringing a poor light on a tactic that has legitimate value on the fireground. Transitional attack is a means of attempting to control the fire, or in this application, knock it back enough so that crews can transition into the offensive mode. I make no apologies when I say that SLICE-RS is a means to killing the civilian, which was obviously unintended, but desperately needs revision.

SLICE-RS didn’t put this fire out and it didn’t save those people. Blue collar basics and high levels of proficiency did, if they did it in rubber coats and pull-up boots, our fire service can do it today!

For those that are ready to tar and feather me for saying this, let me ask you a question. In what world does a firefighter put the rescue of a civilian at the bottom of the list? You can tell me all day that our safety is paramount, to which I will adamantly disagree. We have a dangerous job that we volunteered to do; no one held a gun to your head and forced you to apply to the fire department (career or volunteer). We are asked from time to time (some more than others), to do dangerous stuff because that is what we are expected to do by those who are helpless at their worst time. That doesn’t mean be reckless and unaccountable; there are thousands of departments that are wildly successful at taking risks everyday in order to protect civilians and their property. How are these departments successful? By developing a culture of aggressiveness through training, which creates buy-in, and will automatically force out those who are not willing to perform at the same level.

I, by no means, deny the science behind the live burns in the UL/NIST studies, but a house prepped for a 1403 burn is not the same house that we are responding to at 3am with people trapped. We do not remove all non-class A combustibles before we go to a job, we don’t create our own flow path via interior set up before our jobs, and we don’t know the extent and location of the fire as we would with a live burn. In turn, I am skeptical of a lot that is produced from “Principals of Modern Fire Attack” studies.

Everything about our operations should revolve around the simultaneous rescue and fire attack operation. Transitional attack is a very viable option as a first due officer completes his size-up. A very simple, “Hey get some water on that while I do my 360” is a transitional attack providing the crew goes offensive once the size-up is complete and conditions dictate that be the appropriate course of action. Frankly, I am tired of seeing photos and videos of a 1200 sq. ft. home with one or two bedrooms off, or hell, even fire in the attic, that caused the entire home to burn down because it, “doesn’t fit our department’s survivability profile” and we aren’t going to risk anyone getting hurt. Again, we do a dangerous job and we are expected to take risk.

When we as a service create an acronym, you’re essentially creating a step-by-step list for the firefighter to follow. When we as a service make everything an acronym, we’re calling ourselves dumb. I want a firefighter smart enough to analyze what he is seeing, and not just check-marking down a list. We can teach a seven year-old how to throw a ladder and how to open the bail of a nozzle, but the difference between an adult and child (other than shear strength and size) is the ability to think critically and apply critical thinking. Acronyms have created a mass application of tactics that aren’t meant to be mass applied to every fire we go to. Just because it’s a thing, doesn’t mean you should do it. The role of acronyms in any setting (educational, professional, firefighting, etc.) is to help aid a person in remembering a specific process.

What this fire service needs is the revival of the thinking fireman and the “pass it on” aspect of the senior man. After speaking with a mentor of mine this past weekend (an engine company officer at a fairly large Florida fire department),it was his assertion that the blue collar roots of this profession need to be placed at a higher value, to which I totally agree. This doesn’t mean we should not attempt to gain higher education, it just means that our priorities should be focused on having a workforce that is highly proficient at the basics before anything else. One example of a “system failure” is that we still have firefighters who are unable to operate a 2.5″ line due to poor education, technique, and line management. This is unacceptable. We need to boost the levels of department training, not to satisfy ISO, but to create and breed a culture of firefighters who are confident in their skills, abilities, and fellow firefighters in order to best protect the community as a whole.

If your department places their first priority on anything other than the people you are sworn to protect, I encourage you to start asking questions and help change the culture. “Me first” has never been the motto of the fire service, and I’ll be damned to see it happen.

– Zach Schleiffer

Hooks N Helmets


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22 Comments on Be Smart About The Hype: Transitional Attack, SLICE-RS, and Our Blue Collar Roots

  1. Jeff Chandler // August 27, 2016 at 2:29 am // Reply

    Well said! Any acronym created simply to create a new acronym is suspect, as is Slice-rs. We can do better, and did (using acronyms that began with R). Sipping a latte while gabbing about “risk profiles” will kill this profession and the people it was started to protect. We are here for them, not the other way around.


  2. Maybe I don’t understand slicers. Maybe I’m an old guy that is unwilling to learn. Here’s my beef and I haven’t found an acceptable answer. Inside the fire building is the unburned products of combustion and new techniques don’t appear to be ventilating those unburned products of combustion out of the structure quickly enough. Smoke is hazardous to our victims and to us. If any new techniques don’t provide a solution to ventilate while finding seat of fire and providing rescue then I don’t care for them.

    Yea transition is nothing new. Whether called by dumping the monitor or taking the sting out of the fire it’s been a valid tactic since I’ve been in the fire service.


    • Hi Brian, The new techniques are a result of research but also common sense from long ago. I’m not sure if you are familiar with wood burning stoves but, if we want the fire to grow, we usually open the damper to create a flow path of cool air to feed the fire while the chimney vents the smoke. Uncoordinated ventilation does the same thing… many modern homes are tightly sealed so fires may become ventilation limited and begin to decay fairly quickly. If we vent upon arrival we are giving the unburned particles what they need to flash rather than releasing them. Worse, if we have a crew inside and another crew venting at the wrong time or in the wrong location we can create a flow path (either an intake or output) that puts them and any victims at higher risk. There are quite a few good videos on this topic. Hope that helps – Have an awesome day!


    • Like

    • Mark Meaker // August 9, 2017 at 2:39 am // Reply

      One of the most important findings the “New Science” has empiracally identified is that modern structural contents (furnishings, floor and wall coverings, etc.) produce 4 x more mega-watts of heat energy per pound of fuel than those typically found 50 + years ago in a “legacy” structure. As a result, the vent holes I was taught to open when I entered the fire service 46 years ago, and were effective in reducing interior smoke and heat to allow safer entry and more effective rescue and firefighting, are no longer as helpful and are often less than helpful. The 400 percent increase in heat production per pound of modern furnishings vs. legacy contents means that opening up a vent hole or other openings into the structure to release the products of combustion today usually adds more heat and products of comnbustion as the modern S o fuels, when fed fresh O2 via the new openings, generate a greater rise in interior temperatures and products of combustion than the vents and openings can handle. Thus, the imperative to condition and/or reset the fire by initially attacking from the exterior before opening up the building and making entry for an interior attack. Doing so immediately before venting and entry reduces the heat production such that the venting can now off-gas more than the introduced oxygen can generate additional products of combustion. Pertaining to the authors comments about SLICE-RS somehow diminishing the priority for rescue, he must not understand that the “-” separating them from the balance of the acronym intends to inform the firefighter that they are to be applied when, and where and as soon as needed or appropriate.

      I read the bio of the author. He’s an apparently well educated and intelligent young man in his mid 20’s. As such, he has a growing body of explicit intelligence (aka “book learning”), but lacks a substantial base of “implicit” intelligence (aka practical, on the job experience). As he ages and becomes more well-rounded via a more balanced combination of book learning AND street smarts, he will be better able to integrate his intellectual acquisitions with his practical knowledge.


  3. Ironically.. the mantra that they are pushing with SLICE-RS for first due companies conflicts with the mantra they are pushing for command officers… RECEO-VS, where the R comes first!


  4. Chief GL Bowker // August 27, 2016 at 8:55 pm // Reply

    Good read. My take on this on-going debate is that we need to be smart enough to know when to be more aggressive and when not to. When I was an operations chief, one of my primary concerns was to make sure my firefighters went home. However, when a life was at stake or believed to be at stake, we would pull out all the stops and would risk the most we have, our own lives, in hopes of saving a life. We have to always be wiling to do that, but smart enough to know when to be bold and when to be more cautious.


  5. Richard Rodriguez // August 28, 2016 at 8:50 am // Reply



  6. Since I didn’t create SLICERS I can’t speak for what exactly Chief Buchanan means by the term. What I can say is that any firefighter who is dismissing out of hand any information/ research/techniques that may make civilians safer and lessen building damage needs to take a look in the mirror. Pride in doing it the old fashioned way doesn’t have to- shouldn’t- conflict with learning new tactics. Would you take your kid to the oncologist who spoke with pride about learning nothing new since finishing her residency in 1979?

    My biggest problem with SLICERS is that “safe” should be replaced with “tactically advantageous”.


  7. The reason why the RS in SLICE-RS is separate from the rest it’s because it can be put anywhere in the first part of the acronym if needed. So the rescue is never last. Beside I don’t see why holding a 2″ line is a contradiction with new tactics.


  8. Jeff Chandler // August 29, 2016 at 12:04 pm // Reply

    Renaming an old tactic does not a new tactic make. “Transitional Attack” was the only option before SCBAs.


  9. It’s not “at the end” and I disagree with how you demonize slicers. Rescue and salvage are to be done whenever possible. Sometimes we need to extinguish a fire to get to the victim first, sometimes they can be pulled before locating the fire. That’s the point of slicers. Anybody with any fireground experience will just do what needs to be done without using acronyms. Arguing about how the acronyms are laid out and saying that a concept that makes a standard approach to firefighting and rescue clear to many is not going to further the profession.


  10. Good read. It’s always beneficial to dissect and be cautious about new techniques and ideas. In reading/having several discussions on this topic the 2 ideas that always come up are 1.we don’t need another acronym or some variation of that. 2. Slice rs means we’re prioritizing our safety above victims.
    Acronyms are used as a memory tool not an AP. Anybody who is ever made a fire ground decision knows that it is done quickly and often based on instinct and past practice/training. no fireground tactic is the end all be all. Dissenting opinions argue it is used in that manner. it is not intended to be and if it is its a failure in training. As far as prioritizing our lives over victims goes, that is a decision that is left for the fire scene and is based on hundreds of variables. These are great discussions but be careful of the ego driven, chest beating discussions that try to put the technique into a box.


  11. How many here remember Chief REVAS from Fire Attack? Rescue, Evacuation, Ventilation, Attack, Salvage and Overhaul….. worked when I was a probie….just have a larger and more detailed toolbox to work from 19 years later….


  12. Chris Belcher // February 16, 2017 at 6:09 pm // Reply

    As an old guy myself this was hard for me to change but as I opened my eyes and my mind I learned a lot about heat energy and fire. The other side was understanding the change of construction which we all knew was there but never really changed with it. Example going to the roof to ventilate under what is still taught today and cut a 4 by 4 hole. This is no where large enough to vent new construction and modern furniture home and the amount of heat fire and gasses it is putting out. In addition the SLICE-RS is just another tool in the tool box and not and end all be all tactic. Thinking point here. Modern construction home on fire and all occupants out in the end the insurance company is going to tear it down and build it back new and this is coming from an insurance agent.


  13. Yep! I’ve been saying that, we’ve been doing transitional attacks , veis, and all that shit for years without coining a phrase to call it. It was just good experienced FFs making aggressive, tactically sound decisions based on the circumstances they’re confronted with. Furthermore, I’ve also been saying that if people want to remove all risk associated with a fire attack,along with implementing policies to replace and dictate all fireground decision making, well then just let the local Girl Scouts respond to these calls and save yourself a bunch of money!!! We only ask for good benefits that we don’t have to fight for, after all we typically don’t live as long as the general public, and often retire with disabilities!!


  14. Richard Cook // March 3, 2017 at 8:28 am // Reply

    This is interesting. But I wonder how many firefighters are you getting on the initial response?


  15. First of all, SLICE-RS Is based off of a TON of research. I think you need to do more studying on the method before bashing it. There is a hyphen between SLICE and RS because “Rescue” and “Salvage” can be done at anytime during a fire. We are ALWAYS in rescue and salvage mode, it is NOT at the end of our priority list! Your right that the so called “Blue Collared” (whatever that means) method is key to gaining knowledge, but you need years of experience before you can get to that point. The “Blue Collar” thing is what helps create leaders. Acronyms are a very basic technique in helping new firefighters gain experience so they can have that “blue collar” knowledge one day. I believe in this day and age, it is very dangerous to outfit a firefighter and throw them on a hand line and tell them “ok, away you go. Your a firefighter now”. Because what I’m understanding here is that is exactly what this Blue Collar method is entailing.

    If Training and Education using science based research isn’t happening in a Fire Service, that’s just an accident waiting to happen.


  16. Joel Harris // March 4, 2017 at 5:02 am // Reply

    My Dept. Sog’s we use

    It been in there for 40 yrs., the kicker is the line that fallows these are guidelines IC can move order up or down list of objectives as scene dictates.


  17. I disagree with the article..Love transition attack..If you’re worried about civilian life, would you do a transition attack? No!! Our goal is to put water on the fire!!


  18. B. Harrison // May 10, 2019 at 9:17 am // Reply

    24 year Captain with a large suburban fire dept here, I agreed whole heartedly with this article.


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