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Wired is carrying an article this month on a technique for using less water in a more deliberate way they call "3-D" firefighting. The method involves using thermal imaging cameras to see the heat patterns in the room, then using just enough water in short bursts to cool the hottest bits without disturbing the thermal layering until you get to the base of the fire. It also talks about using a small amount of water sprayed into a fire filled room then closing the door. The idea is the water expands to steam and cools the room making entry safe.
Its all good stuff -- what annoys me is that its billed as "new".
I'm on a rural call-volunteer department and I've never been taught any other way to handle that kind of situation. I've seen thermal image recordings of it being done live. I've used the technique in training. I've been told stories of a ladder crew without anything but a pressurized water can effecting a rescue by using bursts of spray to keep the hallway from flashing over while in the building. The NFPA "Essentials" guide volume 4 covers the technique, as does the new standard materials being adopted which were produced in large part by the Phoenix department (considered one of the most forward looking in the world, by the way). Ask any firefighter how much water expands when it turns to steam -- and you'll get the answer. Firefighters are not the backward looking idiots stumbling around "putting the wet stuff on the red stuff" as the article would have you believe (though that is a commonly used expression). Fire science is an important part of the job, and chemistry and fire behavior are stressed in any training program. More so, firefighters are trained to act on that science in the split second it matters -- not endlessly debate and discuss it.
Here's some things the article does not mention:
The European departments which rely on the technique more than we do face different conditions. The dominant building type there is noncombustable stonework or brickwork while here in the US most residences are stick built. That means fires there are very hot room and contents fires, but take a long time to spread through a building. Flashover is more common and the need for a good search team is just as critical but very dangerous.
Also, European cities are much more dense in general. It would be pretty unusual to find one of these supposedly advanced crews dealing with an old wooden farmhouse on a cold night with the nearest water in a frozen pond miles away.
I'll put our crews here against any others in the world.
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