Let's Talk Fire: Breaking Slicers Down To It's Basic Components

This used to be safe!

At one point this was considered safe and effective gear, of course we now know it really was not and when it changed people were not happy with the change.
At one point this was considered safe and effective gear, of course we now know it really was not and when it changed people were not happy with the change.

The Times They Are A Changing

Despite the fact that tactics, techniques, and pretty much everything else in our line of work has a tendency to change there are still those in the fire service who embrace change like embracing a very upset porcupine without a shirt on. Some new methods seem to anger people in our field and it takes some real getting used to just to get these folks to accept these changes.

When slicers first hit the scene it was received as one of these get mad and throw things changes by a great deal of fire service personnel, especially those who came from huge departments and swore by the power of the vent. For many departments in the urban environment, or concrete jungle as many have come to call it the concept of a technique that did not put a heavy focus on ventilation seemed mundane and almost trivial. But once again things in the fire service are always changing and growing so be ready for that move. While the paid departments were struggling to grasp this new concept the volunteer sector was rejoicing as this method has been common practice for ages for smaller departments who suffer from staffing issues.

Regardless of where you stand on the issue slicers appears to be here to stay, or at least stay for a little while so we might has well look at it in it's most basic form and really explore what it means for modern day fire attack.

Slicers Explained In Video

Let's Talk..... Slicers

Slicers in essence is not a new concept at all really. For years now it has been tried and tested by such esteemed research departments as NIST, Underwriter's Laboratory, and the ISFSI (international society of fire instructors) In simplest terms it means to apply water to the fire as early as possible. It is thought a proper and well scouted fire attack from the outside of the structure would not push the fire into unburned areas as thought before. We have been trained for ages to avoid this method to ensure fire did not spread to the parts of the structure that remained untouched but we now are looking at this in a different perspective.

Oddly enough rural departments, which often struggle to get a solid response number from volunteer staff have been forced to use this method as opposed to venting first. To these firefighters slicers is nothing more than a new name for an old practice. This is in part also due to the fact most volunteers respond from their work or homes and by the name the response is made the fire has self vented and the need to get to the fire is now much more serious and an effective safe approach is vital.

Slicers puts heavy emphasis on flow path and ultimate fire control, a concept that may seem foreign to some in our field but is not nearly as complicated as we tend to make things. Think in these terms. In many cases, not all, venting can actually be our enemy as opposed to an asset on the scene. If done incorrectly venting can actually burn the structure quicker and make our job much more complicated than it really needs to be. Right now we are going to break this technique into it's basic elements and discuss just what is expected of us at each of these stepping stones.

Fire Attack Has To be An Educated Process
Fire Attack Has To be An Educated Process

S=Size-Up

A good size-up is an essential component of a successful emergency operation. Always remember that size-up starts the moment the tones drop and the dispatcher is feeding you information about the scene you will be going to. If you are not yet familiar with NIOSH, OSHA, other fire fatality reports you need to be. You will discover that failing to do a complete 360 degree size-up can and as resulted in firefighter fatalities on several instances.

While looking at size-up operations you need to consider many factors. Get as much information from the initial call as possible. This could prove vital in the event something goes south. Listening to the dispatcher will also allow you to start formulating a plan of action before you ever arrive on scene.

Once on scene you need to start looking for hazards that will hinder or even stall your forward progress on this particular scene. Conduct your 360 degree size-up and make sure all staff know the hazards present. Take note of the weather and any potential changes that may occur in it while on scene. Wind direction can present a serious threat to firefighters.

If possible note where the fire is, what it is doing and make an educated prediction of what it might do next. You also want to consider based on your findings if mutual aid will be needed and if so go ahead and make that call. It is better to have it and not need it than it is to need it and not have it.

Making well thought out observations regarding hazards present at size-up will make your scene safer and in turn keep the potential for LODD down to a minimal.

How much is that fire in the window?

This image is becoming more common with today's construction.
This image is becoming more common with today's construction.

L=Locate The Fire

Due to newer, cheaper lightweight but airtight construction practices we are finding ourselves face to face with more vent limited or even vent restricted structure fires. This makes it extremely difficult to get a feel for the fire from outside of the structure. Most of the time we have a bread crumb trail of smoke to lead us to the fire but when you are dealing with a structure that does not allow for smoke to exit the building you can not rely on that as an indicator of fire location.

This is where you need to take a notice of windows during your size-up operations. You may be able to get the location of the fire through a window. The quicker we can find the fire the faster we can apply our cooling agent. Remember the key to slicers is quick efficient fire attack.

Open Door VS Closed Door

I=Identify The Flow Path

Always, and I do want to stress that word always, delay vent operations until all crews are ready. To many times crews are to quick to pop a window or vent a roof without a concern for how that hole will affect the behavior of the fire inside. Slicers puts a major focus on controlling openings and therefore controlling the flow path that can greatly complicate your job.

Controlling the flow paths of a fire is important. Remember that behind closed doors the fire will have less oxygen and will not have the efficient spread to get the upper head on you. It is usually vital that we get a door forced quick but remember control that opening just as quickly if not quicker. An open door means the fire has not only a place to spread to but it is getting all the air it needs.

Let me give you a very sad truth. You force the front door and go in to attack the fire but guess what you left that door open. Now as you are going after that fire, it is coming after you. A simple shutting of that door would have saved you the burden of having that fire breathing down your throat.

If you make an opening have a way to control that opening. You can use plywood or tarps, but use something. This is why we don't pop windows unless we have to. There is no way to put that glass back.

C=Cool The Heated Area

When cooling fire or a heated area always attempt to do so from a safe distance. Ideally using the slicers method you would want to cool the fire from an outside area through a window, door, or other opening. Research is showing more and more that a solid and well performed exterior attack will not push the fire to the unburned areas of the structure as once thought.

As soon as an interior attack can be made it needs to be done quickly and with the focus on getting water on the fire as fast as possible. Utilize your resources and know what water supplies you have an just how much flow you can get on this fire. Remember on attack inside to pay close attention to not hit the smoke at ceiling level with to much water. If you invert that thermal level you will regret it.

Fire is our enemy

Respect it and learn what it can and most likely will do.
Respect it and learn what it can and most likely will do.

E=Extinguish The Fire

Once the fire is cooled and contained firefighters may enter the structure. As with any fire attack it must be done quickly and efficiently. Remember you want to be safe. This part is rather simple in explanation, you put the wet stuff on the red stuff until the red stuff ceases to exist.

Full extinguishment means more than that however. You want to do a good overhaul job and ensure that no rekindle occurs. Remember good firefighting prevents a true rekindle from happening. Always ensure there is no fire spread and that all hot spots are out before you ever consider a scene resolved.

If you find fire take care of it! One thing to be conscience of is that backdrafts can and do happen during overhaul so never abandone your training.

Search and Rescue Training Is Vital

R and S= Actions of Opportunity

R=Rescue. Not every scene we respond to will merit us having to rescue anyone. This does not mean we should not be prepared to perform the action at any time during the scene operation. We are firefighters and rescue should be one of those training topics we go full force on and do so on a regular basis. We also must be aware that rescue does not always mean civilian, sometimes we are rescuing each other.

While rescue is an opportunity based action it should still be considered one of the most vital and important part of our strategy.

During rescue operations we may want to resort to V.E.I.S style operations. Think Vent- open the door, Enter- go inside the door, I-isolate by shutting the door behind you and S search the room. Rinse and repeat.

Remember that you need to control the flow path and open doors are direct paths for fire spread.

S=Salvage. Salvage is something that can make or break a scene and the integrity of the department in the public eye. As a public information officer I can assure you letting a family Bible or some family pictures get destroyed when you do not have to is not a good way to earn the trust or respect of your community. Saving someone's belongings may not be as meaningful as saving their home but it does help you sleep a little more easier at night.

I will admit the idea of covering furniture and removing personal items may not seem as glamorous as getting in there and putting water on the fire but in truth it is one of the most rewarding jobs you will ever do. I always suggest if you can be, you should be the firefighter who helps the community by doing more than just putting out fires. In my decade of service my crowning moment was saving a box of military medals that would have been lost had I ignored them when I made entry.

The family lost everything except a few items we managed to pull out and of course that box of medals. They were thrilled and it seemed to give them some hope despite their loss. I was honored to share the moment with them in spite of the tragedy.

Always practice and utilize good salvage techniques.

Wrapping It Up

Like it or hate it slicers appears to be here for awhile. It is the new thing and I can honestly say that for the most part my departments have been using it for ages without having a fancy name for it, which I am sure most of my readers can say the same thing as well. Some departments will still rely on the old vent it first than worry about the fire tactics and really it is simply a matter of determining what works and does not work for you and your department.

Until next time, learn from the past for survival in the future.

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