Let's Talk Fire: To Fog or Not To Fog
A Combination Nozzle
An example of the combination nozzle in operation.
Ask any old dog how they put out a fire and they will tell you put her on fog and knock her down. This sounds macho and cool as hell but in truthfulness it is a dangerous practice and one that needs to be better taught in our departments. In this installment of Let's Talk Fire we will address an issue that has been the bane of many an argument in my department. That issue is the myths that encapsulate the use of a fog pattern with a fire hose.
Today's combination nozzles make it easy to switch back and fourth between a straight stream and a fog pattern meaning we have a lot more versatility in our pattern selection as well as more options as to what we need and when we need it on the fire ground. This has also created a debate between what I call the old dogs and the new pups. The new pups are the younger firefighters or those who seek the most modern and up to date training available to them. The old dogs are more set in tradition and change kind of scares them a little. This is not always bad but when tradition puts a life at risk it is time we stop following that and start advancing our skills as firefighters.
There is a time and a place for the use of fog streams but it is knowing or not knowing those times and places that put firefighters in harm's way. Let's explore some of these myths that really need to be broken down and made true again!
Air flow helps push the fire forward.
Myth 1 You Can Pull Fresh Air From The Front To You Using Fog
If this is what your instructor says, be weary of anything they say! The fresh air that is brought in from the fog pattern does not come from the front. It is not a device to separate the harmful smoke particles from fresh air. The fresh air is actually being brought in from behind the firefighter. Think of it like a fan. It is pushing air forward and pulling it from behind you.
Now sure in the idea situation that is great. But, any firefighter knows that idea situations don't seem to fall in our laps on a regular basis. If there is fire that has not been dealt with or a smoldering fire somewhere behind you and you kick on the fog pattern you may be pulling that fire to you. Now common sense will tell you if there is fire to your front and fire to your back it's a bad day on the job!
It has been taught for decades that a fog pattern provides air from the front and this teaching, despite testing and proof of it's falseness still remains a stable in the industry in regards to older firefighters. It does not mean that are not good firefighters, it just means they were instructed inappropriately and never advanced that one piece of knowledge.
Great piece of info!
Myth 2 Fog Patterns Will Cool The Air And Break Up The Smoke
If I can give firefighters one term to explore for thier careers it will be thermal layering. The thermal layering effect is the result of smoke. A product burns and smoke is released and floats to a point of resistance, usually a ceiling. There it collects and continues to build inching closer and closer to the ground. We know to stay low and keep our noggins out of that hot toxic mess. We stay low because that is where the freshest air is present, and it also the coolest place in the fire zone.
The hottest place is at the ceiling level. Smoke, as you should know, is unburned particles and toxic gasses released as a product burns. Smoke is flammable and can ignite just as easy as paper given the right situation and conditions. That being said we know that if smoke can ignite and we are unlucky or untrained enough to be standing in it when it does we are going to get burned.
That is the vital part of why we need to not disturb or disrupt that thermal layer of smoke. When we see a fire inside with a heavy buildup of smoke we may initially want to fog up and attack. The fog pattern sends water into a wide area. It may be hitting that fire but it may also be hitting that smoke which creates an unbalance in the thermal layer and causes the smoke to steam and circulate. This brings that hot mass of darkness down on you and your partner.
Once this occurs you are now in direct contact with unburned fuels. You are at risk for being caught in a flashover as well as suffering steam burns. Steam does put out fires but it also can severely injure a firefighter. I myself was the victim of a severe lack of communication that caused me to suffer steam burn across the left side of my face. Steam burn is no joke, it is painful and can ruin a firefighter career real quick.
The best way to approach an interior fire when a heavy build up of smoke is present is to attack the base of the flame with a straight stream and occasionally and quickly put minimal amounts of water on the smoke to simply cool slightly so you avoid a flashover event.
Study Fire Behavior!
The Straight Stream
Myth 3 Fog Is No Different Than Straight Patterns
If this is what you are being taught I am very sorry for you and your department I am afraid. There are very distinct and apparent differences in the two forms of water application. We are taught right for penetration and left for life. That means right for straight and left for fog.
Fog is great in the fact it allows for quicker steaming response and can affect a wide area. It is a vital and very accessible way to deal with taking a defensive approach fighting a fire through a window or from a point not in direct contact with harmful smoke. It will not give you a great reach so it puts you close to the danger zone than a straight pattern will. When I am fighting a fire from outside the house and I do not need distance and force I will use fog till the cows come home but if I need heavy water with a good force I will use a straight stream.
Straight streams are going to allow you to hit a greater distance than a fog pattern but you will not get the coverage area a fog stream will grant you. This can create a few issues when determining how the fire should be approached.
The differences in these patterns and there execution makes it obvious that some firefighters are just not getting the training they need to make the decision on which pattern goes well. That may not be entirely the trainer's fault but it could be that they were never taught that way either.
In Closing, Some Key Issues
My first thought is why are you using a fog pattern to get air? Why are you not using an SCBA? This is one of those practices that has always irked me. I hear people say "back in the day we earned it, went in and sucked the smoke up, we were real men!" Let me evaluate. If you had access to an SCBA and went in without it just to prove something, you succeeded. You proved you deserve the cancer and medical issues that will come from eating smoke like candy!
The biggest issue is firefighters are either not being trained in fire behavior or they are not taking that training seriously. Knowing how to handle the fire on it's terms is a major part of what we do as firefighters. It is what makes us who and what we are.
Fire behavior is one of the most needed and under appreciated class topics in our industry but in the long run it can save more lives than any topic we can face in our instruction. So next time your trainer says the class is fire behavior, get a pen and a notebook and take notes. Study! Know the beast and you can fight it a lot better. As always, learn from the past for survival in the future.
Let's Talk Fire
Let's Talk Fire is a series of informative articles and drills. Each article tackles issues in regards to the fire service at both the volunteer and career levels. The writer of these texts is Sam Little, a 400 Hour Career Certified Firefighter in the state of Kentucky. The articles are also part of a facebook group page that is open to any and all firefighters to join and post information on. The page can be found here.