Ventilation: The Missing Link

Photo by Tim Olk

Controlling fire has always been a topic of concern for the fire service, whether protecting exposures, containing a fire to a specific area, or creating a workable environment where people can be rescued.  Ventilation is key to both the development and control of fire, and every action that firefighters take on the fire ground influences the fire: how it grows and where it goes. Yet there remains considerable misunderstanding and misapplication of ventilation strategies and tactics. Many times, ventilation isn’t even addressed. Why is this happening in a modern fire service that has more technology and better educated firefighters?

It is crucial that fire departments recognize the importance of coordinated (timely) tactical ventilation. Firefighters must work more at understanding what ventilation is, how it impacts fire development and potential extreme fire behavior, and how ventilation strategies support incident objectives (remove civilians from danger and contain/control the incident). They have know the what, where, when and how of ventilation.

There are many different views on ventilation in the fire service. Not just international differences, but an assortment of approaches within a single fire department. A lack of knowledge and experience on the subject only encourages more disagreement and less proper application. That needs to change.

FireGroundWorks will explore the topic of ventilation by researching best practices from a variety of fields and locations from around the world. The goal is to offer a selection of thoughts and approaches to consider when addressing the selection and implementation of ventilation strategies and tactics.

* Side Note: FGW is currently researching and developing a program focusing on tactical and strategic decision-making during the fast-paced tempo of dangerous and stressful events. The program identifies the need for skill and experience, combined with a sense of timing (tempo) to solve complicated problems in a chaotic environment. Insights on timing and technique will be presented to offer practical, actionable advice for accomplishing tactical ventilation on the fire ground. The program is called: TEMPO: TIMING, TACTICS AND STRATEGY ON THE FIRE GROUND and it will be a part of my future FF-360 decision making column at

Tactical Ventilation Sources:

My first GO-TO place for all-things fire is Ed Hartin’s Compartment Fire Behavior Training (CFBT). Hartin is an international fire behavior consultant and trainer, and one of the authors of 3D Firefighting: Training, Techniques, and Tactics. CFBT began a series of blogs called the Influence of Ventilation in Residential Structures. Below are the links to Tactical Implications 1-7.

Influence of Ventilation in Residential Structures:

  1. Tactical Implications Part 1 begins by explaining the impact of fire behavior.
  2. Tactical Implications Part 2 focuses on timing and techniques for controlled entry and hose operations.
  3. Tactical Implications Part 3 addresses visual indicators (reading smoke) of fire development.
  4. Tactical Implications Part 4 conveys the importance of coordinating fire attack with (tactical) ventilation.
  5. Tactical Implications Part 5 explores the impact of the changing dynamics of residential fires as a result of changes in construction materials, building contents and building size over the last 50 years.
  6. Tactical Implications Part 6 identifies the potential hazards and risks related to the tactic of Vent Enter Search (VES).
  7. Tactical Implications Part 7 studies the influence of changes of ventilation on flow path (where is it going and why?).

Tactical ventilation is a valuable firefighting tool. When timed correctly and properly placed, ventilation can be the difference between operational failure and success. The fire service must get better at tactical ventilation. What do you think?

Suggested Reading:

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