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Razor-sharp precision in action

Article in the magazine "Swedish Firefighters", January 2013  (translated)

 

It's time for new methodology in civil protection with greater understanding of fire extinguishing and alternative methods instead of using large quantities of water. These words come from the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) who is starting a new training program.

 

The technology that showed up during the 1980- and 1990s, including efficient jets and better fire suits had a major impact on the attack techniques in firefighting because it became safer to go in with firefighters. When MSB was reformed in the 2000s, less money was spent on education, which resulted in methodological development  for rescue services slowing down. BA has become the standard approach, and if it is impossible to enter, a lot of water is used which increases the amount of water damage.

- The technology that was so successful has now become a burden. Tactical methodology such as venting has been put back for technical methodology. Engineering knowledge has become terribly poor, says Kjell Wahlbeck, head of education & training at (MSB).

Therefore, MSB now is striving forcefully to reverse this trend. It's about reforming education for both firefighters and officers. The architectural knowledge needs to increase to provide a greater understanding of how fires spread in buildings from different eras. Fire Engineers and incident commanders need better information to make good decisions about which methodology to be used to tackle the fire. An important part is to develop a methodology on pressure ventilation, especially in combination with the cutting extinguishing method (CEO) which means that you can attack the fire from the outside, to cool the combustion gases and create steam expansion. When the fire gases are cooled sufficiently,  becoming harmless in contact with the oxygen outside the fire room, they are vented out with positive pressure ventilation (PPV).

- We have noticed that Rescue Services rarely have the resources to develop their own methodologies. MSB has identified the problems and will invest in education and we have received strong support from both the fire services and insurance companies, says Kjell Wahlbeck.

 

The cutting edge

An emergency services who have worked under this concept for a long time is the Southern Älvsborg FRS (SERF).
- When offensive extinguishing technology with BA became so predominant in the 1990s, we began to question whether it was really necessary for firefighters to have to be exposed to such firefighting environments. This meant that we began to investigate alternative methods, says Krister Palmkvist, development leader at SERF.

Already 15 years ago, SERF started collaboration with Haukur Ingason, researcher at the Swedish National Testing and Research Institute (SP) and Adjunct Professor of Fire Safety Engineering at Lund Institute of Technology, a research project on pressure ventilation where science and proven experience went hand in hand. They noted that with good knowledge the fire gases quickly could be cooled and ventilated without the risk of fire developed. Additionally, BA crews could go into a safer environment.

- It was extremely important that we through this collaboration could produce new knowledge that emergency services were able to convert into practice. It is about using resources in the best way, but also to reduce the amount of water and thus improve the residual value, says Haukur Ingason.

International center of competence

Knowledge about pressure ventilation has been combined with the use of thermal cameras, both internally and externally, and firefighting with cutting extinguishers. Thanks to the close collaboration with SP but also with support from MSB and Cold Cut Systems, SERF has established an international center of competence in Borås with training in cutting extinguishing, PPV and IR technology.

- The difficulty when firefighting is to decide how dangerous the fire is, how the fire has developed in the building and what effect we will get from the kind of extinguishing method we choose. With a deeper understanding of fire and fire dynamics in different environments, we can make better decisions when choosing tactics and methods for firefighting. The more we can understand what happens inside the building, the better we understand how to attack the fire, says Krister Palmkvist.

Thanks to the availability of advanced training facilities adjacent to SP where most fire types can be simulated, SERF has succeeded in proving that the methods are effective. Krister Palmkvist emphasizes that it is crucial to test the methods in practice. SERF offers training on new tactics and methodology for indoor firefighting, where cutting extinguishing, positive pressure ventilation and IR technology are combined with safe BA attack.

Sweden has garnered international attention for being at the forefront of developing methods for indoor firefighting and as late as in December 2012, rescue services from Manchester and Northamptonshire visited SERF to get more insight into this.

In 2012, SERF also researched building structures from different time eras and how it can impact on  operational capacity. Today's structures differ substantially from those built just 20-30 years ago, which means that emergency services have to rethink their approach completely. For that reason there is even more motive to have access to several firefighting methods and to constantly be at the forefront, says Krister Palmkvist.

MSB training concept

Two services that gladly embrace new methods and have been involved in a pilot project for MSB´s education initiative, "the Firefight project", are Södertörn FRS and Staffanstorp FRS. The project was all about fire tactics, focusing on the use of thermal imaging, cutting extinguishing and fan. Södertörn FRS equipped five new vehicles with CAFS, which for them was new extinguishing methodology. To learn about new methods, they also participated in “the cutting extinguishing project”, a training including all existing firefighting techniques with emphasis on CAFS and cutting extinguishing. This year they will purchase additional thermal cameras to easier be able to locate the fires from an outside position.

- Technology is constantly moving forward and we get more and more firefighting methods. This makes it more difficult for the individual firefighter to choose the right extinguishing method. It requires knowledge of  fire development and building construction  and we need to develop our own experience to establish the knowledge, says Magnus Carderos at Södertörn FRS.

Kjell Wahlbeck emphasizes that there are other interests behind a change in methodology. For smaller municipalities it is important to be able to man the fire trucks with less than five people. This can be done with the cutting extinguishing concept (CEC).

- If you like to be a good surgeon you must know how the anatomy works, and what it looks like under the skin. Similarly, the incident commander quickly has to understand the fire and how it best can be combated, says Kjell Wahlbeck.

Published January 18, 2013 Text Monica Walldén

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