During my recent trip to the S.C. Fire Academy for the 2013 Kill the Flashover research fires, I came away with one aspect as to the importance of thermal imaging and the fire attack that rocked my paradigm. It is referred as the GO..NO TEST. This is worthy of reading brothers so don’t stop here..
Typically, most fire service agencies train firefighters on Thermal Imaging Cameras (TIC) for a variety of uses related to fireground operations but few utilize the TIC for fire attack for gaining insight into the hostile environment you are preparing to engage upon.
Most TIC imagers have the capability to determine temperatures by placing a small cross-hair or “dot” onto a surface to determine temperatures. In a high temperature environment (greater than 500 degrees F) the TIC will indicate a red or orange color or numeric value for the surface being surveyed. (In this case, the ceiling)
Normally, this technique is used in overhaul operations but let’s discuss using the TIC in a fire attack mode as a life-saving…better yet.. a firefighter saving technique.
The “dot” or cross-hair on the TIC is aimed to the ceiling to gain a temperature reading of the surface of the ceiling and some particulate matter from combustion. It does not measure the temperature of the smoke.
The GO..or NO GO Test should be used by any fire attack, search, or vent team entering a working fire environment. It begins by the officer of the team directing the crew to prepare for the attack by gathering needed equipment. The officer and the crew should complete a 360 degree look at and into the structure using the TIC to determine hotspots (for possible fire locations), potential exits, other hazards, and close any doors that may be contributing towards fire development or creating a Air /Flow Path in order to slow fire progression and limit fire extension.
Upon completing the 360 walk-around, the officer quickly scans the exterior of the door prior to entry. This provides a quick look at temperatures of the door being used for entry. If a high temperature (above 500 degrees) is identified on the door from the exterior, chances are an eminent flashover is waiting for you on the other side once the doors is opened. This is a “NO GO” situation and the attack should be delayed until a hoseline is in place and can be discharged prior to entering the structure. Why you may ask?
If there are high heat signatures indicated on the exterior of entry point, most likely there are significant amounts of unburned gases (fuels) in the hallway that are too rich to burn. This is also known as a “plug”. When you open the door for entry the environment that was once too rich to burn has now been provided an exhaust point, for which, the environment has changed from a too rich environment into a flammable range and combined with the replenishment of oxygen into this environment and with an ignition source down the hallway can result in a flashover condition seconds into your search or fire attack.
So… back to the TIC…
Prior to opening the door, have the hose crew “condition/cool the door and surrounding area. I know… sounds crazy. This method of pre-wetting provides us with a safe area in the event our attack crew is met with a thermally aggressive fire coming at them and is forced to retreat.
Essentially, we “Wet to Protect”.
So, upon opening the door. Stop the nozzleman. What? Yes. Do another GO.. NO GO…. Entering into a known environment above 500 degrees in a heavily charged smoke condition is like climbing into the barrel of a gun. Why 500 degrees? If you think about it, what does our turnouts to protect us from? Radiant heat. Continuous exposures to thermal temperatures above 500 degrees erodes the protective elements of our turnout gear and limitations of our SCBA. In addition, many UL tests on SCBA’s and turnouts 500 degrees is used as a benchmark for protection for the wearer for only a short time before degradation or failure. So, if obtaining temperatures in a extreme fire condition (500 degrees+) at the door are found how long will crews be exposed to those temperatures while trying to make the hallway? See where I am going with this?
If extreme temperatures (500 degrees+) are encountered during your GO..NO GO test, order the hoseline opened to cool/ condition the environment you are about to enter. Perform another GO…NO GO Test. Temperatures should have dropped after the water application. If so, proceed in the attack. As the officer and crew make their way towards the fire area, slow the crew down and take intermittent GO.. NO GO test and cool and condition as you proceed towards the fire area. This also continues prior to climbing stairs, turning corners, entering adjacent rooms until reaching the fire area.
This GO…NO GO should be applied especially during Vent Enter Search Operations, as well.
A term utilize by thousands of brothers on the fireground during the size-up. Well if we truly know how to “Read Smoke” what do we know about it? Survey the members of your agency..ask them what the interior temperature conditions are during light smoke, moderate smoke and heavy smoke. What about grey smoke, brown smoke, black smoke. I bet you get a variety of opinions.
Why not verbally convey via the radio to the IC the temperature findings on the GO..NO GO test? This will give the IC and idea of the potential fire he/she is confronting and can alter the fire attack, vent, and other operations accordingly.
Verbalizing the thermal conditions to the fireground is a more tangible way of describing interior conditions than simply describing smoke color or volume don’t ya think?
I hope this is starting to make sense to you by now…
By verbalizing the GO..NO GO Test, arriving units knows how intense a fire you are encountering and should be making their own plans, as well.
I tried using the GO..NO GO test during my fire attacks and found old habits were hard to break. My mask blacked out and I resulted to Old School firefighting of using my senses to determine the temperature levels. Upon reviewing the thermal data from the test I quickly discovered the environment we were entering was a NO..GO as we had thermal conditions of 800 degrees over our head. Luckily, with the aid of a fire curtain behind us keeping us in a “too rich” area and the fire never flashed over us.
As with any new idea there must be training to get this technique down. Try it in your next live fire training event I think you’ll be surprised at what you will see prior to entering.
By Trey Smith
FRC Instructor / Captain Ladder 1 Charlotte Fire Department