Tactical Ventilation
Firefighters in North America have, for decades, traditionally resorted to venting actions to open up structures in an attempt to release dangerous combustion products, smoke and heat from the interior. This tactical approach relies on well trained crews operating under strict protocols (SOPs), aligned with clear objectives, whilst equipped with high-flow hose-lines to counter natural fire development. Success of venting actions relies heavily on precision; coordination and communication.

Somewhat in comparison, European firefighters (and many other nations) have formulated their strategy around lower flow attack hose-lines operating into generally more solid construction. For example, structure fires in the UK are far more likely to remain within the compartment of origin in comparison to the US.

Retired London & New York Firefighter Paul Grimwood first noticed these differences in 1975, whilst working on detachment with FDNY. He took the view that there was room for some middle ground as these two strategic approaches were so rigid in their implementation that they each failed to recognize situations where venting, or as an alternative - 'anti-venting', presented the optimum approach to gaining some tactical advantage at fires.

He developed the unified strategy termed 'tactical ventilation' in 1987 and this was adopted universally in the UK and in many other parts of the world during the 1990s. His concepts were based on simple but strict protocols as he writes ....

'There are so many different types of 'flashover' related events that broadly speaking, it is logical to group them under the NFPA heading of 'Rapid Fire Progress' (RFP). In this respect it is essential for firefighters to know -

1. What firefighting actions might lead to an event of RFP?

  • Incorrect location of vent opening
  • Mistimed vent opening
  • Inappropriate vent opening
  • Inappropriate entry point/procedure for gaining access to structure
  • Creating vent openings without confining the fire or laying a charged primary attack hose-line
  • Delay in getting water on the fire or into the gas layers

2. The actions that can be taken by Firefighters to counter or prevent RFP are;

  • 3D Tactical Door Entry Procedure
  • Confine the fire to room of origin (close doors)
  • Get sufficient water on the fire as quickly as possible
  • Get water into the gas layers as quickly as possible
  • Tactical Ventilation (under strict protocols)
  • Anti-ventilation (Closing doors, including points of entry, to isolate the fire and reduce air-flow in)
Prior to making ANY opening in a fire involved structure, an IC or Firefighter must consider the following -
  • What is the primary purpose (objective) of the vent opening? (Do I NEED to make this opening)?
  • What direction is the wind in and what likely influence will it have
  • Where is the fire located and what conditions are presenting?
  • Where are the victims (if any) most likely located?
  • Where is the primary attack line located?
  • Where are other known locations of firefighters on the interior?

'I believe the first three points are primary to any decision to ventilate. The second three points are critical. Without the answers you cannot safely ventilate and without a primary 'objective' in your mind, you cannot justify any sound reason to vent.

In effect, our tactical approach should be one of an anti-ventilation (fire isolation) stance until we are able to address the above points and justify our objectives.

I recommend this as a teaching aid because current text book guidance on venting tactics states .... that to 'vent early and vent often' is generally a 'good' thing to do. I would state that this approach and philosophy is too generalized and possibly dangerous. I strongly feel we should look to this simple checklist with a sole 'objective' as a primary consideration, prior to making that opening' ...

Anti-ventilation is the optimum strategy where 

  • A fire is demonstrating 'backdraft' conditions
  • A charged primary hose-line is not in position to attack the fire
  • Vent openings may spread the fire into roof spaces
  • A ventilation-controlled fire might advance towards flashover and;
  • The flow-rate at the nozzle is unlikely to deal with such escalation
  • A clear objective or reason to create an opening has yet to be identified

    Remember to close doors or control their opening widths where they may be feeding air in to escalate a fire - Fire isolating or containment actions may serve as a life-saving tactic on its own!

The concept of 3D Firefighting was founded upon these very principles of taking control of the hostile environment within a fire-involved structure. In dealing with under-ventilated fires we must recognize how any venting actions and objectives might affect our tactical advantage, as opposed to implementing a confining action. This approach is sometimes termed 'anti-ventilation' In contrast the training approach that encourages the opening up and venting of a structure at almost every opportunity must be avoided. The idea that venting will assist almost every situation is wrong. The belief that taking windows out will always release heat from the interior and improve conditions is dangerous.

However, there will be occasions where prompt venting actions will save lives and aid firefighting operations. Our tactical approach must be adapted to enable both strategies to be implemented on the fire-ground, inline with adequate staffing; training and equipment provision. We must also provide effective and detailed Standard Operating Procedures covering a range of situations.

In the coming months these are a few of the subjects we will be dealing with here at www.firetactics.com where we will be closely analyzing the most effective and safest ways to ventilate fire-involved structures.

  • Pre-existing ventilation
  • Unplanned ventilation
  • Tactical Ventilation
  • Objectives of venting
  • Considerations of Venting
  • Creating safe openings in a fire involved structure
  • Air Track Management
  • Selecting ventilation locations
  • Timing ventilation openings
  • Venting for LIFE (Incl. VES)
  • Venting for FIRE
  • Venting for SAFETY
  • Anti-ventilation
  • Fire & air dynamics and fire behavior
  • Fire growth & development
  • Venting large floor spaces
  • Ventilation Profile
  • Horizontal ventilation
  • Vertical ventilation
  • Positive Pressure Ventilation
  • Rapid Fire Progress
  • Adequate staffing issues
  • Limited staffing issues

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Tactical Ventilation Paul Grimwood

History of Tactical Ventilation - Unified Strategy