Section III-6

Fire Attack Guidelines

Purpose:  To establish minimum and basic fire attack guidelines to be used during fire attack (offensive) operations. 

Scope:   This policy applies to all Three Star Fire Department personnel and should be carefully read. 

The existence of these written guidelines is not intended to limit any member in the exercise of sound and mature judgment, initiative, or experience in taking the action a reasonable person would take in extraordinary situations that may arise in the fire service.  Much by necessity must be left to the training, experience, initiative, integrity, and discretion of the members of the Three Star Fire Department.

There are three key components at the heart of any firefighting strategy.  They are: 1) protecting life;  2)  confining the fire and protecting any exposures; and 3)  extinguishing the fire.  Firefighting tactics, on the other hand, can be defined as the hands-on means of achieving the strategic objectives.  Fire attack concentrates on the tactical aspects of firefighting operations.

First due units can potential be confronted with life-saving operations upon arrival.  Saving lives is the top priority and the most serious factor at any fire, and is prioritized ahead of fighting the fire when adequate personnel are not available to do both.  A factor of judgment is present at this stage; however, as the best life saving measure may be a prompt attack on the fire, which if allowed to spread could trap occupants.  Life hazard, visible upon arrival, has to be dealt with immediately.



Size-up is the process of evaluating the situation at hand, including all resources and potential hazards.  Ideally the size-up process begins prior to the alarm, and should include familiarity with the first-due response area and its structures.  Size-up should be a continuous mental process.    Effective size-up should commence prior to the alarm and should be considered prior to placing any attack lines into operation.  Premature line placement can misdirect resources to the wrong street, building, room, stairway, etc.

It is important that all resources be made available to extinguish the fire with life safety and property being considerations.  One of the items available as a helping tool is the Thermal Imaging Camera (TIC).  The benefits of TIC technology impact just about every aspect of firefighting.  Thermal imaging is not, however, a technology designed to replace current firefighting tactics (See Section III-12).

For safety, effectiveness, and proficiency purposes, all Three Star Fire Department personnel shall perform their own scene size-up.  While is not the intent of this policy to provide every aspect of the size-up, it is imperative that the below minimum considerations be taken into account when performing a thorough scene size-up.  These are only a few issues to think about when performing a size-up and tactical assessment of a fire:

Construction     Water Supply               Weather (wind direction, Temp)

Occupancy       Auxiliary Appliances     Exposures

Apparatus        Street Conditions          Area of Structure (A,B,C,D)

Life Hazards                                         Location of Fire

                                    Time of Day

                                                            HAZMAT issues

A/B/C/D sides of Structure

At a building fire, the sides of buildings are identified by A, B, C, D sides, with side “A” being the front of the building, and sides B, C, D being named around the building in a clockwise fashion. This helps maintain clear communication on the fireground.


Confining the fire means to restrain or prohibit fire extension beyond the area involved upon arrival.  This is generally the immediate concern.  A life hazard, however, always has top priority and would have to be resolved before extinguishing is considered.

The decision to attempt to confine the fire must be made by the Incident Commander or “Command”.  Confinement must take into consideration the intensity of the fire as well as the anticipated direction of the fire travel.  Be aware that the mere closing of a door or window may act to confine the fire and permit life saving, while lines are being stretched.  Proper ventilation can also act to confine the fire or limit its spread.

Caution shall always be exercised by members ventilating so as not to cause fire extension or otherwise impede the advancement of the initial line.  Coordination in this regard is of extreme importance (See Ventilation Guidelines Section III-7).  The initial attack line is not necessarily the line that will be directed to extinguish the fire.  The first line in a serious fire may be committed to confining the fire and limiting or halting its extension throughout the involved or adjacent structures.


There are three phases or stages of burning.


The incipient or beginning stage presents no real problem for fire fighting personnel.  There has been no undue build up of smoke or heat and the seat of the fire can be attacked directly.

Free Burning

The second, or free burning stage, involves rapid fuel consumption and major flame development.  This continues until the available oxygen has been consumed.  In this stage, heated gases expand rapidly and personnel must be cautious as in any rapidly developing fire situation.  Make certain that there is enough water volume for extinguishment of the fire and for the safety of the personnel on the hose line.


In the third, or smoldering stage, the fire has passed through the free burning stage and it is being limited by the fact that the oxygen needed for combustion is no longer available.  Physical evidence is that of high heat throughout, heavy or dense smoke, and no visible flame.  Smoke may be pushing out under pressure from the area.  It is this situation that personnel must recognize as one with "backdraft" potential.  As fresh air is introduced on entry, the fire gases can ignite rapidly, expand, and "blow".  This is severe enough at times to be categorized as an explosion.  Prior vertical and horizontal ventilation give the fire a safe outlet for expansion.  If officers and firefighters are not sure whether appropriate ventilation has been accomplished, give the fire a chance to blow before initiating aggressive entry and attack into the fire area.

The prevailing stages of burning and fire extension are key factors in determining extinguishment tactics.  The size and type of fire load are other factors, which Incident Commanders must consider.

Minimum safe fire flow is usually 150 GPM for a residential fire and 250 GPM for a commercial structure; typically 350-400 GPM is adequate for a residential fire.  Whenever possible, an aggressive interior attack is preferred.  Water must be applied directly to the seat of the fire, not to smoke.


Indications of potential backdraft are:

  1. No visible flames.
  1. Windows are hot and discolored.
  1. Smoke is hot and rises rapidly.
  1. Smoke puffs from the building at cracks and small openings.
  1. Some smoke is drawn back into the building at cracks and small openings.
  1. When an opening is made, air being drawn sharply inward with sort of a sucking, whistling sound and or heavy volumes of twisting, rolling smoke (usually a gray yellow color) issuing under pressure.

Positioning Hose Streams

More lives are saved at fires as a result of proper positioning of streams than by all other life saving techniques.  When stretching attack lines, it is critical to consider both how much line is needed to reach the entrance and how much will be required to effectively operate within the structure.  It must be determined as soon as possible if an immediate and direct fire attack will both confine and extinguish the fire.  If not, the following rules for positioning streams will be followed:

1.      When life is endangered, the initial attack line must be positioned, is possible, between the fire and the persons endangered by continued fire extension.

2.   The Incident Commander shall use and/or direct the use the Thermal Imaging Camera.

  1. When life is NOT endangered, the first stream is placed between the fire and the MOST severe exposure.  Remember, confinement is our second strategic component of our firefighting efforts.
  1. Unless directed to the contrary by the Incident Commander, the second attack line should be advanced to the same point as the first line as a back up line in the event the water being applied on the fire by the first line is inadequate or the first line becomes inoperative.  When the second line is stretched, ensure that there is an ample hose to cover the floor being attacked and the floor above.
  1. A third line may be stretched depending on the occupancy and fire condition to cover the interior stairs or a secondary means of egress.  Likewise, it may be deployed to protect trapped persons on fire escapes or positions above the fire, to protect adjoining buildings or exposures, or to prevent vertical extension of the fire.

Larger attack lines (2 ½”) should be selected for commercial structures, structures with a high fireload or other situations requiring a greater flow of water.  The same approach to advancing the line should be used, although the larger hose streams will require more personnel to safely manage them

Sometimes an aggressive interior attack is not possible, necessitating an exterior attack.  This could be approached from just about anywhere outside of the structure, including from fire escapes, ground ladders, or other structures.  A quick exterior or “blitz” attack can darken the fire down enough so that interior personnel can make entry and attack the fire.  It is essential that the Incident Commander carefully coordinates both attacks and ensures that personnel in the interior are not in the fire room when this is attempted.

It is essential for interior attack teams to stay as low as possible, regardless of the initial conditions.  A ceiling collapse or sudden venting and feeding the fire could create a chimney effect.  Attack teams should always approach doorways from the hinge side, so that if superheated gases ignite they will have a grater degree of protection.  During the confinement and extinguishment phases of fire attack, the Lieutenant or Acting Officer in charge of a hose team should communicate progress reports to the Incident Commander, and must always be aware of the status of his/her individual team members.

Initial streams applied to the fire should be directed high on the ceiling in a "clockwise" fashion, which will drive heat, gases, steam, smoke, and other products of combustion away.   This will also cool the fire gases that have built up overhead and prevent them from igniting.  After this short burst on the ceiling, the solid stream should be directed at the main body of fire.

Once a fire is knocked down, the attack team should shut the stream down and with the use of the TIC, check the adjoining rooms or other areas for fire extension, with special attention directed above the fire.  When conditions permit, a fog stream may be directed out a window to ventilate, reducing the built-up heat and smoke condition.  This will also contribute to easier search and overhaul operations.

For structure fires, the smallest diameter hose that will be utilized by Three Star Fire Department for fire suppression, rescue, etc., will be 1 ¾".  For commercial and store fires, 2 ½” attack lines are recommended.

Cockloft Fires

Cockloft is defined as the floor consisting of an open space at the top of a house just below roof; often used for storage   Fires that start in or extend into the cockloft are probably the major cause of total loss of buildings.  The speed with which fires spread across these open areas can be very surprising.  There are several factors that compound rapid fire extension.  They include:  difficulty in exposing the cockloft, potential backdraft within the ceiling space, and the difficulty in finding the seat of the fire when smoke is showing in several locations.  Fires in cocklofts increase the likelihood of ceiling collapse.  Fires confined to the cockloft may give little indication of their severity or the extent of fire extension until it’s too late.

Again, this is an ideal situation where the Thermal Imaging Camera shall be used to locate fires that extend into the cockloft.  Incident Commanders and Officers shall use the Thermal Imaging Camera to assist in their tactical solution.

An attack line cannot commence operation until the ceiling is pulled and fire exposed.  Failure to do so could increase likelihood of creating a venturi effect on the fire, increasing the pace and rate of extension.  Adequate personnel to thoroughly and aggressively expose fire extension should be assigned to pull ceilings with pike poles and other forcible entry tools.  The nozzle man may elect to stand on a ladder in order to more effectively direct the hose stream deep into the cockloft.  This should slow, if not halt, the extension of fire while the ceilings are being pulled.

The roof must be ventilated in order to check for fire and halt its extension.  Vertical ventilation will draw heat and smoke upwards and away from personnel operating inside (See Ventilation Guidelines Section III-7).


Overhaul operations are essentially a careful and systematic examination of the fire area.  Once the main body of a fire has been extinguished, the fire area often still contains sparks, embers, or small concealed fires.  The objectives in overhaul operations is to make certain that no trace of fire remains to rekindle after the firefighters have left the scene and to leave the structure in as safe a condition as possible.  Before overhaul operations can be initiated, holes in floors should be covered or barricaded.  Unsafe areas should be roped-off or covered by portable ladders.  It is important to be aware of overhead hazards and hanging objects, such as loose plaster, BX cable, etc.  Adequate lighting must be provided where needed for safe and effective overhaul operations.  It is also important to be aware that tools or other equipment are not buried under the debris.  Use the Thermal Imaging Camera in all overhaul operations.

During cold and freezing weather, ice forms and slippery conditions develop quickly, presenting additional hazards to the fire scene.  Always remember to leave a nozzle "cracked" open so that hose lines do not freeze.

Emergency Retreat/Evacuation

Notification for immediate evacuation of personnel engaged in interior structural firefighting will be the following (See Radio Communications Section III-14):

1.      Officers will notify interior personnel via two-way portable radio.

2.      The driver/pump operator of each apparatus in close proximity of the involved structure will execute THREE LONG BLASTS of the apparatus' air horn and siren.

3.      All personnel evacuated will immediately report to the Incident Commander or his designee at the command post and personnel accountability guidelines shall be implemented to ensure all personnel are clear of danger (See Accountability Policy Section II-5).


Salvage touches on nearly every phase and action taken on the fireground.  It is the minimization of fire, smoke, and water damage.  The salvage process commences upon arrival at the fire scene and must be a continuous process.  “Try before you pry” and avoiding excessive water flow once the fire is knocked-down are examples of salvage consciousness.

If conditions warrant, and personnel and resources are available, the use of tarps to protect property is encouraged.  Cover high value items (furniture, television, etc.).

Debris left at the scene should be handled with care.  Materials should be left as they were found, which will facilitate scene reconstruction when an investigation or cause determination is being carried out by fire investigators (Fire Investigations Section I-17).

When excess water has collected inside a structure, small holes can be poked in the ceilings in order to let it drain.  This will prevent a ceiling collapse or other damage due to excessive water accumulation.

Prior to leaving a scene, personnel will advise the owner or other representative of the conditions inside the premise, such as broken windows, holes in walls & floors, or other potential hazards.  Three Star Fire Department personnel should attempt to minimize damage by covering furnishings and other property with salvage covers as soon as possible while operating at a fire.