Brian Ward: Transitional Fire Attack: Does It Exist?

By Brian Ward

Starting in rookie school, most academies teach offensive, defensive, and transitional (aka blitz) attacks. The offensive mode of attack is taught as a very aggressive, interior fire attack. There are times when the nozzle is not opened until firefighters are inside the structure and in the actual burn room. The defensive mode of attack is generally not as aggressive, known as surround and drown, and is an exterior fire attack. These are generally straightforward concepts while the transitional attack is taught as a blend of these modes and taught as being used through various stages of an incident.

Transitional or blitz attacks have been taught around the country as a mode that indicates transitioning from a defensive to an offensive mode of attack in most cases. This situation typically is taught as a defensive attack beginning on the exterior of the structure, then proceeding to an offensive interior attack. Aggressive fire crews performing this attack use a wide selection of hoselines from the 1 ¾” to a portable monitor, such as a blitz fire (capable of a quick 500 gpm on one 3” hoseline). The quick knockdown is needed for crews to make entry because they believe that there are still viable victims inside the structure. After the initial knockdown, positive observations can be made including temperature reduction, steam conversion, and fire knockdown. While I understand and agree with the concept, I do not believe that we should use the terminology transitional. Offensive and defensive modes of attack should not be based on a geographical location; however, it should be based on the intent of the tactical assignments given, regardless of interior or exterior position.

The analogy I use to associate the difference in offensive and defensive postures is from the military tactical book. In essence, what we are doing by making a quick aggressive exterior knockdown, “resetting the fire,” and then moving interior for the kill is what the military has used for centuries and is known as flanking. Desert Storm’s “left hook,” Allies in WWII, and Stonewall Jackson’s infamous flank attack at the Battle of Chancellorsville in May of 1862--these are all aggressive offensive attacks from the exterior of the battle. Firefighting uses the same concept, just a different landscape.

For firefighters and considering the mental makeup of firefighters, defensive attacks are our last option if we have any choice in the matter. This is sometimes regardless of the potential to save anything. Our tactical decision making can be clouded by the adrenaline rush and stress we often encounter. However, what if we changed the stereotype of an exterior attack being defensive to one that is an aggressive-offensive tactical decision? Would we be more apt to use it? There is research that can support this statement and allow us to change the hazards we face prior to making entry. This research also supports increasing the survivability of trapped occupants.

The International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI) in conjunction with the South Carolina Fire Academy Staff, City of Spartanburg, SC Fire Department, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) developed information and captured videos that demonstrate that an aggressive exterior attack, which is offensive in nature, may be the best method of attack in many situations. Furthermore, there should be a clear distinction between offensive and defensive modes of attack based on the tactical assignments. Offensive modes of attack are designed to be aggressive and rapid in nature because of preserving life and property, regardless of where the firefight starts. Preferably, this will occur in a minimum amount of time and from the safest location possible. Defensive modes of attack indicate that all attempts to preserve life and property have been exhausted. A defensive mode of attack is designed to hold a position and prevent extension.


Experiment Background: In these experiments, we used eight similar residential structures outfitted with “new” furnishings, windows, and all holes inside the structure were repaired with either sheetrock or plywood to ensure an airtight space typical of what is found in new residential structures. NIST used various oxygen sensors, pressure sensors, and thermal imaging devices to record the data from each experiment. Each structure was prepared and prepped to hold two experiments; this is where compartmentalizing became very important. Without it working properly, the number of experiments would have been reduced.



Large amount of fire showing on A/D corner with smoke pushing through the adjacent room windows, very black and turbulent smoke.