Experience vs. Evidence: Applying Research to Firefighter Tactics

Fire science and firefighter research have evolved significantly over the past several decades, revealing better tactics to fight fires, save lives and preserve property. But accessing that research and applying it in your department, with your firefighters, can be a tall order. As an industry, the fire service is centered on tradition. Oftentimes, that can be a good thing. Other times, it can be a detriment to success. And resistance to new and effective evidence-based tactics is no small issue when adopting these tactics can be the difference between life and death. Fire departments today must have leaders who are willing to look outside their own department to adopt tools and techniques that increase efficiency and outcomes.

In a recent webinar, “Evidence-Based Tactics: Applying Research & Technology for Safer, More Effective Fireground,” three chiefs from Loveland (CO) Fire Rescue Authority (LFRA) discuss how they have applied research in their fireground operations to improve safety and results across the board.

Getting Buy-In: The Process

“Every single day we go to a fire, there is some form of research being applied,” Chief Tim Sendelbach says. That’s the goal of learning about evidence-based tactics, but how can you establish an effective program in your department? According to fire service leaders, the biggest barrier to implementing new research-based tactics is lack of buy-in among personnel. So how do you get that buy-in?

There are four key areas in which to apply research to fire service operations.

  • Training Division: Training leaders must be receptive to change and demonstrate a willingness to adapt to and adopt new technologies. Obtaining buy-in at all levels starts with a firm foundational culture laid by leaders.
  • Apparatus Specification: For application of evidence-based tactics and technology to be possible, you must ensure the apparatus are built to the right specifications and allow for effective deployment of those technologies.
  • Fireground Discipline: As with any tactic, it’s critical everyone in your department—and all the agencies your department works with—works off the same system, ensuring proper communication and chain of command. The LFRA adopted the Blue Card system across the board to streamline fireground discipline.
  • Informed Decision-Making: Decisions must be based on a combination of personal experience on the fireground and research into the most effective firefighting techniques.

Three out of four of these items tie directly into training, which is essential to successful firefighting operations in any circumstance. It can also be helpful in obtaining buy-in. Training allows firefighters to see and understand the why behind the tactics.

Fire departments today must have leaders who are willing to look outside their own department to adopt tools and techniques that increase efficiency and outcomes.

LFRA’s leadership recommends starting in the classroom: Do your own research as a department to demonstrate and understand the physics and chemistry of fire. “There’s so much more to understanding what’s taking place in just a simple candle, let alone a building,” Battalion Chief Jason Starck explains. Following a good understanding of fire science, move to hands-on training, starting with observation burns, before moving to larger scale live-fire training to validate these new tactics. Battalion Chief Erik Klaas highlights the importance of this step: “Experiencing that, actually seeing it and being in that environment allowed us to connect those dots with our people.” First-hand experience gives your firefighters the chance to see the tactics in action and understand how and why they work. This ultimately creates the buy-in you need to apply the tactics, leading to safer and more effective firefighting.

Applying Evidence on the Fireground

Once you’ve identified the research and tactics that work for your department, how do you actually start applying them? Consider what aspects of response the tactics will affect: How should pre-entry evaluation change to fit the needs of the tactics? Does incident command require different or additional information? What does communication look like in light of these tactics? Ask these questions ahead of time and then train, train, train. Remember, first and foremost, it’s critical to have the right equipment and training to support an effective response.

When applying evidence-based tactics, just as in any fireground response, there are three key elements: coordination, common terminology and a clear description of what’s happening. We have to know what’s happening and maintain clear, consistent communication to employ the right tactics. After the fire, conduct a thorough after-action report: “Did you get the desired effect of the tactics you applied? And if not, what do you need to do to overcome and achieve that?” Chief Klaas asks. These reports can guide future decision-making across your organization (and beyond) regarding tactics, training and response. And, as an added bonus, a focus on continuous learning reinforces buy-in from personnel.

Learn more and watch the on-demand webinar, “Evidence-Based Tactics: Applying Research & Technology for Safer, More Effective Fireground,” as leaders from Loveland (CO) Fire Rescue Authority discuss how they apply evidence-based tactics in their department.

Lexipol Team

Lexipol provides public safety and local government with solutions that combine the impact of information with the power of technology. We serve more than 2 million first responders and local government officials with policies, training, wellness resources, grant assistance, and news and analysis.

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