Is your Fire Prevention message up to date?

As most firefighters should know this week is National Fire Prevention Week . I am sure many of you are out spreading the message of Fire Prevention this week. I would like to say thank you for serving your communities and you will probably never know how many life’s were truly saved by your wonderful dedication to your communities.

So since it is Fire Prevention Week this post will be about this years Fire Prevention theme in the context of our modern fire environment.

The NFPA’s Fire Prevention Week is October 7-13, 2012. This year’s theme is Have Two Ways Out and focuses on the importance of fire escape planning and practice in the home.

In 2010, U.S. fire departments responded to 369,500 home structure fires. These fires caused 13,350 civilian injuries, 2,640 civilian deaths, and $6.9 billion in direct damage. One home structure was reported every 85 seconds in 2010.

Having Two Ways Out and being Rabbit Ready:

I must say I am actually excited that the NFPA theme this year is about Having Two Ways Out and being Rabbit Ready because it will fit perfect with a project I am working on and the message I have already been preaching locally here in my recent fire behavior and search classes.

So not to take anything away from this years theme but to only add too. I would to challenge everyone going out and doing Fire Prevention this week and from now on. To add a few more things to your presentations that I feel will save life’s and reflect the modern fire environment that we are faced with.

If you have been in the fire service more than a week you have probably heard someone say something like Today’s Fires have Changed! While this statement is usually said with good intentions it isn’t 100 percent accurate. Fires still require Heat,Fuel and Oxygen just like they did when the first Cave Man rubbed to sticks together :) However what has changed is Fire Behavior within a building.

These changes are a result of people having more stuff made of plastics and buildings being more airtight than ever before. So you are probably asking yourself by now what does this have to do with my next Fire Prevention program? The answer is real simple. We need to add one more step to Having Two Ways Out and being Rabbit ReadyCLOSE THE DOOR!

I think a very important part of fire escape planning we fail to convey is the need of civilians closing the door behind them on their way out!

So one might ask why is it so important to teach civilians to close the door?

Answer: Modern Building Construction More Plastics = Extreme Fire Behavior

With these two changes firefighters need to have a better understanding more than ever before of how ventilation drastically affects fire development.

Today’s fires are Ventilation Limited due to having more hydrocarbon based fuels available and the structures are very airtight as well.

I am NOT a expert on Fire Behavior however want to share a few things I have gathered from many other experts as it pertains to Fire Behavior is modern buildings. The following will help you as a Fire Prevention presenter better understand why we need to stress the extra step of CLOSING THE DOOR!

  • Air Track *
  • Flow Path*

Air Track: Air track is the movement of air and smoke as observed from the exterior and inside the structure. Air track is used to describe a group of fire behavior indicators that includes direction of smoke movement at openings (e.g., outward, inward, pulsing), velocity and turbulence, and movement of the lower boundary of the upper layer (e.g., up, down, pulsing).

Flow Path: In a compartment fire, flow path is the course of movement hot gases between the fire and exhaust openings and the movement of air towards the fire.

Flow path can significantly influence fire spread and the hazard presented to occupants and firefighters.

Now with a very basic understanding of how air majorly affects modern fire behavior lets look at a few more examples of the need to CLOSE THE DOOR!

This picture is from Thermal Imaging Camera view at a Kill The Flashover burn. KTF is great group that every firefighter needs to follow their research.

The next example is a very sad one where a brother of ours lost his life and it might have been prevented if the civilian had closed the door on their way out!

On January 19, 2011 we lost firefighter Mark Falkenhan of Baltimore County, Maryland. During this incident a fire started in the kitchen on a second-level apartment. Upon arrival, crews found heavy fire conditions present and fire extending into a common foyer area. The ventilation flow path allowed this fire to extend to an adjacent apartment on the third level where the LODD occurred.

The following pictures show how a door closed by a crew conducting VES on this incident made a major difference in that room.

ATF FDS Analysis of 30 Dowling Circle videos:

I hope with the information I presented that you will now be willing to accept the challenge of updating your fire prevention program with one more step CLOSE THE DOOR!

I feel that by changing this public behavior we will save more life’s and keep fires more choked up in a early decay stage instead of the fire getting all the fresh air it needs grow and take over the entire structure before we have a chance to extinguish it.


Lt. John Shafer

For another Fire Prevention article written by Lt. Shafer check out

A special thanks to Chief Shawn Oke from KTF for discussions we have had on this subject of closing the door.

For more information and the complete expert source I used for the definition of Air Track & Flow Path * go check out Chief Ed Hartin work at



  • Ray McCormack says:

    The New York City Fire Department FDNY ran a “Close the Door” campaign after the famous “Macaulay Culkin Fire”(the apartment was owned by the actor) in a high rise apartment building that claimed the lives of four people. The door to the fire apartment was left open. Maybe next year the NFPA will use “close the door” as their fire prevention message and that is one of the problems of fire prevention messages in general – consensus. Millions of federal grant dollars are applied to a smorgasbord of various battle cries every year resulting in confusion and limited change. Announcing prevention initiatives towards the end of the year may not be the best time to grab peoples attention either but thats another debate. Until then”Two Ways Out” will have to do.

    Ray McCormack

  • greenmaltese says:

    Thanks Ray!

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John Shafer

An 18 year veteran of  the fire service, and currently a Lieutenant and the Training Officer for the Greencastle Fire Department.  An Indiana regionally recognized instructor on building construction, fireground search and command management, he has traveled throughout the State of Indiana delivering specialized training programs on building construction, fireground search and firefighter safety.

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