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One hundred years of tradition unimpeded by change: I’m confident that if you have been part of the fire service for any time, you have heard this phrase, or something similar, during your career.

December 5, 2011 
By Phil Ross

One hundred years of tradition unimpeded by change: I’m confident that if you have been part of the fire service for any time, you have heard this phrase, or something similar, during your career.

Opening of windows in the fire room.  
Opening established prior to fan introduction.  
Fan started and directed into structure.  
Positive pressure attack started.  
Fire attack underway.  

Unfortunately, in some North American departments, this is indeed the
case. I have never personally subscribed to this way of thinking, and,
as fire department leaders, it is incumbent upon us to search out new
techniques, to evaluate new products and adopt new tactics to assist our
crews in suppression activities, and to make the job of fire fighting

With this in mind, the Niagara Falls Fire Department (NFFD) in Ontario
recently completed a comprehensive training program on positive pressure
attack (PPA).

PPA is not new. In fact, departments across the United States have
been using this tactic since the early 1990s. When I introduced positive
pressure ventilation (PPV) to my department in 2002, I anticipated
that, in time, we would expand our operations to use PPA.


The training division was directed to research the topic, gain some
knowledge and formulate a plan to get our personnel trained in PPA. As a
starting point, we bought several copies of the book Positive Pressure
Attack for Ventilation & Firefighting, by battalion chiefs Kriss
Garcia and Reinhard Kauffmann, and firefighter Ray Schelble, of the Salt
Lake City Fire Department in Utah.

It wasn’t long before I was approached and floated the idea of
contracting the services of Garcia to conduct a train-the-trainer
course, not only for our department, but also for others, if they were
interested. Long story short, we advertised first through the Niagara
Regional Fire Chiefs Association to gauge the interest, then opened up
registration through the Ontario Association of Fire Training Officers. A
budget line was set, course details were confirmed and we proceeded to
build a one-storey, five-room burn house to accommodate the practical

As firefighters, we know that plastics have replaced most natural
materials used in the manufacturing of household furniture. As a result,
fires are increasing in intensity more rapidly than ever and more
deadly gases are being created, even in the smallest fires. These
products of combustion will cause harm and possibly death to those in
their midst without respiratory protection.

As recruits, we learned that the rapid removal of smoke, heat and
gases from a structure on fire is helpful to firefighting personnel
during search and rescue and fire attack, while providing a more
tenable, survivable atmosphere for any victims still inside the

Then why would we wait to ventilate a structure?

It’s time to move forward and stop limiting our crews tothe same
conventional methods of ventilation used for years. The rapid fire
spread our crews are facing in structure fires today, combined with the
increased use of lightweight construction materials, begs for a better
form of mechanical ventilation with an increased margin of safety.

PPV + initial fire attack = PPA = co-ordinated attack
Setup for PPA is basically the same as for PPV, with one important
difference: the fans are set up before firefighters enter the structure
and are used in conjunction with the initial fire attack.

The basic procedures to a successful use of PPA include:

  • positioning of the fan at the point of entry firefighting crews are using
  • creating an exhaust opening in proximity to the fire
  • beginning pressurization in tandem with fire attack.

First-arriving crews must identify the point of entry to be used for
firefighting operations and a firefighter then positions the fan at that
location. Another crew member and/or officer quickly identifies the
location of the fire (this can be accomplished with the use of thermal
imagery) and chooses the exhaust opening to be used. The firefighter at
the entry point will position the fan one to two metres away from the
opening. The fan is started as soon as possible, with the airstream
directed away from the opening. With the exhaust opening secured and
attack crews in position with a charged hoseline, the airstream is now
directed into the entry point. The attack crew waits momentarily until
pressurization has taken place within the structure and observable
conditions have improved before making entry. The fan is always placed
at the backs of the initial attack crew.

Personally, the best way I could evaluate the process and weigh the
benefits of PPA was to take part in the practical evaluations. In order
to do this, I participated in several burns to experience the operation
myself. I can tell you that Garcia likes his fires hot! With visibility
getting progressively worse and heat in the upper portion of the
building increasing and advancing to the lower portion of the room we
were in, the crew and I were becoming more intimate with the floor with
every passing moment. The order was given to take the window for the
exhaust opening, which provided little relief for the crew inside.
Moments later, the entry point was opened and the fan directed into the

I can attest that almost instantaneously we were able to stand up,
visibility was vastly improved to the point at which we could see the
fire room, and all products of combustion were being effectively vented
through the exhaust opening. The attack crew with a charged hoseline
entered shortly thereafter and, in a matter of seconds, had the fire
under control with very little water use and no flame spread to any
other area of the structure.

Through my research of PPA as a fire-attack strategy I was confident
that this was going to be an effective tool, but like many others, I was
skeptical about the effect it would have on the fire and the rest of
the structure.

Seeing this operation first hand confirmed that this was the future of suppression operations in the NFFD.


  • Improved conditions drastically increase firefighter safety.
  • Heat and smoke are rapidly cleared from the fire structure early in the operation.
  • Victims’ chances of survival are increased.
  • Improved visibility within the structure.
  • Attack lines rapidly advanced to seat of fire.
  • Water use is decreased due to direct fire-attack capabilities.
  • Fire damage is reduced.
  • Better use of crews as roof ventilation may not be necessary.

For departments contemplating PPA implementation, there are several considerations to keep in mind:

There must be a commitment. Fans will need to be purchased to
outfit apparatuses that may be arriving first on scene. A burn structure
will need to be constructed if a facility is not readily available.
Training time may be extensive (one to two months).

ALL personnel must be thoroughly trained in PPA, including theory, applications and precautions before implementation. Senior
officers (platoon chiefs) were directed to participate in all aspects
of this training in order to have a better understanding of the dynamics
at work when PPA is used. Fire-prevention officers also participated in
this training to gain a better perspective on the operation and to
acquaint themselves with flame-spread patterns that may be out of the
norm when PPA is employed.

All personnel should have an expectation that PPA will be a fire attack option.

Protocols, procedures or operational guidelines must be developed so
firefighting crews will systematically put fans into operation as part
of a co-ordinated attack.

PPA is best used for aggressive interior attacks on incidents at
which first-arriving crews can make a rapid entry into the area involved
in fire.
Large, complex operations may require a more methodical, less aggressive implementation of PPA.

Command and control of the incident is paramount when using PPA. Co-ordination
of fire attack in terms of exhaust opening, airstream introduction and
crew advancement requires disciplined and well-trained personnel.

In the short time that the NFFD has been using PPA, feedback has been
very positive. I have had firefighters, captains and senior officers
express to me their appreciation of the vast improvement to their
personal safety. They also say that the physical toll on firefighting
crews has greatly diminished, and that we should have been doing this 20
years ago. I couldn’t agree more.

Be safe!

If you are interested in obtaining more information on this procedure
you can contact Jim Boutilier, Director of Training, Niagara Falls Fire
Department or visit

Deputy Chief Phil Ross is responsible for the suppression and
training divisions of the Niagara Falls Fire Department in Ontario. He
is a graduate of Ryerson University’s public administration and
governance program and the Niagara College law and security
administration program, and is a member of the Institute of Fire
Engineers (GIFireE). He is qualified as a community emergency management
co-ordinator, is a certified municipal manager with fire suppression
professional endorsement through the Ontario Municipal Management
Institute and is a certified fire and explosion investigator through the
National Association of Fire Investigators. He is a member of the
Ontario fire marshal advisory board on firefighter survival, the Ontario
fire marshal first responder task force on clandestine labs and
marijuana grow operations, and is a qualified instructor for the
provincial incident management system course through Emergency
Management Ontario.

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