YouTube has proven to be a very effective training tool within the fire service. A quick search can yield everything from firefighter entanglement training to apparatus response/collision videos. These videos serve as a very powerful training tool, especially for smaller fire departments across the country. The popularity and ease of access to such videos though does have a drawback. They have the potential to oversimplify complex topics, largely because they feed into our quick sound bite culture. Unfortunately, some things deserve more space than a short video can provide.
Take for instance the issue of ventilation in the fire service. Not only is it a complex topic, but it also engenders a lot of passion from proponents of various ventilation tactics. I was reminded of this recently by a video posted on VentEnterSearch.com. The video depicts an incident from Utah where several firefighters narrowly escaped a dangerous fire situation. This video can serve as a great training aid on several key topics such as firefighter maydays, radio communications, and fire behavior. However, while this video is a great training aid, it is not a research source.
Too many variables though exist outside of the video’s scope to make a definitive case for the superiority of vertical ventilation over Positive Pressure Attack (PPA). Fortunately, many great resources are online that provide an objective look at the use of PPA during structure fires. For instance, the NIST performed controlled experiments of PPV in several fire scenarios. While they found that PPV fans do increase fire intensity early on, the fire quickly begins to deteriorate after a short period. More importantly, they identified where the fire intensity was focused. PPV/PPA use intensified the fire in its room of origin but improved the smoke and heat conditions in the other rooms and hallways. Because these areas are more likely to contain viable victims, improving these conditions trumps the concern of short-term fire growth. Fire.gov also has a copy of the report along with some of the experiment videos. You can also check out the University of Texas-Austin for another research perspective on the topic.
Videos like the one from Utah are great tools that can identify issues in need of further analysis. Like any tool though, YouTube does have limitations. You can’t assume that you’re getting the whole picture from videos posted online. Just like on the fireground, you must perform a good 360 degree size-up of a topic before you can make a sound decision. These videos serve as the beginning of the discussion, not the end of it.