Sunday, November 1, 2009

Candlemoth Syndrome

How many firefighters have ever experienced Candlemoth Syndrome? I know I have, particularly when I was younger and less experienced. Candlemoth Syndrome is a firefighting cousin of Target Fixation, where firefighters are drawn closely to the fire in disregard for proper firefighting tactics and for firefighter safety.

The definition of "Moth to a Flame" is to be "Irresistibly and dangerously attracted to something or someone." The term relates to moth behavior around open candle flames at night. Moths are drawn to the light given off by the flame, but they often get too close, resulting in badly burned or dead moths. Firefighters can indeed be irresistably and dangerously attracted to be in close proximity to a fire. Candlemoth Syndrome is dangerous, it can easily result in firefighter injury or death, and it is all-too-common. Candlemoth Syndrome is generally avoidable if you recognize the symptoms.

Candlemoth Syndrome includes the following:

1) Waiting to attack interior fires until the hose team is very close to the fire in situations where the water stream could be used to safely and effectively attack the fire from farther away.
An example is using a direct attack with a solid stream or straight stream from very close to the fire instead of extinguishing the base of the fire from farther away where the firefighters are less exposed to the heat. This also gives the firefighters more direct access to their escape route if something goes wrong during the attack.

2) Conducting Defensive attacks in structures where Offensive attacks are indicated.
There are two examples of this. The most common is Horizontal Candlemoth Syndrome; the nozzleman who runs directly to a window venting fire and attacks the fire head-on from close range from the exterior. This will usually drive the fire into uninvolved parts of the building, cut off escape routes for the occupants, and increase the amount of unnecessary fire damage to the structure. The other example is Vertical Candlemoth Syndrome, where ladder pipe streams are directed into vertical ventilation openings. This results in the fire being driven downward into uninvolved parts of the structure, with the same potential bad outcomes as the horizontal example.

3) Defensive Candlemoth Syndrome is a variation of Horizontal Candlemoth Syndrome. This occurs when a fire has been declared Defensive and firefighters push too close to a building that is either in danger of collapsing or that is a No Value building, or both.

Focusing strategy and tactics on the RECEO-VS system, maintaining personnel accountability, and having Division C and Incident Safety Officers on scene to maintain a 360 view of the fireground help prevent Candlemoth Syndrome.

Good company officers who practice organizational discipline, who monitor their personnel closely during firefights, and who are not afraid to use firefighting best practices can prevent Candlemoth Syndrome, keep their firefighters safer, and reduce the amount of antacids ingested by chief officers.
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