smoke signals

Reading Smoke Signals: How Skilled Firefighters Use Smoke to Determine the Characteristics of a Fire

firefighters reading smoke signals

One of the most important skills all firemen must possess in his situational awareness tool bag is the ability to read smoke.  A fire and its subsequent smoke does not delineate between incident commander, officer, operator or a probationary member. Though not an exact science and heralded as only privy to experienced crew members, the ability to read the smoke at any position within the company can help those responding to the incident make better tactical decisions.  Consequently, everyone at the incident should be armed with the ability to read smoke. Smoke can help first responders determine the fires location, growth, toxicity, direction of travel. In the case of a structure fire it helps us predict hostile fire events like smoke explosions, backdrafts and flashovers. In fact, the author of The Art of Reading Smoke, David W. Dodson a fireman that has spent 33 years learning and teaching on the subject says: “Reading smoke can tell us what is happening now and, more importantly, what is going to happen in the future,” said Dodson. “Reading smoke can tell us how big or intense a fire is, maybe where the fire is,” he said. “Watching how fast it is changing can tell if we have seconds or minutes before something happens.”

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