New firefighting technique helps save woman’s home

BERNALILLO, N.M. (KRQE) – Some firefighters in New Mexico are taking a new approach to fighting structure fires. The method comes after years of scientific research. That research revealed there could be a faster, safer way to battle structure fires, specifically residential ones.

Sandoval County Fire officials tell News 13 this technique was developed in response to faster burning fires.

Leaders recently had the entire department trained in using the new method and, already, they say it’s paid off, saving one woman’s home from severe damage.

“Look at this,” said Ophelia Rinaldi, pointing at her ceiling. “Look at that.”

Longtime Bernaillo resident Rinaldi, 82, surveys the damage.

“It was, it was frightening,” she said.

Several weeks back, a fire broke out in Rinaldi’s custom-designed home.

“You could see the smoke coming out from there,” Rinaldi said as she showed KRQE News 13 her roof.

Firefighters from Sandoval County and the town of Bernalillo were on scene in minutes.

“They went over and directly above where the fire started,” said Sandoval County Fire Chief James Maxon. “It started in the parapit walls right above us here and then it dropped down and it started burning across the ceiling.”

It was the first time they would put a new firefighting technique to the test.

“They went ahead and applied water on the fire right away and knocked down the main body of the fire and then went back around. We put a roof team on top of the roof and they were also able to stop the extension of the fire up on the roof,” explained Maxon.

“It seems a lot more simple,” said Sandoval County Firefighter Jonathan Fails. Fails responded to the fire in Rinaldi’s home.

The new method is described in an acronym- SLICE-RS. The biggest difference is the letter “C”, that’s cooling from a safe location.

“We want to hit the body of the fire from the outside, if possible, cool it down and then come inside and extinguish the rest of the fire. What that does is it makes it more tenable for firefighters in here. But if there’s anybody in here that we can rescue, it also makes it more tenable for them, as well, to be able to survive the fire,” Maxon explained.

Maxon says the new technique is one of the biggest advancements he’s seen in his 23 year career. He says it’s a response to faster spreading fires due to synthetic materials in furniture, building materials and lightweight construction.

“Houses are collapsing. We have firefighters on the fire ground that get injured because roofs collapse and you know, roofs can collapse within 10 minutes,” Maxon said.

Rinaldi’s packed her bags and found another place to stay, for the time being.

“Now, I’m homeless,” she said.

Yet, Maxon says, had they been using the old method, it could’ve been a lot worse.

“The fire could’ve dropped from the ceiling down onto the furniture and we would’ve had severe damage. As it is right now, the furniture that was in the room is all salvageable,” Maxon said.

“I’m glad the fire department was here and they had the special technique that they used,” said Rinaldi. “I still have my home. I’m safe.”

Firefighters estimate Rinaldi will be out of her home for about a month.

Maxon says the reason why they didn’t adopt this method earlier is the fact firefighting is steeped in tradition. He says, for years, firefighters operated under the belief that if you attack the fire from the burning side of the structure, you could push it into the unburned, but he says numerous scientific studies have shown that’s just not the case. Maxon says that’s because conditions in the unburned side aren’t ideal to support fire since certain conditions must be present for combustion.

Bernalillo County Fire, along with a number of other departments across the state will attend a workshop Tuesday about the new method. The Los Alamos Fire Department will host the workshop and the International Society of Fire Service Instructors will lead it. The Albuquerque Fire Department adopted the new technique earlier this summer.

To see the full training video the ISFSI posted online, click here.

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