The Evolving Fireground – Required Reading

Be curious and ask why.

In the foreword to Sean Gray and P.J. Norwood’s book The Evolving Fireground: Research-Based Tactics, Fire Chief Peter Van Dorpe writes:

“I truly believe that we lost the greatest lesson our predecessors tried to instill in us: Be curious and ask why.”

I remember at my academy graduation the then-Fire Chief speaking of the fire service as a whole, saying something along the lines of “hundreds of years of tradition, unimpeded by progress.” I had no idea how right he was. I’m fortunate to be a part of a progressive department that stays hungry for more effective, safer ways of performing our work, but even I am guilty of having forgotten to be curious at times, taking the word of tradition as law.

Progress Through Research

One of the things that have gotten me excited and tuned-in over the last couple of years is the amount of scientific research going on in the fire service and the impact that it’s having. On the forefront of this research is the UL FSRI and guys like Sean Gray and P.J. Norwood. The work these organizations are putting into advancing the science of firefighting to increase the safety of firefighters and victims alike is awe-inspiring and appreciated.

I had the pleasure of taking Sean Gray’s class, Working in the Fire Flow Path at 2018’s FDIC in Indianapolis, Indiana and was blown away at the quality of information I received in that all-too-brief eight hours. With sections on fire behavior, search-and-rescue, fire attack, and ventilation, it felt like a crash course fire academy based not on tradition, but on science and experience. Needless to say, I was excited to rush to the FDIC bookstore and pick up my copy of their new book, The Evolving Fireground: Research-Based Tactics. With highlighter and flags at the ready, I dove in right away, pouring through each section, each page, each word with eagerness and an open mind and was not disappointed.

What the Book Is

Much like the Flow Path class at FDIC, this 164-page book feels like a crash course in firefighting. Grey and Norwood cover everything from size-up and command to PPE and hand tools. There are dozens of great concepts presented and discussed with a palpable level of excitement emanating from the authors.

The book opens with on fire behavior and recent research in that field, including excellent discussions on modern vs. legacy fires and flow path. It moves on from there to discuss ventilation, building construction, command, search and rescue, and more. Each section holds numerous nuggets of information backed by recent research and the experience of the authors.


One of my favorite chapters in the book is the one on ventilation. The authors lean heavily on the recent research done by the UL FSRI on ventilation, discussing the findings on how ventilation really affects fire behavior and growth within a structure.

”The goal of ventilation is to control the building and make the building behave the way you need it to.”

The authors point out that the best way to make a structure fire safer and more survivable for any potential victims and the firefighters engaged in rescue and extinguishment activities is to make the structure as tenable as possible. This is accomplished through coordinated ventilation and controlling openings from doorways to firefighter-created holes in walls. Grey and Norwood discuss these topics in detail and with the science and research to back their claims.


”Command is a position that requires the ability to analyze what has occurred, what is occurring, and predict what will happen with or without appropriate tactics.”

Grey and Norwood rightly devote an entire chapter to Command, discussing its various intricacies and components. They state, “true fireground commanders are leaders and make the difficult decisions.” They write on command presence, size-up, reading the fire, and making tactical decisions, sharing great information along the way. They present a lot of the same acronyms you’ve read and heard throughout your career (RECEO VS, B-SAHF, COAL WAS WEALTH, etc.) but make the gold-star point:

“there is a time and a place for acronyms in the fire service, but it’s not when standing in front of the building.”

Acronyms are fantastic for learning new information, but when it comes time to call the shots you don’t want to be leaning on them.

What the Book Isn’t

I wouldn’t recommend this book to a brand new firefighter. I feel like this is written to the more seasoned among us, company officers and above. Now, that isn’t to say that there’s no value here to newer firefighters, I just fear the amount of information and passion contained in this book could be overwhelming to someone who’s still working out the basics of the job.

Like I said, the book is a crash course, it is a jumping off point to give the reader a solid foundation on which to build their knowledge by guiding them to further research and reading on the various topics the authors discuss (they include detailed bibliographies throughout the book). While the book can and does stand on its own, I recommend taking notes as you read on what you want to further research afterward.

My only critical point on this book is one of the things that makes it so good, the passion and excitement of the authors, can at times cause the book to feel a little disjointed. You can feel that they were trying to get as much information as possible crammed into the pages, which is fine, but I think the book could have used another pass through the Editor. Not for the purposes of taking anything out, but just to ease the flow and increase the overall readability. This is a minor complaint, though, and in the end, the information contained and shared in the book outweighs any clunkiness one may feel while reading it.

Note: The edition of the book that I purchased was an FDIC Limited Edition. Some of the issues I wrote about above have been addressed in the final edition of the book that is currently out and avaialbe for purchase.

The Curious Professional

One of the best things about this book its embodiment of the growing trend of research-based firefighting and the revival of the curious professional. Grey and Norwood utilize and summarize scientific research and anecdotal evidence to present this information in the most accessible way they can. The traditions in the fire service run deep and should never be frivolously ignored or discarded, nor should we turn an arrogant blind eye to the research that is being done to keep us and our citizens as safe as possible. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in deepening their knowledge base on fireground essentials in efforts to make themselves and their crews as safe and effective as possible.

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