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CAFS and Cops – A Commentary

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Just Who Do You Think Our "Friends" Are?

Commentary by Patrick Mahoney

Tim Sendlebach is the editor-in-chief of Fire-Rescue magazine and a fire chief. It is a great magazine that offers a lot to the fire service and he is a commendable leader who has made the fire service a better place. Sadly, he recently published one of the most misguided editorials I have ever seen from a fire service leader. Chief Sendlebach wants us to listen to the International City/County Management Association because "in short, they're our bosses" (emphasis his).

The context here is a dustup over an ICMA-published magazine article from August of last year that advocated CAFS usage. Chief Sendlebach objects to the greater fire service's objection to the article. Specifically, the fire service was critical of the article because it was made by authors who never served as firefighters. Several arguments in the article are worth summarizing here: the fire service has failed to adopt the miracle of CAFS more widely because of tradition, the fear that doing so will allow staffing cuts, firefighters don't understand CAFS, and early models of what the authors apparently think were CAFS systems were complicated. A few representative quotes may also be useful:

"The adage "100 years of tradition unimpeded by progress" has been regularly quoted by progressive fire managers in many issues of the magazine Fire Chief."

"The role of the fire service is not to be an employment agency"

" the city managers were discussing the introduction of CAFS into the department, a firefighter from a neighboring jurisdiction stood up and rattled off a number of critiques about CAFS. Not one was true."

The two guys who wrote that article are not firefighters. One is a cop who became a city manager and the other is a cop who became a city manager and somehow got involved in some fire service standards-making efforts by virtue of his role as a public administrator. Suffice it to say that many cops and city managers across the country are often not the biggest fans of adequate fire services. These guys were also completely wrong about CAFS and the fire service.

IndianaFireTrucks / Allen

The article glowingly references the LA County CAFS tests and articles from Fire Chief magazine. Go check out the LA County CAFS tests if you're curious. (Spoiler: they're about exterior firefighting at flow rates unsafe for interior operations, like all CAFS tests, and, therefore, abandoning the interior position and anyone who happens to be in there.) The tests are not applicable to the interior firefighting that is responsible for the level of reactive performance the urban American fire service is known for. As for Fire Chief magazine, a publication run by someone who has never been a firefigther, it is free for you (you know about how you get what you pay for?) and thus apparently funded by advertising and sponsorship. I don't know how much ad revenue they take in from apparatus and pump manufacturers but I would bet it's a non-trivial sum.

They are also wrong about the fire service. The fire service changes and embraces innovation at a pace not entirely unheard of in the private sector. Just because some stupid movie in the 1990s highlighted a sign that one particular department used to poke fun at itself it has become axiomatic that this is a hundred years of tradition uninterrupted by progress. Yes, there are pathologically conservative departments; there are even regressive leaders. But in general, the fire service is open and adaptive. If you doubt it and you belong to a career department of more than a couple of stations then I'd ask you how much homeland security and NIMS training you've had in the last 11 years. Then, for you old-timers, I'd ask how much EMS training you got in the 1980s and 1990s. To suggest that CAFS is not in wider use because of tradition and a fear of losing jobs is grossly offensive. It also, unsurprisingly, sounds like boilerplate city manager babble that plays well at the chamber of commerce but has little or no bearing on reality.

Insofar as the ICMA is made up of "our bosses" I think we know enough about the bosses to judge that tree by its fruit. When city after city after city is decimating its fire services for the sake of crooked politics, nonessential services, payback to other public agencies, breaking labor's back, and just plain bad thinking then I believe we are allowed to disregard their recommendations. In short, what these guys have to say is valuable in an advisory sense only for the insight it offers into the mindset of those who are not our friends.

Thank you,
Patrick S. Mahoney

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Comments - Add Yours

  • Dalmatian90

    What’s your scientific basis for saying the flow rates are inadequate? is one of the better overviews, and they note an increase in efficiency using fog streams over solid bore.  A lot of what we state for adequate fire flows are more scientific wild ass guesses based on experience and assumptions rather then actual empirical evidence.There are reasons to question CAFS and whether it can reduce staffing.  NFPA 1710 did a smart (from a staffing point of view) thing in tying response times to medical emergencies; otherwise engineering controls like universal sprinkler ordinances would be a clear trade-off in costs — pay taxes for the firefighters, or pay for the engineering controls.  Some of the recent NIST studies on fireground evolutions don’t change staffing needs CAFS or not.  You’re going to need the same amount of people to stretch lines and raise ladders.  The people with *real* concerns on budget trade offs are those spending $40,000 for CAFS and STILL spending $250,000 on 3,000 gallon tankers.  It’s not a people changer, it’s an equipment changer.There are engineering issues with evolutions and what hose is adequate for interior CAFS operations, especially in concerns over pinching the lines.  A spiral-reinforced hose is not practical for urban or many suburban situations.  (Indeed, proper scientific studies might show limitations in CAFS, for instance needing more FFs to properly chase kinks in order to advance conventional hoselines without impairing flow).But I’m not sure you’re on solid ground in saying the fireflow is inadequate.  I don’t know of head-to-head interior operation comparisons.  If CAFS is knocking down the fire twice as fast as plain water, that’s an indication the 90gpm CAFS line is as adequate fire flow wise as a 180gpm plain water line…more research would be needed to show that holds true.

    • firehat

      On the contrary, 90gpm is ALWAYS inadequate for those attempting to coexist in the fire compartment with a growing fire. There is no SWAG about it; it’s simply a measure of GPM vs. BTU’s in terms of heat release rates. That has been measured repeatedly and widely. It is replicable and objective.

      You’ve stumbled on the biggest misconception propagated by CAFS advocates (albeit one that they themselves probably don’t realize they have). That is the belief that CAFS somehow changes the physics of water, i.e., latent heat. The same flow rate of water, whether delivered as CAFS or as plain water, is needed to overcome a given heat release rate. CAFS makes no difference whatsoever. 

      As for the efficiency argument, it is true that the linked article notes an increase of efficiency, apparently in terms of back-pressure/nozzle reaction. I’m not sure why that should be a an absolute advantage, especially in light of their own notes of the corresponding low flow rates.

      • Pat

        But heat is primarily absorbed by the vaporization of water. So anything that increases the percentage of water that turns to steam as compared to water running around on the floor will increase efficiency and reduce the needed flow rate. Now CAFS may or may not do this, but it is certainly theoretically possible to use substantially lower flow rates than we do now and safely put out fires.

  • Timothy Sendelbach


    Let me first express my sincere thanks for taking the time to read FireRescue magazine and my most recent Editorial.

    As a student of this profession, I’m honored by any form of feedback that I receive concerning my editorials and the work that I do.

    In regards to your comments, while I respect them, I think for the most part you actually support the context of my Editorial.

    While I referenced an article addressing CAFS, the context of my editorial is not about blind advocacy for CAFS, but rather being open-minded to the many changes that are being brought forth some of which might even be imposed by folks outside the fire service.

    I’m in no way supportive of a police officer, politician or anyone else outside our profession imposing directives on us (firefighters) that might in some way jeopardize our safety.  At the same time, I don’t want to become close minded to the fact that I can learn something from anyone.

    What bothers me most is that our defense to some of the questions being imposed by politicians and the “scientific” studies being conducted throughout the country are oftentimes based on conflicting (anecdotal) information.  If we truly believe that the politicians or scientific studies are wrong, we need to prove it with facts, not attacks on their character or their lack of experience.

    I can’t agree with you more, there are politicians who have an agenda (and to be fair, there are firefighters who want things to stay the way they’ve always been), but I believe our best offense is a defense back with provable facts that support our position (for or against) a specific tactic or technique.

    I think we both agree that the modern fire ground is changing at a rate far beyond that of previous generations.  These changes have and will continue to demand that we modify the way we do business.  Regardless of who demands the change, the key to our success is to be proactive and always seek the safest most effective tactics, techniques and tools to perform our jobs. 

    Again, I appreciate your comments and the additional dialogue you’ve created – its a healthy conversation and one that I think needs to continue throughout the fire service.

    Stay safe brother and thanks for all you do for the fire service.