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Reading Smoke on Size-Up


One of the key factors in determining your course of action at a fire is to properly read the smoke present.

Key safety issues are identified by doing so.



Inventory Key Factors


· Volume: amount of fuel, fullness of windows

· Velocity: Rate of heat release, speed exiting from the structure

· Density: Quality of burning, potential for other events; flashover

· Color: Illumination, shimmering, unusual, heavy carbon (fuel) based


Read smoke clues in groups. Signs read individually can mislead your assessment



Weigh Other Factors


· Container: Where is the smoke coming from? Is this the origin or is it traveling to an opening?

· Weather: Low temperatures & humidity usually mean low-hanging smoke

· FF efforts: Has entry been made or other openings that allow the smoke to migrate from areas of origin?



Determine Fire Status

· Getting Better: Smoke changing is volume, velocity, density and color

· Getting Worse: Increases in the above with visible flames or other significant events



Decide on Tactics/Strategy

Categorize the event one of three ways:

  • Stable: Contained within an area

  • Rapidly Changing: Preflashover, developing significant heat

  • Unpredictable: Confusing, unstable fire behaviour - plan for worst case scenario



Build your IAP using your obtained info, experience and situational awareness. Always access the input of your Team and keep your resources fully in mind.




"A good firefighter knows how. An educated firefighter knows why."

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