Reading Smoke

Understanding the ‘White Smoke’ Traps

03/01/2019

By Rob Backer, Dave Dodson, and Phil Jose

The art of reading smoke (ARS) is not a one-hour DVD training, a four-hour workshop, or even a full-day classroom experience. Reading smoke is a learned skill set that improves with education, practice, and application. Most ARS practitioners are introduced to the topic through one of the aforementioned methods, typically leading to self-empowerment, skill-learning excitement, and experience reinforcement. Developing ARS skills also leads to questions, and—as we have found—many inquiries seeking greater understanding of the topic. The “most-asked” questions or inquiries we receive are linked to the observations of white smoke or “light smoke” showing on arrival at an incident. Those inquiries are most welcome and go something like this:

“I was at your reading smoke class last month. You said that dirty white smoke with high velocity means a hot fire, far away. We had a fire last shift and on arrival found dirty white cold smoke that was slow. We started investigating only to find a hot fire burning in a large, closed, and locked storage room. We were caught off guard but were able to adjust quickly and kept the fire from spreading. Did I miss something in class or was this some kind of unusual event?”

As ARS instructors, our first reaction is a satisfying realization that one of the “rapid-recognition shortcuts” presented in class was remembered! We also recognize that some of the science and process thinking we present may not have made it all the way to the incident scene. Although the ARS curriculum dives into science—the physics and chemistry of understanding smoke attributes and concept—it is understandable that some students lose this critical information transitioning from the classroom and into fire station conversations and the fireground. Although it is natural to suffer some information loss, as instructors, our years of presenting the material tell us that developing the ARS skill set is an ongoing endeavor. Bloom’s Taxonomy1 shows that skills in the lower order of comprehension provide the foundation for higher levels of cognition. The lowest level of learning is remembering. What is the easiest portion of the class to remember? The rapid-recognition shortcuts! As educators, we strive to help students achieve higher levels of cognition: understanding, applying, analyzing, and evaluating.

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