Jump to content

Guidelines. Should they be consigned to history?


Recommended Posts

I appreciate longer standing members have discussed this in the past but I now hear West Mids have a working party looking at whether we should keep them or consign them to history.

What are peoples thoughts on them? Should they kept or binned and why?

(I have NEVER used guidelines operationally I might add)

Link to comment

Like everyone else, I had to endure the BA drills as a probationer laying guidelines and branchlines and then box searching off each one, only to be told I would never use them. 

How wrong they were when a few years later, probably about 2000 I had to use them on a job. Still a scary experience, although the fire was out and it was used to search, still not pleasant. Not sure as an OiC I would instigate the use of them these days, unless there was no other option.

Link to comment

Depends on any special risks in your area and a on going DORA, years ago when the RAF opened a new deep bunker the fire section when to great pains to discreetly pre lay MGL and branch lines, you can guess how long that lasted,and trumptons silly bits of string had to go, the mention of the fatal fire at RAF  Neatishead made no odds.

Link to comment

My views on these have hardened over the years. Like Carl as a probationer would have been quite good at laying and following them and thought that if push come to shove they would be a useful tool. Fortunate enough to never have had to use one in anger though.

As the years have gone on and now thinking as an Oic, if anyone suggested using them, I'd say the safest place for the guideline is on the fire. Thinking about this logically, how could sending anyone into a compartment on fire on a piece of string be considered as a safe system of work?

  • Kudos 1
Link to comment

Ive discussed this at length with your BA people Noddy, who are some of the best in the country btw.

They were introduced in the 60's as a knee jerk reaction after the Neatishead fire. Within a year every truck in the country had them. Since then at least 3 firefighters have died using them, how many lives have been saved by using them?

Modern principles of ICS and sectorisation, Thermal imaging, and PPV really do genuinely leave guidelines in the past, in my opinion. 

We now understand fire, and how it behaves, they didn't in the 60's. Guidelines aren't compatible with the way we fight fires, in fact quite the contrary.

I know of 2 UK Brigades that have got rid of them, we nearly did recently but alas the plan was scuppered at the last hurdle. 

  • Like 1
  • Kudos 1
Link to comment

In 2012 guidelines were removed from all On-Call appliances in Kent F&RS.

In March of this year guidelines were removed from all Wholetime appliances and guidelines are now no longer considered as a tactical option.

Link to comment

YES YES and YES. I will go so far as to state that they will never be used at a job of mine and if the time ever came I turned up and they were in use; on taking over I'd Order a full BA withdrawal. There is no justification to their use given all the current H&S and other legislation required of an Incident Commander and Corporate responsibility as an organisation... so the 50/50 decision between coming out into Fresh Air or wrongly turning the other way and death is the choice of two tabs with balls on or two longer ones? Really? In 2017 that's the best we can do ? Can you imagine what a Coroner would make of it... or even a Judge and Jury?

I'm not too big to admit my viewpoint has changed on GL's. When quite new I was all for them, even arguing with FireFTRM who was all for their retirement. The more experience one gains the more you realise they should have been consigned to a museum decades ago.

Interestingly I looked into alternatives a while ago as a pet project outside of work. A company here in Manchester provides these to Cavers, Divers and other sectors and I asked could a version be made which strobes towards the power source (providing the Fire Appliace wasn't inside the building it would be pretty much fool proof ?).





  • Kudos 2
Link to comment

The only time I've known them to be used was successful - it was below deck on a large boat, but with no smoke and perfect visibility. Two crew members were overcome by fumes, one escaped but one died, and the guideline was useful to show all the ba crews through the maze of passage ways and bulk-heads to locate and then recover him through the numerouus small step-thru holes in the compartment walls. I'd agree that using them in a fire is probably more trouble than it's worth, but they can be a useful tool in the box. 

Link to comment

The use of guidelines is the only part of this job that makes me nervous.  I understand the principle and I realise that in the absence of a better alternative it is all we have but even so, they make me nervous.

I sincerely hope that between now and when I retire I never have to use them in anger, God forbid.

Edited by Carefree
  • Kudos 1
Link to comment

It's a no from me too, imagine the sceario, we've laid 60 of the stuff around various obstacles, the we need to get a bit further into the burning building - I know, go and get another bag of string and tie them together, for a non hazardous route finder I.e not ba then maybe, but otherwise like others I'm glad I've never used it in anger.

  • Kudos 1
Link to comment

I have used them operationally once about 12 years ago.  Definitely the most uncomfortable few minutes of my career waiting to be committed to lay the thing.  As it turned out, the job didn't warrant them.  The scale on the drawings was wrong / misread and we were not being committed as deeply inside the building as thought so the task was achieved without mishap and could have been done just as easily and as safely without going near guidelines. 

I am no supporter of them. As others have said, they are an anachronism.  I cannot think of any scenario where they are realistically the best option available to us.

Somewhat ironically the same building, alight for a second time some years later, caused my second best squeaky bum moment in BA as well but this time due to a large batch of trollies moving about behind me as I moved around a room.

Link to comment

Just been told our service have suggested removing guidelines from RDS machines in order to bring forward hot fire training to form part of the basic BA course rather than a separate course.  I personally have few concerns with this, as long as the 5 days currently spent on the separate hot fire training isn't just put down to a cost saving but is reallocated to quality training in other areas for RDS.  Not sure yet whether that is the majority view or not and where this proposal will go.

Link to comment

Its an interesting consensus that appears to be developing that these bits of kit should be scrapped.

Its true that they are rarely used and its true there is always a risk involved in their use - but is it safer to not have them?  

So in the rare event that they are needed, is the view that crews are withdrawn? Really? 

Link to comment

Yes Messy if it comes down to it that's exactly what some of us are saying. The potential risks to staff outweigh any benefits.

What are they for? That's not being facetious, I know what the rationale behind them was but look when they came into being and look at what the regulatory and legal landscape was in the UK too at that time. It was a different era. Following the fatal fire at RAF Neatishead and obviously given the 1960's and lack of any viable technological alternative they may have had some limited operational use. But what may have been acceptable in terms of risk exposure then, quite simply isn't anymore.

This was pre HASAWA 1974, all the scores of workplace/worker legislation that has followed since and not forgetting the Health and Safety Executive itself.

Knowing what we know now about how flammable and potentially explosive smoke/fire gas is and much of this learned due to deaths and serious injuries to colleagues, we have absolutely no business committing crews into conditions that are so bad and visibility so poor that their only means of finding their way to safety, low on air, tired, effected by heat is remembering does the little tab with two balls on first mean the way out or is it the two long ones?

Technological advancements have surpassed the need for GL's and some while ago.

If we need something to highlight our way back to safety within complex layouts then we should look to embrace technology and use something more modern like the ones I looked into as an illuminating//strobing/TIC identifiable alternative to fumbling around blind with a 50% chance of success or death. Even then when only certain conditions require, and that doesn't mean searching for casualties in structures floor to ceiling smoke logged when you can't see your hand in front of your face.

From a Professional, moral and corporate protection standpoint to avoid any future organisational embarrassment - the current ones have no place on todays trucks or in a services tactical armoury and with that, like other equipment that was fine for the time until something better came along, placed in museums.

  • Kudos 2
Link to comment

Queensland is similar. We'be got them on the pumps, was trained on them on my initial BA course 14 years ago and never heard of or seen one being used in anger. 

Whilst I can see some limited circumstances where they could be useful, I would be wary trying to lay and follow a guideline based  on 14 year old memories.

Link to comment

So Messy, you seem unconvinced :) Lets put it to the test?

Lets imagine you are the Station Commander at the station you last served at in LFB. Lets imagine the Brigade have notified you of an intent to remove G/L. You along with all of your colleagues have been tasked with analysing your own station ground, to identify all premises where G/L may be considered as an necessary option where in your view there is no alternative.

Once you've identified any premises where you think G/L are essential, then its up to you to preplan for an incident there. You will produce a pre incident plan that will sit on the MDT's on every truck. The plan may involve using alternative access points, tactical ventilation, sectorisation, thermal imaging etc. The plan obviously won't contain any mention of G/L though :)

Over to you, which buildings have you identified, and what is your plan?

Link to comment

Blimey - that's a fair bit of homework. The list would be quite long as my old patch had a lot of large food processing factories with large complex layouts and few natural ventilation issues - plus a very large Victoria mental health hospital with sprawling basement areas. Instead of harping back to my old glory days, I would rather think of what I do now.....

In my fire safety manager's job now, I have a very large building I look after that has multiple sub surface areas, and other areas on upper floors that would be very difficult to ventilate. The use of the building is unique in the UK and is a sole provider of an essential product that no other premises can provide  worldwide. The local fire service are invited in regularly to pre plan.

Let me be clear - I am not a smoke eating dinosaur and I accept firefighter safety is paramount. So I would not expect a crew to be committed to a well developed fire or one which has the potential to develop rapidly. But I can think of many scenarios where a slow, smouldering, low energy fire may occur - or perhaps a small fire has been controlled but smoke spread has been considerable. It is these more benign incidents where - subject to a DRA and 100% cooperation and preplanning with the Responsible Person - crews could be committed with control measures to adequately provide a safe system of work. In my world, this would include guidelines.

An example: We have a large part sub surface store area containing 120 tonnes of combustible stock - mainly paper. It is protected by a state of the art high pressure water mist system. If a fire breaks out, there will be a need sometime during the incident for BA crews to enter this complex area to check the water mist has done it's job. Let's not forget that the water mist system - like a sprinkler system - is only designed to control/hold a fire and not extinguish it. That for you water squirters to do!

The fire will almost certainly be more than 'surrounded' by the time BA crews are committed, but there is likely to be a mix of residual smoke plus smoke from smouldering stock. There is very little energy left in the fire so flashover is very unlikely and temperatures will be low/acceptable and not likely to rise. The travel distance to the entry points for this area are 25 to 30 metres, then another 50 to 100 metres within the store. Without guidelines, I assume crews would simply not be committed and the job would drag on for days before an entry would be achievable? This is not an acceptable plan for this site

So how would you deal with this job?

Don't forget - I am talking about entering after the fire is controlled or to a smouldering low energy fire only. I agree, a flaming, well developed fire - or one with the potential to develop rapidly would not be suitable for guidelines - and never was!!

  • Kudos 1
Link to comment

Ok, this is loose, i haven't visited the premises, seen the plans, analysed the risk etc.....but lets say i had, and give this a go?

2 things id like to of known, occupancy and ventilation profile of the basement....can we assume this is not persons reported, because of all the good advice on means pf escape you have provided? :/

Before we even begin looking at what we can do, we need to look at this another way, the owner occupier has to satisfy their own duty of care, for example why are they keeping huge amounts of stock subsurface? is their an option to not do this? If they must, and thats agreed, then what are they doing to mitigate risk, have they ensured adequate ventilation systems in addition the the installed systems to mention? I hope so....

Aside from that,

This premises sounds like a special risk? Its not a generic building type? So yes we take preparation for an incident there very seriously and we work on the the when not if principle. We have a duty to absolutely ensure operational readiness.

An appropriate Officer does a visit(s), liaises with the occupier get all of the info we will ever need. He produces a site specific risk plan, which is an aide memoir bespoke to that site, detailing a workable operational plan. Taking into consideration OGBA,  FRS GRA's that are relevant to the risk and any Service standing orders. This is stored on the MDT.

Each watch visit frequently and carry out exercises giving exposure to all personal at an agreed frequency.

Now onto the interesting bit...how do we deal with that specific incident you outlined? 

You say not to enter, and fight the fire, is not acceptable? Thats interesting, not acceptable to who?  From the FIre Authorities perspective, if human life is not at risk, this is acceptable if thats what our senior Officers decide. But lets overlook that and crack on, we all agree the fire needs to be extinguished.

If the above is in place prior to the incident, then we deal with that incident with confidence. So the fire compartment is approximately one length of hose from the main entrance, the fire compartment is large with a large fire loading?

Prior to committing we ventilate the basement, utilising whatever installed measures exist. This will change the ventilation profile, change the flow path and bring down temps in the fire compartment. The fire is being controlled buy the installed system.

This is gonna be resource intencive, everyones gonna get hot, and very wet. Its gonna be low tempo, methodical and we are not gonna get exited by anything.

We post safety officers with TIC in BA between the main entry point and the fire compartment, and at the door to the fire compartment  they have one job, look after the troops.

The crews are given a very specific brief, and they are supervised by the committed safety officers. The brief may include information regarding salvage arrangements as it sounds like your customer is storing currency or big value documents so we don't want to destroy those things through our actions. We commit BA with 51mm hose to the fire compartment. We are using TIC extensively for landmarking and to locate hotspots/flaming combustion. Crews stick to the walls working very slowly and methodically around the compartment in both directions, supervised using TIC and radios from the door way. Everyone in constant physical contact until conditions lift.

Relief crews are rotated a regular intervals

Or....we could just smash them in there with a ball of string and hope for the best? ;)

Edited by Dyson
Link to comment
1 hour ago, Dyson said:

You say not to enter, and fight the fire, is not acceptable? Thats interesting, not acceptable to who?  From the FIre Authorities perspective, if human life is not at risk, this is acceptable if thats what our senior Officers decide. But lets overlook that and crack on, we all agree the fire needs to be extinguished.

No, that is not what I said. I had outlined that the fire was under control from the water mist system operation so there was no 'firefighting' - just mopping u. A crew will have to be committed eventually. It seems that following your model, the crew may not enter for many hours or even days until the fire is cold. My proposal to use guidelines at this point would  speed up the job

There is no use debating this further as we both have different views/ideas 1) about guidelines and 2) different pictures in our minds of the scenario I am outlining.

I do accept that BA guidelines have started their trip to the museum to join proto BA & hook ladders. I don't lament their passing, but I do mourn the loss of common sense, and the arrival of a operational strategy which means total elimination of all risk is the main goal and defensive firefighting is the default. This change was well underway when I was still water squirting and was mainly driven by weak and incompetent senior officers who worked on the principle that 'if I don't make a decision, I can't make a mistake'.

I'll hop off my soapbox now :)

  • Kudos 1
Link to comment

;) Quite the contrary, really, the example i have given to you above would be implemented on arrival, and once we had resources to commit...as would be the case with the balls of string. No delay of hours or days.....no need for a guideline to speed up the job xD

I also think your perception of how we approach incidents these days is inaccurate, i can only speak for my Brigade of course, i appreciate you have experience in other areas, which informs your view.

There is no avoidance of necessary risk here, just a sensible measured approach to providing a excellent FRS to our community. 

Thanks for the debate anyway, always good to get ideas and views on the table. Good luck with that basement !

Link to comment

I deployed them recently at a prison fire on our patch. The roof was on fire and I was being taken up to the office by a prison officer to show the room beneath the fire. I got one of my guys to lay the guideline up to that room to avoid confusion on the room and allow crews to go straight to that room. As it turns out it helped the initial crews but was soon made up as more rooms needed accessing off the wing. 

There was talk with the new BA National Guidance that the guidelines would be carried on special appliances (BASU, heavy rescue etc) or just by selected stations, but that all went quiet. 

I think they work well in locating a scene of operations in a large building in clean air but I remember on one of BA refreshers doing a guideline drill where had to extend it and take 45 with us. If we needed the 45 the guideline wouldn't be much help!

  • Kudos 1
Link to comment

Late arrival here, would like to have pitched in earlier, but....

Folks, I'm tentatively in favour of keeping guidelines, at least until a tenable replacement has been provided. To be honest, although everyone so far (bar Messy, bless ya boss!) has given the get rid of them reply, Percy's glowing string suggestion is in truth, a hitech guideline when its all said and done. Certainly as a BAI, one of the staples of deploying a guideline, for committing crews into hi-ex foam, is an absolute no-no and should immediately be consigned to the bin. I totally agree with all, in that you cannot put a fire out with a bag of string, and that the guideline related fatalities were into fire scenarios. But I've argued before as to why and whether a guideline should be deployed into initial stages of a fire scenario,  I can only quote the old tech bulletin,

The BA guide line should be used where no other practical or appropriate means are available for tracing the way out of a risk area  ' 

Yes we've got tics, but in a repetitive, confusing layout, the Tic will only offer a negligible advantage. The whole point, the whole point of the guideline is to offer a route out direct to exit, or to safely speed crews route to the scene of operations. As yet we've no agreed alternative, and as such it should be kept. I'd heartily agree that deploying the guideline could be given to a specialist team, to mitigate deployment errors (Gillender street) , but sorry, overall I must disagree to its' removal.


Link to comment

Sorry Cashy, you're too late, we've decided to get rid of them so thats that. If it makes you feel better you can have them all to keep in your garage?



  • Kudos 1
Link to comment

Another apology as I am late to this post, as GameOn said we are in the process of removing these at this very moment, although our Marine team will still be using them to reach scene of operations, and interestingly Percy, we have something very similar on trial at the moment called wayfinder, couple of different colours though, also the 'light strings' have different modes such as strobe and constant and light intensity, having played with it, can really see it's potential.

Link to comment

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...