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Control measure

Understand signs and symptoms of backdraught

Control measure knowledge

All firefighters need an adequate understanding of the development of fires in ventilation-controlled and under-ventilated states, so they can recognise potential backdraught conditions. Tactics such as venting and/or the indirect and direct application of water can then be used more effectively and safely.

Signs of backdraught include:

  • Fires in tightly closed compartments, especially in energy efficient buildings
  • Dark oily deposits and condensation running down the inside of windows
  • Windows, doors and door handles that are hot to touch (back of the hand)
  • Rattling sounds or smoke pulsating around openings
  • Smoke being drawn back into openings and large air movements (draughts) seen heading into openings as the fire searches for more oxygen
  • Ghosting tongues of flame seen in the compartment
  • Turbulence in the smoke layer (previously referred to as the neutral plane), sometimes seen to 'bounce' up and down
  • Whistling and roaring sounds, sometimes denoting high-velocity air flowing in or gases burning off in the compartment, preceding a backdraught event
  • A change in fire conditions, with fast-moving smoke seen from the exterior to exit at high velocity, as if under pressure, and a steady darkening of smoke colour

This video demonstrates the phenomenon of backdraught

Strategic actions

Fire and rescue services should:
  • Ensure all personnel receive information, instruction and training in the indications, safety measures and actions to take for potential backdraught events
  • Develop tactical guidance and support arrangements to ensure the safety of personnel when dealing with potential backdraught events
  • Maintain systems and processes to acquire and act on operational information on the occurrence of backdraught events at operational incidents
  • Share operational information and organisational learning on backdraught events with relevant stakeholders

Tactical actions

Incident commanders should:
  • Where backdraught conditions are suspected, apply media and ventilate before interior deployment