NORTH OGDEN, Utah (ABC4) – Making quick decisions to save lives is part of being a firefighter, but how do they know when to rush into a building on fire? Or when it’s simply too dangerous to go inside? As firefighters in North Ogden tell ABC4 News, they let science decide, in this edition of Behind the Badge.

Firefighters running into a burning building isn’t just stories from Hollywood.

Utah firefighters rolling out to a fire, each time must decide – do you rush in and fight the fire from within, or are the flames forcing you to stay outside?    

“It’s really ultimately based on what we feel is safe for our firefighters,” said Deputy Fire Chief Jeremiah Jones, North View Fire District.

Deputy Fire Chief Jones is often the one to make that call for the North View Fire District in North Ogden. He said there’s a science behind it.

“We want to make sure we do a 360 of the structure really fast to understand where the fire is, and then we can get a game plan of how to attack that,” said Jones.

Deputy Jones said each time they quickly study everything from the size of the flames to the color of the smoke.  

“Anything plastics, which is a lot of what we have now, will burn really black,” said Jones.

Meanwhile, he said smoke from wood burns light gray or white, and how the smoke looks tells them a lot about the fire. If they need to rescue people inside, knowing the fire science will help them better learn the risk of a building collapse or a fire flashover like in the movie Backdraft.  

“If we pull up to a house with a lot of smoke pouring out, like at a very fast rate, and it’s very dark and turbulent, a flashover is pretty near,” Jones said.

Sometimes there’s so much smoke, it’s easy for Jones to make the call, like a shed fire they responded to back in October. He said it was already fully engulfed by the time they arrived. But other times he said that science is key.

“When you want to become a firefighter you really never think that there’s a science involved,” he said.

And knowing it could not only decide if firefighters run inside but could be the difference if someone lives or dies. Firefighters said every year the Utah Fire & Rescue Academy holds a fire school where they teach things like fire science.