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The noun firefight means an exchange of gunfire between two opposing forces. It isn’t what firefighters do, and it’s not a fight with flames. Rather, it’s synonymous with gunfight but without that word’s Wild West connotations. Firefights are often small-scale military battles in which one or both sides use military weaponry. A small-arms battle between, say, police and a band of bank robbers is more likely to be called a shootout or a gunfight.

Firefight dates from around 1900, but it wasn’t widespread in its modern sense until around midcentury. It occasionally appears hyphenated (fire-fight) or as two words (fire fight), but most dictionaries list the one-word form, and this form is far more common than the alternatives.


Taliban gunmen in a four-storey shopping centre in the city spent much of the weekend locked in a firefight with security forces. [Sydney Morning Herald]

A soldier’s first contact or firefight was something that was never forgotten. [With Love Stan, Karen Rose Epp]

First, officials say Bin Laden went down in a firefight, shooting back while using a woman as a human shield. [The Guardian]

They had been detected by the enemy early on, and after firefights on September 9 and 14, the army had tracked their movements closely. [Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life, Jon Lee Anderson]

A small group of terrorists stormed a heavily protected military base in Karachi and held a part of it during an 18-hour firefight. [The Economist]

During his second deployment 1 year ago, he lost his best friend in a firefight, and Joe felt that this loss could have been avoided with better leadership and air support. [Handbook of Military Social Work]

Despite the firefight raging around her, the 25-year-old made her way to the new victim. [Globe and Mail]