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The opening should be the width of the window and extend out from the wall approximately one foot. Ventilation can be enhanced by installing a fan in the window (negative-pressure ventilation) or stretching a hoseline, placing it on fog and directing it out the window (hydraulic ventilation). This will pull the smoke and heat from the basement and let the crews operating in the basement advance on the fire. A hoseline should be stretched to monitor for any extension of fire onto the first floor. This protective line must not be directed into the cellar while firefighters are operating there; doing so would drive the heat back onto them, jeopardizing their lives.
A cellar fire in a store containing showcase windows offers two additional ways of effecting ventilation. The showcase is an elevated floor. There is normally no additional flooring between it and the cellar. The windows can be broken out and the floor opened. An easier method of ventilation is to break out the material on the exterior under the windows, allowing immediate access to the cellar.
The material under the showcase windows can be masonry, marble or wood. After removing this material, probe the opening to see if any ceiling exists in the basement. If a ceiling is present, it will have to be pushed down. Care must be taken if the front door is recessed with showcase windows in the recess. Breaking out under the windows alongside the door entrance can cut off any exit from the front door if the cellar fire extends to that location.
Older commercial buildings often have basements that extend out past the front of the building and under the sidewalk. Deadlights were installed in the sidewalks to provide natural lighting. These deadlights are made of round, thick glass, embedded in the sidewalk. They can be broken out to effect ventilation.
Recessed window wells allow for natural lighting where a cellar is wholly beneath grade. These wells often have a metal grate cemented into the sidewalk. Ventilation can be effected by reaching a tool down through the openings between the grate or by removing the grate. The grate can be removed by breaking the concrete at each corner where the metal is attached. If maintenance of these wells is ignored, they become catchalls for trash. Many times, “the smell of smoke in the basement” can be traced to a carelessly discarded cigarette starting a fire in accumulated trash in a window well.
A basement or cellar fire can be one of the more challenging types of fires that firefighters can be faced with. Early detection and notification of the fire department does not always occur. Finding the exact location of the fire will be compounded by smoky conditions that normally occur in these below-grade locations. Success can be achieved by using sound strategy and tactics when confronted with basement fires.