Safety & Survival: Risk Assessment of Fireground Hazards

The fire environment is full of dangers. The surrounding atmosphere of a fire scene may include gas explosion, collapse, falls, falling objects, rollover, flameover, flashover, backdrafts, fire, smoke, heat, disorientation or electrocution. Perilous...

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Electric shock – A fireground killer inside or outside a burning building. Firefighters using metal ladders and hose streams near overhead wires are in danger of electrocution. All electric utilities should be shut down before overhauling begins.

Some fireground hazards are more dangerous than others; some occur more frequently than others. A risk assessment of the degree of danger and frequency of occurrence will help us evaluate our work hazards. Firefighters must know which hazards are more dangerous and which are more likely to occur.

The following are two lists of fireground hazards. The first list ranks the degree of danger of each hazard and the second list ranks hazards by their frequency of occurrence.

  • Degree of danger – Estimated degree of danger during structural firefighting in urban area, ranked from most dangerous (number one) to least dangerous (number 13). Variables to be considered include the speed of occurrence, area of hazard, warning signs before event, frequency of occurrence, protective equipment of firefighters and defensive-measure training:

Gas explosion (shock waves, shrapnel, fire, collapse)

Electrocution (high voltage, locked muscles)

Collapse (global failure; entire building is danger area)

Fire (firefighters caught and trapped in areas beyond and above flames)

Heat stress (cause of heart attack)

Flashover (1,000-degree Fahrenheit heat; the point of no return)

Disorientation (precursor to fire or smoke as cause of death)

Smoke inhalation (carbon monoxide, mask protection)

Falls (depends on location; ground level, stairs, ladders)

Falling objects (perimeter of building is danger area)

Backdraft explosion (not as common as gas, arson liquid, BLEVE)

Rollover (warning sign of flashover, stay low, withdraw, warn those above)

Flameover (danger areas include stairs, halls and lobbies)

Frequency of danger – The estimated frequency of occurrence of fire dangers during structural firefighting in an urban area, ranked from most often (number one) to least often (number 13):


Heat stress

Falling objects

Smoke inhalation





Electric shock


Gas explosion



Some risks present a high degree of danger, but have a low frequency of occurrence. Other risks present less danger but high frequency of occurrence. However, all of them are deadly.