There are differing opinions on opening the roof of a dwelling. The vast majority of dwelling fires involve only the contents, even though the fire can be accompanied by copious amounts of smoke that demands ventilation. My experience has found that fires in private dwellings of ordinary...
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There are differing opinions on opening the roof of a dwelling. The vast majority of dwelling fires involve only the contents, even though the fire can be accompanied by copious amounts of smoke that demands ventilation. My experience has found that fires in private dwellings of ordinary size do not normally necessitate the cutting of a ventilation hole in the roof unless the fire has heavily involved the attic or cockloft space. Even in many of these instances, a quick knockdown of the fire by the crews on the interior can be achieved and fires in these spaces controlled quickly. (Extremely large residences, containing more than 5,000 square feet and sometimes referred to as “McMansions” due to their size, must be assessed individually as to how to ventilate them.)
This does not stop firefighters from opening skylights or trimming ventilators that exist in the roof. Turbine-style roof ventilators are excellent for removing the heat that typically builds up in an attic or cockloft. Under fire conditions, the smoke and fire will be drawn to the ventilator and can pull a fire to uninvolved areas under the roof. Where rooftop ventilation in dwellings becomes imperative is when adjoining dwellings have common attics or cocklofts. If a fire in these buildings is suspected of entering the roof space, then the roof should be opened immediately. The venting of the fire directly upward to the exterior will assist in protecting the adjoining dwellings by preventing the mushrooming of the heat and smoke on the underside of the roof and spreading to the exposed buildings.
Fire coming from an opened skylight reinforces that the fire is in the living space. Fire emanating from the roof ventilator openings identifies that the fire involves the attic or cockloft. Fire involving the concealed spaces is a relevant piece of information for the incident commander and the units operating on the interior.
Similarly, progress reports from the interior will be used to guide the actions of those operating on the roof. A report that units are making good progress on the interior can be seen as a fire that will be controlled shortly and that the roof will probably not need to be opened. However, a report of increased high-heat conditions and little progress being made in advancing of hoselines, along with conditions observed on the roof, could indicate the need to place a ventilation opening in the roof. In many cases, these reports and the subsequent actions needed require immediate reactions. That is where experience is invaluable and why it is so important to critique a working fire so everyone can learn valuable lessons from each incident.
“Up and Over”
The “up and over” method of ventilation is often used in areas containing townhouses or rowhouses with flat roofs and limited access to the rear. A firefighter ascending a ladder placed at the front of the fire building performs horizontal ventilation by breaking windows there. Once on the roof, firefighters can reach over the roofline and break the rear windows. (This method can vary as to the efficiency of the ventilation.) Double- or triple-glazed windows require a tremendous amount of force to break open the glass to gain sufficient ventilation. A tool attached to a short utility rope can also be used in a swinging motion over the edge of the roof to gain more leverage to the blow striking the window glass. In any case, this is typically a stopgap measure until firefighters can access the rear with portable ladders to ensure that the window glass is fully broken out and any obstructions within the window opening are cleared.
Hoseline Operations On a Roof
Ventilation openings in a roof are not placed for the use of hoselines. Though a hoseline should be brought to the roof, its purpose is:
• To protect surrounding exposures that may be endangered by roof ventilation