The "Everyday Routine Complex" Fire

  Firefighters in any city or town that has "mixed-multiple" structures can tell you of their own experiences with fires occurring in them. I'm sure many have had something unusual happen in them. After any fire at which something bad has happened...


  Firefighters in any city or town that has "mixed-multiple" structures can tell you of their own experiences with fires occurring in them. I'm sure many have had something unusual happen in them. After any fire at which something bad has happened to firefighters, it is imperative that...


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Firefighters in any city or town that has "mixed-multiple" structures can tell you of their own experiences with fires occurring in them. I'm sure many have had something unusual happen in them. After any fire at which something bad has happened to firefighters, it is imperative that research be done to determine whether it could happen again and affect the operating safety of firefighters.

This column is about three fires that occurred within several months, all involving mixed-multiple structures and where something unusual happened that left a learning experience. What happened also fortified that firefighting must follow strong procedures to be efficient and successful. If that happens, then firefighter safety will be enhanced for everyone on the scene.

Potential for Backdraft

A box alarm was dispatched for a reported fire in a building on Lansing Avenue in Cleveland, OH. The neighborhood features tightly compacted streets and many mixed-multiple buildings. Upon arrival, the first-due company reported light to medium smoke coming from the second floor of a 2½-story building. Light gray smoke was issuing from the front upstairs windows in a "bump-out"-like structure and there was a definite smell of a structure fire (see Photo 1).

First-due Engine 11 stretched into the structure. The entrance to upstairs was midway down the side of the fire building via a driveway between two similar buildings. The acting officer of Engine 11 and the forcible entry firefighter from Ladder 11 were at the top of the stairs waiting for the nozzleman to arrive. Word came up the stairway that a person might be trapped in the apartment.

The door to the apartment was locked. As the line was still being stretched into position, the acting engine officer and forcible entry firefighter masked up to make entry. There was no smoke in the hallway; just a very strong odor of it. The forcible entry firefighter smashed at the door with the head of his axe, but the officer stopped that action until the line was in place and charged. Then the acting officer held onto the door knob while the door was forced open, controlling the opening. The outside vent crew raised ground ladders and began taking out the front windows. The windows of the turret were completely taken out, and then other windows were taken out, working away from the fire area.

Inside, there was a heavy smoke condition down to the floor throughout the entire apartment. Heat was banked down to about three feet from the floor at the rear of the apartment. Firefighters moved in, staying low with the hoseline and looking for the fire's location, while other firefighters behind the nozzle team searched rooms in the rear of the unit. The fire area was a room in the front of the apartment. Much of the flame was reduced to smoldering ashes as it seems there was not enough oxygen to allow a free-burning fire. Upon finding the fire room, the nozzleman washed down the room with the stream using a solid-bore nozzle, and then attached a fog tip to mechanically vent out the window.

The situation was placed under control and the primary search proved negative for any victims. An examination was made of the entire fire apartment by firefighters. There was extreme heat damage to every room. The fire room was gutted, leaving nothing but char (see Photo 2). The entire apartment was blackened and damaged from the dense smoke, heavy carbonization and heat. As firefighters were looking things over, it was realized this incident had the potential for a backdraft, but quick and early venting combined with attack coordination may have a prevented a sudden ignition of the smoke and gases.

It was noted that the door to a bedroom three feet from the destroyed bedroom was closed during the incident (see Photo 3). After the fire, that room was examined and no smoke or heat damage was found. It was surmised that anyone in this room would have had a greater chance of survival just from having the door closed as a barrier to the fire.

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