Taxpayers & Strip Malls Pose Numerous Dangers

Strip malls and taxpayers can be found nearly everywhere in Anytown, U.S.A. These occupancies provide various commercial goods and services, and at times include residential living areas above the commercial areas. These structures possess an array of...

Apparatus, Personnel & Equipment: Fires in these occupancies will be very taxing on personnel. How many is enough personnel? There should be enough personnel on-scene to proactively achieve six initial strategic operational functions: command, forcible entry, water supply/suppression, search and rescue, ventilation, and rapid intervention coverage. Be sure to consider a tactical reserve of at least two companies; having them on scene when they are needed is imperative to the overall success of the incident. If you, as the incident commander, turn to assign a critical task to a company and there aren’t any available, it will be a very long day.

Life Hazard: Most of the occupants will be transient: shoppers visiting the commercial occupancies. Most of them will be unfamiliar with the layout, and may panic in an emergency. Think about the buildings with commercial settings on both floors, such as dance studios, martial arts schools, and social clubs; the life hazard will be increased exponentially (see Photo 8). Exits may be limited, leading to a higher level of panic. In this case, mob mentality may take over, and the fire department has two options: provide escape or put the fire out, but the fire department won’t be able to cure the panic problem.

Water Supply: The hydrant in front is not usually the best choice, since the front of the building is best left for the truck company. Multiple water supply sources will be necessary, since firefighting operations will be utilizing larger handlines for suppression efforts.

Auxiliary Appliances: Many of these units were built prior to building code enforcement, and sprinklers may not be in place. If suppression systems are in place, then be sure to support the system with an engine company. Many of the older buildings do not have fire detection or suppression systems; couple this factor with a set of roll-down doors in front and this will give any fire a good head start on the building.

Street Conditions: Responding during business hours will have congested parking lots, illegal parking in fire lanes, and cars parked too close to the corners of the streets. Be sure there is room for the apparatus to get close enough to have a positive impact on operations.

Weather: This is an on-going consideration throughout the incident. It will have a significant effect on conditions and personnel on scene. Extreme conditions will require more personnel and time to handle the emergency.

Exposures: There will be significant extension from storefront windows by autoexposure. The upper residential floors will be directly in line with flame and smoke spread. Be sure to check the paths of least resistance for travel to upper floors. Lateral spread through the cockloft, cellar or ceiling plenum will require handlines in the bravo and delta exposures immediately to cut off vertical fire spread (see Photo 9). A great practice is to get into the habit of entering these occupancies with a pike pole and lift a ceiling tile immediately upon entering the door. This will give you a view of what the conditions are in the space between the ceiling and the floor above.

Area & Height: Commercial occupancies will usually dictate the use of 2 1/2-inch handlines. Think about the amount of hose needed to reach the seat of the fire; hoselines should be a minimum of twice the depth of the building involved, plus one additional length so the crew does not run short.

Location & Extent: This is the most important size-up factor, and will aid in determining strategy and tactics for the incident. Line assignment would be as follows:

The Primary Attack Line should go to the seat of the fire or between the fire and the life hazard through the path of least resistance.

The Secondary Attack Line should follow the path the primary line traveled, staged to protect the egress for the first-in engine company.

The Tertiary Attack Line should access the area from a different route, and cover the area of attack. Along with covering the egress, the crew on the third line watches for changing conditions and reports them to the attack line crews.

Additional lines will be needed to address lateral spread, multiple exposures per side, and continued protection of staff working on multiple levels of the building.

Time: Time of day and time of year are significant in determining strategic choices. However, the time of burn is a critical factor that must be considered. Simply put: How long has the fire been burning prior to the arrival of suppression crews? There will probably only be one shot at this operation. If there is not significant progress within the first few minutes, the incident may require a different operational mode, such as transitioning from an offensive attack to a defensive mode.