Completing the 360-Degree Size-Up

One of the most critical tasks to be conducted at an early stage of a structure fire is the performance of a 360-degree walk around. For safety, a 360 assessment, which is part of a quick size-up obtained from all four sides of a structure, attempts to...

Residential Structure Fires

During a fire at a two-story residence, a 360 may reveal people hanging out of the upper floor windows needing immediate help. In another residential scenario, the officer may notice a sudden drop-off along the foundation line indicating a sublevel and enclosed space, perhaps involving a basement fire. These specific types of scenarios, which may generate light or moderate smoke conditions from the Alpha side, have lead to the deaths of numerous firefighters. Basement fires can lead to fire-weakened first floors, which in turn can lead to floor collapses. These two scenarios provide clear direction for the assessing officer who understands the risk.

In the first case, the officer should indicate the urgency of the situation and have an extension ladder(s) brought to the Charlie side to bring the trapped civilians down. An attack line may also be needed in order to provide protection should conditions deteriorate. In the second scenario, the officer should immediately warn all responding firefighters that they have a basement fire and that an attack will be made from the Charlie side. In cases when the location of the seat of the fire is unknown, no one is to enter the first floor of the structure until command feels confident that the structure has retained the integrity needed to allow fully bunkered and equipped firefighters to safely enter the home. Here strong command, who may be the first arriving officer on the scene, actively manages the risk by not allowing responding firefighters to gamble with their lives and needlessly risk death to save a structure.

Firefighters commonly respond to all types of structure fires and the single-family residence is the most common. However, firefighters must realize that those residences with basements or with covered windows are killing them at a disproportionate rate whenever fast and aggressive interior attacks are used. Firefighter fatalities have also occurred even when the firefighters knew that the basement was involved. It will continue until firefighters routinely use tactics that avoid the danger associated with these extremely dangerous structure fires, which deceptively appear like a typical bread-and-butter structure built on a concrete slab foundation.

The Wind Factor

One sign of danger that has recently come into greater focus, and which active firefighters should be keenly aware of, is the possibility of encountering extremely dangerous wind-driven structure fires. According to the National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST), under certain conditions, a wind speed as low as 10 mph will cause extreme fire conditions on the interior of a structure fire, regardless if the structure is a high-rise apartment building or a one- or two-story single or multi-family residence. A 360 in the case of a single-family residence may reveal fire showing on the Charlie side, venting out one or more windows. When sizing up the rear of the home, and as noted by NIST, it may also be possible that the force of the wind pressurizing the Charlie side may be keeping much of the fire in the interior of the structure or that the behavior of the fire itself may be characterized as having a pulsing appearance as it attempts to vent outward against the pressurizing wind. Every firefighter must understand that what they are observing in this type of situation are signs of a wind-driven fire condition, which can become extremely dangerous should firefighters create a vent point on the Alpha side and enter the structure. This is done by innocently opening the front door. Opening the front door will cause the wind-driven fire to rapidly spread with blowtorch characteristics to the vent point, which may lead to fatalities of firefighters and civilians. To prevent engulfing exposure during wind-driven fires, fire-resistive fire curtains can be used to cover and seal windows at the inlets, thereby allowing firefighters the chance to safely enter and attack structure fires from the Alpha side.