A car fire in a parking ramp can be compared to a room and contents fire in a high-rise building when it comes to bring necessary equipment and access.
Fighting a vehicle fire can be challenging, but try to fight one in a ramp garage and it's even more of a task!
If you have never experienced a vehicle fire in a ramp garage, you may be in for a rude awakening. Ramp garages pose some major issues for firefighters who respond to them. They require significant pre-planning by your fire department.
Much the same as a high-rise building fire, firefighting personnel are going to be required to carry all needed equipment with them for fighting a vehicle fire in a ramp garage. Most have limited access, not to mention the height clearance restrictions. They certainly will not have adequate clearance for fire apparatus to pull in, making it more challenging for suppression operations.
Some fire departments have utility vehicles which are under these height restrictions such as a chief's car. If your department has a utility vehicle, it can be used as a shuttle for moving the required tools, hoses, and equipment needed to operate within the ramp. Most will also accommodate room for transporting manpower to the area.
Most, but not all, ramp garages are equipped with standpipe systems. Knowing where the fire department connections are located is imperative. In addition to having standpipe systems, most ramp garages being built today are equipped with automatic sprinkler systems. They can be readily identified by conducting a walk through of the garages in your district.
Below Grade Fires
Below grade level vehicle fires in ramp garages are more likely to cause the most difficulty for responding firefighter. In addition to carrying all their equipment with them, locating the vehicle that is burning will be tricky at best.
Company officers need to check with security personnel or a garage attendant to gather the needed information as to the level and location of the vehicle fire before descending into the garage. This can take some of the guess work out of finding the correct level.
In some situations, smoke conditions will dictate that firefighters search each level while working their way down into the parking garage area looking for the vehicle fire. An alternative method that can be used, and one that might be more productive, would be for firefighters to start working their way up from the lowest level.
By working upward, firefighters can usually find the vehicle fire once smoke conditions are encountered as the vehicle will generally be on that level or the level immediately above it.
On the other hand, if firefighters decide to work their way down through the smoke searching for the fire, they might have to search each level within the garage before they locate the fire. Such a search would, to a certain extent, delay reaching the fire allowing it to gain in intensity. This delay will also allow more smoke from a vehicle fire to saturate the garage further. This added smoke will slow firefighting operations even more as visibility worsen on the upper levels requiring crews to go on air sooner than they may want to.
The crews should bring the thermal imaging camera to help locate the fire. If you enter a ramp, immediately scan the area to look for large areas of heat. Remember that you will see heat from cars that were recently parked.
The driver/pump operator has to proceed and make the fire department connection, and obtain a water source to feed the system. Quite often the sprinkler system will have activated in the garage keeping the fire in check until fire personnel arrive. However, don't count on this being the case all the time as many systems are not maintained.
Ramp garages can pose exposure concerns. A delay in getting to the vehicle's location may allow the fire to spread to vehicles on either side.