Preventing Firefighter Disorientation In Large Enclosed Structure - Part 2

William R. Mora presents guidelines to prevent disorientation when dealing with a large enclosed structure.


Part 2 - Tactics and Guidelines Editor's note: The author is a Texas state advocate for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation's Everyone Goes Home Life Safety Initiatives Project. This article implements Initiative 3 - Focus greater attention on the integration of risk management with...


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Part 2 - Tactics and Guidelines

Editor's note: The author is a Texas state advocate for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation's Everyone Goes Home Life Safety Initiatives Project. This article implements Initiative 3 - Focus greater attention on the integration of risk management with incident management at all levels, including strategic, tactical and planning responsibilities; Initiative 8 - Utilize available technology wherever it can produce higher levels of health and safety; and Initiative 9 - Thoroughly investigate all firefighter fatalities, injuries and near misses.

In general, enclosed-structure tactics are executed in the same manner at all enclosed structures, regardless of the size or type involved. However, when dealing with a large enclosed structure that presents greater areas, more contents and maze-like conditions, greater coordination established in a flexible guideline will be needed and must be understood by all responders prior to the incident.

A large enclosed structure is defined as one that is 100 by 100 feet or bigger. Fires in these types of structures deserve our close attention since firefighting operations that incorporate traditional tactics often result in multiple firefighter fatalities. With this in mind, the first step in managing a large enclosed structure incident involves identifying the structure at the outset. For the safety of the crew and all other responding companies, first-arriving officers must initially determine whether the structure involved is or is not an enclosed structure. This single piece of valuable information signals the degree of risk firefighters will be exposed to based on hard lessons learned. In short, you must identify an enclosed structure early because the structure will try to kill you. In those cases where there is doubt as to whether the structure is or is not an enclosed structure, it is always best and safest just to assume the structure is an enclosed structure and, with strong command, manage it that way.

The second step in managing an enclosed structure incident is to understand that enclosed structure tactics and standard operating guideline (SOG) are used at enclosed structure fires only under certain conditions. These include scenarios in that:

  1. A life-safety hazard does not exist.
  2. Light, moderate or heavy smoke is showing from the structure.
  3. The location of the seat of the fire is unknown.

One concern often raised pertains to how firefighters will know if search and rescue is not required. Although a rescue may be needed at any structure, because large enclosed structures are typically non-residential occupancies, a right-turn/left-turn primary search pattern, commonly used at opened structures involving single- and multi-family residences, is not usually required. Additionally, fires at large enclosed structures are often fought after business hours, when the buildings are locked up and secured with steel bars and gates requiring forcible entry. Many are also vacant and dilapidated. When large enclosed structure fires occur during business hours, often the occupants have self evacuated and managers will advise arriving firefighters that everyone is out of the structure.

One of the most challenging aspects involved in handling an enclosed structure incident is in determining whether the smoke that is showing is being produced by a nuisance fire or that the incident is a classic and extremely dangerous enclosed structure fire. When the required conditions for Enclosed Structure SOG implementation are present, the first-arriving officer will provide an initial report stating that the SOG will be initiated. From there on, for safety and task predictability, the Enclosed Structure SOG is implemented in the sequence of company or resource arrival as indicated in the model SOG and checklist.

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