Mayday! Why There's No Such Thing As a "Routine" House Fire

A single-family-dwelling fire is the most common type of structural fire to which most of us respond. While the house fire profiled this month, in the minds of these Pennsylvania firefighters, was a “standard†response, it turned out to be...


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Who among us hasn’t been to a similar fire? While this fire gives all of us numerous opportunities to determine whether this would or could happen at any of our fire departments, here is a list of observations in addition to the above accounts:

First-alarm response – What are your first-alarm resources? A verbal report of a fire is usually a good indication that you’ll have work. Why not put more-than-adequate resources on the first alarm? A single-family-dwelling fire can provide enough tasks for at least 20 firefighters. Why that many? Figure out what you want done: How many handlines and how many firefighters to make the stretches? How about throwing ground ladders on all sides? What about venting? Search? Rescue? Apparatus operators? Sector officers? Replacement firefighters? The numbers add up! Best to know before the calls come in how many firefighters and companies you need based upon the reported emergency than to get there and try to figure it out while running a fire.

Crews splitting up – When the police reported possible entrapment, the limited staffing required the crews to split up. While that can happen, having more-than-adequate staffing on the first alarm lets crews stay together.

Thermal imagers – The crews brought in their thermal imaging camera. So often, the thermal imager is left in the cab of the apparatus. Those days are done. It’s 2006 and every crew should have at least one thermal imager.

Accountability – Effective tracking of firefighters on the fireground can literally determine outcomes. Make sure that your accountability system is effective-and is the same system that your mutual aid companies are using.

Garage doors – These are serious hazards. Firefighters have been killed after becoming trapped due to a falling or closing garage door. Efforts must be made to eliminate that hazard. In some cases, securing the garage door may mean removing it.

Training – This fire was a wake-up call for the incident commander, whose comments drive home the need for all of us – from commanders to the newest probies – to train every chance we get.

Throw ladders – When firefighters are operating above the first floor at a multi-story single-family dwelling, ground ladders thrown on all sides provide a safe escape. The challenge that many departments face is having enough firefighters on the scene soon enough to throw the ladders quickly and safely.

Rapid intervention teams – Everyone wants to “fight the fireâ€; that’s natural for us. But it’s the same as everyone wanting to be the quarterback on the football team. If a fire department is dispatched for a rapid intervention team, the members have to understand just how critical the role can be, train hard beforehand and then act “as if it matters†when the assignment is dispatched.


William Goldfeder, EFO, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a 32-year veteran of the fire service. He is a deputy chief with the Loveland-Symmes Fire Department in Ohio, an ISO Class 2 and CAAS-accredited department. Goldfeder has been a chief officer since 1982, has served on numerous IAFC and NFPA committees, and is a past commissioner with the Commission on Fire Accreditation International. He is a graduate of the Executive Fire Officer Program at the National Fire Academy and is an active writer, speaker and instructor on fire service operational issues. Goldfeder and Gordon Graham host the free and noncommercial firefighter safety and survival website www.FirefighterCloseCalls.com. Goldfeder may be contacted at BillyG@FirefighterCloseCalls.com.