"Taxpayer" Fires: 20 Tips for Safety & Survival - Part 1

Curtis S.D. Massey talks about refining the way fires are fought in one-story commercial buildings.


Curtis S.D. Massey talks about refining the way fires are fought in one-story commercial buildings. In light of recent one-story commercial building fires that resulted in multiple firefighter fatality incidents, I felt compelled to write something outside of my normal venue -- high-rise fire...


To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse. Already have an account? Login

Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network.

OR

Complete the registration form.

Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required

It is possible that heavy air conditioning units may have been added after the roof was already built and when it was designed to carry a much lighter load, thus straining the load-carrying capacity to its limits even without a fire being present (another reason to check for other added weight -- water, snow, etc). You would be amazed (or not) at what gets by the building inspections department. Air conditioning units can weigh one to two tons each (see photos 6 and 7), not including the air-handler usually mounted below inside the building just beneath the roof deck. The roof itself may have even been re-roofed, with the original roof below the existing one, further adding to an already strained roof.

Roof recon should include the use of thermal imagers to "see" hot spots. Extreme caution should be exercised when venturing onto the roof over a working fire in this type of building when doing recon or ventilation. Beware of front parapets, which can easily rise 15 feet or more above the roofline for aesthetic purposes (see photos 8 and 9). That first step off the aerial in thick smoke could result in serious injury if the roof is well below you. With the collapse hazard these parapets present, if the fire is burning in this vicinity, the sidewalk below must be cleared of members and equipment and a collapse zone established. Observations of the fire building, of course, can also be made from adjacent roofs of similar height. Also, check conditions in the rear (check for forced entry, primary or secondary points of fire origin) and note the locations of service entrance and secondary exits and transfer info back to incident commander and interior crews. Should things go awry inside with the attack crew and its escape route is cut off, they will immediately know where an alternate route of escape is -- "Ladder 2 to all units, be advised there is an alternate exit in the right rear corner/3-4 side of the store." These doors should be ensured to be unlocked or forced very early on, just in case there is no panic hardware (and the door may have a deadbolt opened by key only), which would preclude its use as an emergency exit for interior crews. Most service entrances tend not to have exterior hardware for security purposes (see photo 10). If the trapped firefighters are in a tenable position, they may be best served by staying put and letting a rapid intervention team locate and remove them to the exterior. If conditions are not tenable, then the endangered crew should try to find their way to the alternate exit working in conjunction with a rapid intervention team coming toward them from that location.

Proper apparatus placement is vitally important. On larger buildings where the potential exists for defensive operations to develop, it is best to position apparatus as if the building was already fully involved. This affords an advantage for the eventual use of master streams from deck guns and ladder pipes in a highly strategic manner, should it become necessary. Try to save the front of the building for tower ladders or TeleSqurts. A properly placed tower ladder or TeleSqurt with sufficient sweep can deliver horizontal streams through the large front openings of commercial buildings with greater mobility, depth and penetration than the standard deluge gun or 2½-inch handline. These streams can also be directed upwards towards the ceiling space to attack the metal deck roof "frying pan fire."

In newer strip-mall settings, consider the wisdom of choosing a hydrant that is on a sidewalk 10 to 15 feet from the structure (see photos 11 and 12). If the fire is in that particular unit or the adjacent one and gets out of control, that hydrant may easily be lost to the first-due engine as a viable water source by way of fire/heat exposure or building collapse. That engine itself or the ladder directly in front should be parked far enough away from the building frontage so as not to have to be shut down and repositioned in the event the structure becomes well involved. The engineer should cone off the immediate scene ASAP to protect the supply line and attack lines leading into the building from clueless drivers coming and leaving. This happens much too often on these fires.