"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

If not done automatically when turning air on, have all personnel place personal alert safety system (PASS) devices in the "on" position before making entry, regardless of the lack of smoke, so activation will be automatic if needed. Consider using and deploying new-age locator devices that emit a loud chirp and blinking strobe light as you advance into the building for both search and fire attack crews, acting as "bread crumbs" for crews having to hastily retreat if things head south, expediting a possibly panicked withdrawal. Some are shaped as wedges (for use as door wedges) and those can maybe be placed where the wedge is always "pointing" toward the exit. Following a hose with numerous bends and loops in it can be confusing and disorienting, delaying your retreat (and that's only one hose). Ensure the incident commander knows where you are and what you are doing. Accountability tracking is a given, with frequent personnel accountability reports (PARs).

Avoid stretching "house-fire hose" into commercial building fires -- 1½-inch and 1¾-inch lines do not provide proper fire flows and protection for crews and cannot penetrate to the fire's seat as effectively as large-diameter hoselines. You are trading off your safety for speed of deployment and maneuverability. A 2½-inch line with a 1 1/8-inch smooth-bore tip delivers a greater "punch" to the seat of the fire than does the smaller lines with adjustable or fog nozzles. If you have to wait for another company's arrival (within reason) to deploy the bigger line, then do so. This really should be a standard operating procedure (SOP). Again, it's all a team effort and everything is based on safety.

If you decide to charge the initial attack line off the booster tank while the supply line is being established, use water judiciously unless you know you can accomplish a rapid, effective knockdown with a "blitz attack." Keep a timeline of the flow in mind (three minutes of actual flow time on a 2½-inch hose flowing 250 gpm with a 750-gallon booster tank, for example). Advise the interior crew when the hydrant is charged. If the supply line cannot be quickly established, advise the interior crew immediately. Many departments do not begin an assault on a commercial building fire until a supply line is flowing, while others may argue that you're increasing the "burn time," quickening building collapse potential and increasing flashover or backdraft potential while waiting for this to occur. So they use the booster tank to begin the assault. Arguments can be made both ways. Either way, though, a second line should be stretched as a backup.

Instead of advancing the initial attack line directly into the center of the building, add an extra length before charging and try to take a longer, but safer route by sticking to perimeter walls when possible. If possible, advance the attack line through the window on the far right or left after clearing all glass. This puts you close to the side wall and also leaves the front entranceways free for civilian evacuees. Wedge open automatic sliding doors in case power is lost. Avoid circling the fire and pushing it back toward your point of entry. Remember when advancing into the building, in the event of a collapse, you do not have the luxury of interior partition walls to protect you as you would in a house fire. Although certainly, trusses can be pulled off load-bearing walls (see photo 13) -- the center of the store still represents the greatest hazard because it is typically the least sturdy part of the roof, even without heavy air conditioning units resting above. If collapse conditions/potential is evident prior to entry, then entry should not be made.

Be sure the incident commander knows your general location as much as is feasible, whether you're on a search or attack team. Concentrate on being aware of your surroundings at all times. If the roof fails, even if just in a localized area, command will know where your last noted location was if there is radio silence from inside. PARs are very important, along with progress reports. The incident commander must be aware as to whether headway is being made or not, so he/she can decide if it is still safe to continue interior operations. Remember -- the clock is always ticking and the building is in failure mode.

Next -- Tips 11-20

Very special thanks to the following people for their input and expertise: FDNY Deputy Chiefs Roger Sakowich, Mike O'Keefe and John Bley; Atlanta Fire Department Battalion Chief Elbert Wilson; Houston Fire Department District Chief (ret.) Matt Stuckey; Los Angeles Fire Department Battalion Chief John Miller; Chesapeake, VA, Fire Department Captain Scott Hill; and Virginia Beach, VA, Fire Department Captain (ret.) Keith White.