Detached Residential Garage Fire…Explosion!

Detached residential garage fires are common. When you hear that over the radio, odds are you’re going to a working fire, as it usually takes time to get going before anyone sees it – or a civilian in the garage either intentionally...


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This account is from Firefighter/EMT Christopher Hagan, who was on initial attack handline:

I was riding in the can position, which is the fire attack riding position at Station 5 in Pennsville. We left Probationary Firefighter Jason Ross at the hydrant at the corner of the block. On arrival, we had a detached two-car garage on the officer side of Quint 5-6.

While deploying the first handline, the nozzle got stuck on the overhead ladder. We decided to abandon that line and pull another attack line. Firefighter Mike Toms and I stretched the line dry to about three feet from the doorway of the garage, then we called for water from Firefighter Phil Gagliardi, Quint 5-6’s chauffeur. Due to our radio dying, there was a delay in getting water. Right away, we realized we were not getting water and started to back away.

While backing away, there was a large explosion, followed by a collapse. There were pieces of debris everywhere and a four-by-eight-foot piece of plywood landed right next to my crew member and I. Right after that, we received the water in the line and started the fire attack on the C side of the garage to protect the house, which was starting to become an exposure problem. After that, there were multiple handlines in service and the fire was extinguished.

In all, safety concerns were probably being too close to begin with and getting seriously hurt or stuck in the collapse. Basically, when it comes down to it, a detached garage with no occupants trapped is not worthy of an overly aggressive attack.

These comments are based on Chief Goldfeder’s observations and communications with the writers and others regarding this close call:

Clearly, experience tells us that firefighters should expect the worst at a garage fire. A few observations:

Setting priorities. The first-arriving firefighters’ priorities as discussed above are right on – establishing their water supply, protecting the exposure and ensuring no one was inside the house. Additionally, as a part of that, the protection of the firefighters is critical. While it should be understood without saying, we must be reminded that firefighters must be fully geared, head to toe, with no exposed skin. Some firefighters may want to approach to do truck company work, but this is a clear case where charged hoselines are critical prior to approaching, for the protection of the members. That was done well in Pennsville that evening.

Ask the civilians. It is very difficult to pre-plan private property, such as in this case. While we should expect the worst, if civilian occupants are on the scene, ask them what’s inside. It couldn’t hurt.

The chief/incident commander in the front seat. While it is no longer the practice in Pennsville Township to have the chief/incident commander normally ride the front seat, it is of concern in other areas. Traditionally, in many volunteer fire departments, chiefs would respond to the firehouse and ride the apparatus, but that creates a problem: In what role is the chief functioning in? Incident commander? Company officer? Both? That is the problem.

The fire officer riding the front seat needs to supervise that company – and that can’t be done if he or she is also the incident commander for more than the first few moments while awaiting the battalion chief, deputy chief or whoever is responding to fill that role. The solution? A “duty officer†or “command car.†The officer who has that vehicle (assigned or rotated through several chiefs etc) responds from home or work with the intention of commanding the incident. The “separation†of the company officer role and the incident commander role is critical.