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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Stretching the initial attack lines. As has been said by some excellent chiefs for years, get water on the fire and that can often make your other problems go away. There was a problem stretching the first line off the quint – it got caught in the ladder and due to that there was a delay. While the timing may have worked out to their advantage, that was not intentional and the firefighters knew to back away. All departments upgrade equipment; in this case, they had recently changed nozzles. But whenever any equipment is moved, changed or upgraded, it has to be tested to insure it will work – every step of the way, including rapid deployment. In this case the larger nozzle caused a problem that might have been avoided if it had been pulled and deployed numerous times during training. A lesson for all of us.

Using monitors. I am a big fan of small, lightweight, 500-gpm ground monitors, as they let us deploy a large amount of water with minimal staffing – sadly, these days in career and volunteer fire departments, that can be a factor. They also let us place big water in tight areas. More and more, apparatus are equipped with at least one of these, pre-connected to a 200- or 300-foot three-inch line for some serious power. If the goal is to deliver big water quickly (and if it isn’t, you have been on too many EMS runs lately), this is often a great solution, as was done at this fire.

Communications. While the dead radio battery was a problem in this fire, it could have been a bigger problem if the firefighters had a different fire, crawled down a hall, into a basement and then tried to call for help. The solutions? Every riding position should have a radio on charger and additional radios should be available for other arriving firefighters. No firefighter should ever work without a radio. It provides backup in case one battery or radio dies as well as ensures communications for everyone.

Downed power lines. Several firefighters have been killed recently due to electrical wires being down. The Pennsville Township firefighters understood the hazards involved and took appropriate action to guard against a tragic outcome.

Cylinder venting. The sound of a cylinder venting can often be covered up, but if you think you hear it (a constant hissing sound), react immediately. Reaction means clear the area and tell command what you hear – and what you suspect. Few firefighters have regretted moving back and out of the area after hearing the hiss, followed by a tank explosion, BLEVE or otherwise.

Police on the scene. In almost all cases, the police arrive with us or, quite often, before us. While they are there to help, their role, responsibility and “place†at a fire scene must be made clear before an incident so it is clear to all. That’s called “interoperability.†Understand that you are dealing with police officers who are always used to being in charge, but they are not in charge of the fire operations. They can be a major help in their support role (and have an excellent relationship with the Pennsville Township firefighters), but they also must follow the rules of incident command and work within the fire command structure for their own safety – and the safety of civilians and the firefighters. In this case, well-intentioned police ordering civilians to take action contrary to the fire command could have ended up badly. By the local police understanding ‘the game plan†(how and why we do what we do) prior to the run, there is a greatly increased chance of everyone being happier at the end of that run.

As firefighters, we have been taught since Day 1 to expect the unexpected. Garage fires, and specifically private residential garage fires, can quickly affirm the need for us to heed that warning and be prepared organizationally as well as personally from a training and operational standpoint. While some lessons were learned in Pennsville Township, as there are in most any run any of us make, they clearly had many “systems†well in place to allow their members to return home safely after this run.


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.