Roof Hazards - Cell Equipment

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Photos by Richard J. Blatus & Thomas J. Richardson

You are ascending the stairs of an adjoining building to gain access to the roof of a multiple dwelling at a working fire on the top floor. You and your partner anticipate your duties to be accomplished somewhat routinely. Upon reaching the roof of the fire building, you proceed to size up the roof and realize that this is not what you expected.

You notice what seem to be metal ducts running along much of the roof. Your partner remembers that this particular building has a cellular phone site on the roof. It was the topic of a recent drill. What are the hazards? What information should you communicate to your officer and the incident commander? Given the fact that the fire is on the top floor, should there be any alterations to your tactics? Can you make your primary vent hole? Can you trench, if necessary?

Cellular phone sites are presenting the fire service with new concerns. They are installed in basements and on roofs of commercial, residential and public buildings. We need to know where these sites are installed in our response areas. Does your department have a method of notifying responding units of building hazards present?

Once you identify their locations, we need to know some basic things about these sites. Where are the power supplies? How do we shut them down, if necessary? Is there a back-up supply present? If the cell phone site is mounted on the roof, it may present a collapse hazard, particularly at a top-floor fire. Is the base station in a room on the roof or in the cellar or basement? Fires in these rooms are extremely hazardous. Fires occurring on or extending through the roof may expose the site’s equipment and/or its support systems, which may also present obstacles to laddering or roof operations. Members should not operate in close proximity to site antennas for long periods of time. Direct exposure to radio waves for extended periods may cause health problems. At top-floor fires the equipment may inhibit roof-cutting operations. A hoseline may be needed to protect the cell phone site and/or its supporting structure.

Cellular phone sites are posing yet another challenge to our forces. We need to identify them as soon as possible and communicate the hazards associated with them. The incident commander should consider calling for additional help when encountering fires in or around a site’s rooms or equipment. Be proactive! Fireground safety can only be enhanced.

P.S.: What about the warning sign? Stay tuned!


Richard J. Blatus is a 23-year veteran of the fire service, currently assigned to Battalion 15 in Bronx, NY. A strong proponent of training, Chief Blatus has served as both a regional and national instructor/lecturer for fire service trade publications and conferences, such as Firehouse Expo. He holds degrees in business and municipal fire administration. Thomas J. Richardson is a 23-year veteran of the fire service, currently serving the FDNY at Battalion 38 in Brooklyn. A former chief of the Deer Park, NY, Volunteer Fire Department, Chief Richardson is an adjunct instructor for the Suffolk County, NY, Fire Training Academy.

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