Tools For Your Firefighting Tool Box: Commercial Building Fires

I'm writing this article with a heavy heart. Once again the FDNY lost another brother fighting a fire in a commercial building.

I'm writing this article with a heavy heart. Once again the FDNY lost another brother fighting a fire in a commercial building. As is well known this is an occurrence that is happening more and more. This past June Memphis Tennessee lost two experienced Engine Company firefighters fighting a commercial building fire. Each year the list keeps growing.

During the 1960's the FDNY lost 12 firefighters fighting a fire in a commercial building located in Manhattan on 23 street. In the 1970's the FDNY lost 6 brother firefighters fighting a fire in a supermarket fire. The 1990's brought the death toll to 5 firefighters from Hackensack New Jersey in an auto dealership fire.

In 2001, the FDNY lost three brother firefighters on Father's Day in a commercial building fire. What's going on here? How can we possibly prevent or have a chance fighting these types of fires.

One of my last articles dealt with a commercial building fire where I explain the sequence of events that followed my arrival. I want everyone who reads my articles to get a copy of this article and share it with your brother and sisters. For those of you who may have forgotten what I had to say or those that feel it could not happen to them, pay attention to what I have to say. "IT MAY SAVE YOUR LIFE OR THE LIFE OF ONE OF YOUR FIREFIGHTERS!"

First let's get something straight, our chosen profession is not a game, it is life and death every time that alarm sounds. You have to be on top of your game at all times, for you just don't know what the big guy upstairs has in store for you. All too often I hear, "boy I wish we would get a good job (structural fire) tonight chief. Watch out what you wish for, I have been to too many funerals and don't want to attend any more.

So what can we do to better understand what's happening? Well, start at the beginning.


Ask yourself the following simple questions:

  • Is the building occupied or unoccupied
  • What time of the day is it
  • How big is the building
  • How advanced is the fire
  • Who I'm I working with
  • Who are the bosses

These are just some of the questions you should be asking yourself before entering the building. I will explain each one in detail and how each one could affect the outcome of your survival.

1) Upon arrival you have to access as quickly as possible the life hazard. If told that everyone has gotten out by a reliable source then this should immediately change the focus of your attack. Remember this is not a residential structure where you can formulate a standard layout attack. The commercial building has probably been renovated numerous times and it will be impossible to formulate a standard advance. Just think about the furniture stores in your area and how the floor is laid out. Now, picture yourself trying to make an advance during heavy smoke and heat. Pretty scary. Probably the first ten feet into the store will led you into numerous furniture lay outs. Now try to find you way out in total darkness when a mayday is transmitted and then ordered out. If you are an officer, do you have all your men with you? Probably not. The big clock on the wall is ticking and time is running short. You should have paid attention, the building is unoccupied so you know the term," Risk a little to save a little, Risk a lot to save a lot." This was not the time to extend yourself.

2) Time of day should dictate how aggressively you should attack the fire. Remember most times when a fire occurs during business hours the fire should not be that advanced and the fire should be attacked aggressively but cautiously. Listen, most of these building are built to create large open spaces without supporting columns causing a large fire front without boundaries. No dividing walls to compartment the fire area. If you could just remember your basic residential fire usually involves one or two rooms measuring 10' x 12' each. Now compare this with a commercial fire front of 150'x 150' uncompartmented. Not a chance in hell are you going to put this fire out. So the point is, if the fire occurs after hours be cautious. I know what you are saying because it is closed does not mean there is no one there. Your right, tell that to the deceased members families.

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