Making entry in to a fire building from the exterior by way of a window is one of the most hazardous assignments on the fire ground. Especially if a member must perform this entry task on the floor above a fire. In an effort to reach fire victims quickly, members may try entering the window of a private dwelling or apartment from the exterior. Making entry can be done from a portable ladder or a porch roof, doing this can put firefighters in a precarious position.
Performing a window entry requires communication with not only command, but the interior team as well. A team of two members will perform the window entry, unless there is a known life hazard. Immediate action is necessary to safe that life or as the real world the fire departments manning dictates it. The Incident Commander shall be notified if making a window entry alone and will try to get additional help to that firefighter as soon as possible. Due to the lack of manning in many departments and the number of firefighters responding with some of the volunteer departments, especially during the daytime, these safety practices might not always be followed.
A way to possibly improve safety of members operating from that window would be to instruct the member on how to ventilate the window for entry. When ventilating a window we are instructed to clear the entire window of glass and remove all obstructions. This is a good practice for windows that we are planning to enter. If we are only using the window for ventilation then leave the center sash. This will allow member(s) on the interior to find the window with the ladder quickly in an emergency. All the member has to do is to place arm in window and sweep toward the top frame, if a sash is encountered than that is not the window with the ladder. If the member does not feel a center sash or cross piece, then this is the window that he or another firefighter entered through. The member on the inside must still verify the presence of the ladder.
This will also work for porch roofs and setbacks that firefighter are able to work off of. As long as there is an area of refuge outside the window then we clear the entire window of glass and window frames. This will act as a reminder to the firefighter who made window entry and also alert members of the interior team of the exit window if they need an emergency exit from a burning structure. Members operating from the interior, who need one of these windows for an exit, will still have to verify the presence of a roof or a ladder before exiting the window.
This will only work if the entire department is doing it the same way. This must be implemented as a department wide Standard Operating Procedure. If only one company or unit is doing this then it will not work. All firefighter and officers in the fire department should be made aware of and follow this procedure. The one other variable is if a ladder is moved. If a member moves a ladder, this information must be communicated to member on the interior of the fire building. If a member has made an entry from that ladder and is still inside the structure, then that member's permission is needed before the ladder is moved, a basic safety SOP.
The type of window ventilation will now serve as another added feature in the members size-up and on going safety evaluation. Following this simple procedure will benefit members and make the fire ground a safer place to operate.
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