Protecting Exposures

John J. Salka Jr. describes the different ways of protecting exposures during a fire.


Almost all activities undertaken by fire department units at structural fires can be categorized into one of the "command priorities." The command priorities are addressed in descending order of importance. They are life, exposures, confinement of fire and extinguishment of fire. The top priority...


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Almost all activities undertaken by fire department units at structural fires can be categorized into one of the "command priorities." The command priorities are addressed in descending order of importance. They are life, exposures, confinement of fire and extinguishment of fire. The top priority is the protection of life. After life-threatening situations are addressed, the protection of exposures is handled and is the subject of this article.

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Photo by John J. Salka Jr.
These two private houses, although not attached, are so close that the eave overhangs the house next to it. Any fire that vents through a window in this narrow opening will rapidly extend to the wood or asphalt siding and race to the top, where it could quickly enter both buildings and attic area.

Several situations can result in a fire extending into an adjoining or exposed building. When these situations are encountered, a decision must be made immediately as to whether to take action in that direction and, if so, what specific tactics to employ. It is at this moment that the outcome of the entire operation may be decided.

If an exposure is in danger of extension and the fire department's attack is directed to the original fire building, it may result in a multi-building extra-alarm fire. If the fire is not extending to an exposure and the fire department chooses to concentrate its resources on preventing this possible extension rather than making an offensive attack on the fire building, the fire within the original fire building will grow unchecked and result in more serious fire damage that may have been prevented.

The conditions that generally indicate exposure protection as the primary tactic at a structural fire are advanced fire conditions on arrival (fully involved) adjacent to other structures, fire which has self-vented through windows facing an adjoining structure and heavy fire conditions in attached/ connected buildings. Depending on a department's apparatus and equipment, staffing and water resources, several tactics can be initiated to protect endangered exposures.

One of the most versatile and effective methods of protecting exposures is the stretching and operation of a 2 1/2-inch handline. The importance of using the larger 2 1/2-inch hose rather than 1 1/2-inch or 1 3/4-inch cannot be overstated. Both the 1 1/2-inch and 1 3/4-inch handlines were developed for offensive interior firefighting where firefighters had to negotiate through small rooms and hallways and the fire load was limited to the contents of one or two rooms. The larger 2 1/2-inch line, which was once the mainstay of most fire departments attack lines, both interior and exterior, delivers a greater flow of water with increased reach and penetration. These advantages although tempered by difficulty in maneuverability and advancement, make this large handline the best choice for protecting exposures.

With a flow of 250 gpm and excellent stream reach, the 2 1/2-inch line can deliver a large amount of water to a wide area in short order. Because it is a handline, it can be maneuvered to cover several exposed sides of a building or even repositioned to cover another exposed building. It can be stretched down alleys or driveways to rear yards and can also be operated from adjoining rooftops and setbacks. Since most engine companies carry a bed of 21/2-inch hose with a nozzle attached, it can be stretched and put into operation quickly by one or two firefighters without the delay that would be incurred by setting up and connecting hoselines to a portable deluge gun or multi-versal nozzle.

Another method of protecting exposures is the use of the apparatus-mounted deck gun. These appliances are referred to by many names such as deck pipe, stang, deluge gun, etc., but the principle is the same. Here we are talking about a master stream which is generally considered to deliver more than 300 gpm. Whether the appliance is permanently piped into the apparatus or is secured in a usable position on the engine, it can be placed into operation relatively quickly and will deliver substantial knockdown to an extending fire.

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