Overhaul & Salvage: Part 1

"Engine 1 to Command." "Proceed, Engine 1." "Chief, we have knocked down all visible fire, we still have medium smoke and high heat conditions. The primary search is not completed." Command could see heavy smoke pushing from the attic vents on the...


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When opening floors to check for fire extension, the openings should be made close to floor joists, without cutting through the joists. This permits firefighters to inspect these areas while allowing repairs to be easily made.

When windows are broken to assist the firefighting efforts, all glass remaining in the frames must be removed during overhaul. A window opening can be cleared out to allow firefighters to remove burnt debris to the exterior of the building. Windows can be removed undamaged and set aside for reinstallation at a later date. If damaged and not repairable, they can be removed and discarded.

A building struck by lightning may require extensive overhauling. The intense heat of the lightning can be conducted throughout the building by the piping and wiring, starting many smoldering fires in the inner cavities of the structure. It will require a time-consuming investigation.

Contents Overhaul & Salvage

The building occupancy dictates the type of overhauling and salvage required. Care during overhaul operations can make a difference. Articles on the top of desks or bureaus can be gently swept into the top drawers by a firefighter.

Smoldering furniture and burnt clothing and mattresses should be removed and thoroughly extinguished outside. A smoldering bureau should be checked to see if the contents are involved in fire. If not, the drawers should be removed and placed in a safe location so that the contents can be salvaged.

Don't make the mistake of thinking that a mattress or overstuffed furniture that has been damaged by fire can remain inside. It is of no use to the occupants and will need to be discarded at a later date but most importantly it can contain a smoldering fire that can erupt after firefighters have left the scene. Pull apart all burnt areas and wet it down thoroughly.

Smoldering debris can be shoveled into debris cans and together with fire damaged items deposited in one exterior location. The removal of smoldering items minimizes additional smoke damage, and permits a safer working environment for the firefighters to complete their overhaul and salvage operations. These items can be thoroughly extinguished on the exterior, minimizing water damage to the fire building.

Exterior Overhauling

As debris is removed to the exterior, it should be placed where:

  • It will not threaten the structure if the fire flares up.
  • It will not damage shrubbery.
  • It will not impede entry and egress from the fire building.
  • It will not be handled again.

When removing articles from upper floors via window, the area below must be cordoned off to prevent firefighter injury. This can be accomplished by having a spotter on the ground to direct those firefighters operating above.


James P. Smith, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a deputy chief of the Phila-delphia, PA, Fire Department and an adjunct instructor at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, MD.