Firefighting Operations Within Sealed Buildings

Firefighting is a dangerous undertaking at any time, but if the fire building is a sealed structure then the job becomes inherently more dangerous.

If no information is available from dispatch on the structure the need to include any type of sealing in an initial size-up is essential. When a sealed structure is discovered on the initial size-up it should be communicated to all units on the scene and to all responding units. If additional help will be needed to address the problems confronted because of the sealed building, call them immediately.

Once a structure that has been sealed is identified it is necessary to determine what type of sealed building it is and how it is sealed. These buildings can be divided into three broad classes: occupied residential structures, such as a private dwelling in a high crime area with window bars, occupied commercial structures sealed for the evening or weekend with roll down gates, and vacant buildings sealed or partially sealed using plywood to cover the doors and windows. Each building might have a life hazard and will require distinct tactics according to the specific type of structure we are committing our forces to.

Photo Courtesy Michael M. Dugan
A self-storage building. These occupancies are in every area of the country. Sprinklers may protect them but finding and fighting the fire will still be difficult.

The first type of sealed building frequently encountered by the fire service, is the sealed occupied residential building, which might have a life hazard at any time of the day or night. Because of this life hazard, these buildings must be entered and searched. The safety of our operating forces is the primary concern at one of these buildings. The operation of and the initial placement of the first hose line is decisive to a successful outcome.

The crucial task of the first hose line is to limit the spread of fire and if feasible, extinguish it. If reports were received that civilians are trapped above the fire and firefighters are going to attempt to locate or remove them, the first hose line would have the job of protecting the stairs. In this case a second line should be used to extinguish the fire, while the first line is covering the stairway and escape route for the firefighters.

While firefighters are operating within a sealed residential building, a member or team should be given the duty to work on the exterior of the structure. They would be responsible to clear at least one window on the fire floor and one window on the floor above of any bars, gates or other materials sealing the windows. In order to afford the interior firefighters with an escape route in proximity to the fire area, this operation would, if possible, take place at windows adjacent to and above the fire. This is done in case interior firefighters are cut off and need an emergency exit. The position of the cleared window and it availability, must be communicated to the members operating within the structure; this communication is essential for the safety of the interior teams.

Photo Courtesy Michael M. Dugan
This building was renovated after a fire removing the upper floors. The second floor is sealed with bars that are difficult to remove. They need to be removed for a secondary means of egress.

A ladder should be placed at a cleared window. If a tower ladder or aerial ladder apparatus is at the incident, it should be positioned on the front of the fire building, the ladder should be raised and positioned at a window, ready, in case it is needed. The driver or operator should remain on the turntable, in order to use the ladder if necessary.

If a Tower Ladder is positioned on the front of the fire building, than an available firefighter or team should be in the bucket with a maul, halligan and hook to remove window obstructions. An available power saw can be used from the bucket to cut either steel bars or plywood, however the operator of the saw must exercise extreme care. The proper blade will be required and the bucket firefighter will have to size-up the sealing material and determine which blade is mandated.

The area immediately under and adjacent to an elevated basket, that is removing window obstructions is an exceptionally dangerous area and should be protected. Unaware members might be struck by falling debris and injured. When operating a chain saw from the bucket extreme caution is necessary to avoid serious injury. One of the many dangers that exist is the possibility of the chain binding and causing it to kickback in the direction of the firefighter. This kickback may force the chain of the running saw towards the member at an exceptionally high rate of speed.