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.

Photo Courtesy Michael M. Dugan
A sealed Multiple Dwelling, sealed with steel bars. There is no way for a firefighter or civilian to escape from these windows without the removal of the bars.

Another risk with the saws would be if members are operating behind the boarded up openings, or under possible falling pieces of material. When members are inside advise them of the locations of window you are clearing, so the area can be kept clear. When using a chain saw a plunge cut guard and depth gauge will permit a safer operation. When using any method of gaining access to the building, be aware of where the material is going when removed to prevent injury to firefighters underneath you.

A plan that deals with all aspects of firefighter entry into these structures should be in place, because residential occupied buildings must be entered and searched. The safety of the firefighters must be the number one priority. If a secondary escape means has not been established from the area of fire operations, then no personnel should move ahead of the protection of a hose line. The most important factor that influences the success of an operation within a sealed residential structure is the aggressive interior attack including placement and operation of the first hose line.

Photo Courtesy Michael M. Dugan
A sealed vacant using plywood HUD type sealing and stucco over plywood on the first floor.

The presence of a back-up line would be a major benefit, to the safety of interior forces, if the manpower is available to stretch it. The communications connection, between interior and exterior forces and the incident commander is an essential factor to guarantee the safety of all operating forces. The most important thing to remember about a sealed residence is that the occupants, in their attempt to keep intruders out, are keeping us in!

The second type of sealed structure that may be encountered is a sealed commercial building. These building are dangerous and should be entered only after a complete size-up has been done and the building can be entered with no undue risks to firefighters. Standard firefighting tactics employed at commercial fires, such as the use of search ropes, large caliber hose lines and ventilation prior to entry are still a necessary. These structures are often well sealed to provide protection of the contents in the building and therefore are a formable adversary, delaying entry and application of water on the fire. Finding or creating a second way out may take a significant amount of time and operating forces must be aware of this.

There is usually a substantial delay between the start of the fire and when it is first reported to the fire department. Thus, the fire has time to grow to considerable magnitude before the first units arrive on the scene. As a result of this, the interior contents may already be severely damaged or completely destroyed. Operating to protect only a structure is never worth the risk of a firefighter's life.

Photo Courtesy Michael M. Dugan
A sealed repossessed home. These building can be found anywhere. Could the former owner return to set fire to this building?

Therefore, if the fire has progressed from a small contents fire, to a fire involving all contents and parts of the buildings structure it now may becomes a defensive operation. It is hard to locate a fire in these large and complex buildings. It is also difficult to search and ventilate commercial buildings because of their size and construction features. When sealed, these building become even more dangerous. Many time at sealed and renovated commercial establishments the owners will use cement blocks to seal window and door openings, this will provide a good point for stream application and to create a ventilation opening because these cement blocks are not well attached to the original structure and can be removed easily.