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Last month, we presented a fire service perspective on Hurricane Sandy and other massive storms that hit the mid-Atlantic coast within the past year and their impact on firefighters. This month, we report on after-the-storm factors, chiefly unusual structural conditions, by focusing on how this has affected operations of the Margate City, NJ, Fire Department (MCFD).
Our sincere thanks to Chief of Department Anthony Tabasso, Deputy Chief Daniel Adams and all the officers and members of the MCFD for sharing their story.
This continues the account provided by MCFD Deputy Chief Daniel Adams:
Two months after the storm, we started to see homes being raised up onto cribbing and foundation walls being built up to raise the livable space of these homes. Chief Tabasso and I went out and took pictures of these homes and documented the areas of concern in relation to fire suppression and potential collapse. We used the pictures as a training tool for our personnel and it started a discussion among us and the officers of the fire department as to the proper tactics to fight a fire in these raised structures.
Since Hurricane Sandy, a few areas of concern have come to light. My concern is this: We are seeing a number of homes being raised to elevate them out of the flood area or to meet Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) restrictions for flood zones – the number of these homes being raised will continue to rise. A new challenge for firefighters.
What follows are special considerations for pre-planning, policy, training, response and fire operations in structures under these conditions.
These homes are raised on steel beams and wood cribbing is placed minimally at the four corners of the homes. The elevation of these homes on cribbing can be in excess of 10 feet off the ground, and the cribbing is the only thing holding them up. My first impression for fire attack would be to go right into a defensive operation for these reasons, to name a few:
1. Structural stability and collapse potential – The cribbing is sitting directly on the soil with no solid surface under it. When the ground gets wet, the cribbing could shift, making the home structurally unstable and potentially causing a collapse.
2. Fires – All sources of ignition have been removed during construction, so any fire was started accidentally by workmen or it is an incendiary fire. Therefore, you are unsure or unaware of the potential for multiple ignition points and what was used to start the fire.
3. Firefighter access – When asked about access considerations and defensive operations, the veteran fire command officers were in agreement.
• “Defensive operations of what is a pile of lumber! There is no way to control ventilation, so you have a pile of lumber free-burning. The only lives at stake are the folks we brought with us. Risk versus benefit clearly suggests defensive operations. We would not send our folks into a lumber shed nor should we send them into this situation. Protect exposures and master streams. These homes are a recipe for a LODD (line-of-duty death) report.”
• “Agreed. Strategic pre-planning would include videography and a primary concentration on domino-collapse affects. Un-staffed deluge devices would be a good bet, with pre-planned primary and secondary supply sources. The only life hazard is with the people we bring to the fight. We would not ‘go in’ either.”
• “I think you are on the mark – defensive operations. These homes are essentially vacant, correct? If it were our community, we would pre-plan the areas, identify water supply and go in either direct with deck guns/pipes, where accessible, or pre-connected three-inch to lightweight ground monitors for alleys, etc....along with 2½-inch for exterior maneuverability and reach. The best thing for those who own these homes – and your firefighters – is water on the fire, as quickly and heavily as possible...along with exposure protection, which in your area, “down the shore,” is a huge factor.”