Close Calls: Massive Storm Poses Unique Risks - Part 2

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...

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With these statements and facts put together, we would all agree that the only option for fire attack is a defensive operation with large-diameter lines and unmanned deck guns. Obtain a substantial water supply and set up your collapse zones. Firefighter safety is of the utmost importance.

The training process for these structures within the MCFD started with the research of going out and collecting the information and pictures of these structures. All personnel reviewed the pictures and a discussion was held on fire attack operations. It was decided that if any of these raised structures is on fire, our attack operation will be defensive only.

• Obtain multiple water supplies

• Set up a collapse zone

• Use unmanned master stream devices

• Exposure protection is a priority

• Risk versus gain

Another concern for the structure sitting on the cribbing is the effect from wind. This structure does not have hurricane straps holding it to the ground; it is sitting on cribbing with wedges holding the structure up. A strong wind gust or a derecho could cause the collapse of such a structure.

There are still a number of homes in our municipality that have not been repaired and have gone untouched since the storm. These properties continue to fester and eventually will become a problem for us; it could be a fire hazard or it could be a potential collapse hazard.

The electrical components of these structures were compromised by saltwater. This will degrade the wiring connections and devices and over time they will break down to the point where they may short out. A number of the affected homes are summer properties, so when the owners come down to open up and turn on the main breaker, we are going to see problems. This is a recipe for disaster. The areas and municipalities around us have all seen an increase in the number of fires related to the aftereffects of Hurricane Sandy and it will continue to rise.

My advice for firefighters is the same advice I give when lecturing firefighter candidates when we are talking about when size-up begins. It is my opinion that your initial size-up begins when you are driving in your community. Pay attention to the structures, specifically buildings under construction. How they are being built will have a direct effect on your tactics for fire attack. Specifically, take a close look at those buildings that are being raised now when you can see everything and you do not have tunnel vision focused on the fire. Look at the picture clearly; this will help develop your plan of attack when the alarm bell rings. Be prepared before the response occurs. Then, when a storm does strike, you will have all of that knowledge from your pre-fire size-up to assist you with the firefighting efforts during and after the storm.


These comments are by Chief Goldfeder following discussions with Deputy Chief Adams:

Chief Tabasso, Deputy Chief Adams and the officers and members of the MCFD “get it” because they have been there and understand the challenge. As one chief above stated, in so many cases, it is “a pile of lumber” that is burning when we arrive. Are we expected to take risks to save property? In many cases, yes, we are, but in this case, the property is as unpredictable as it can get because it was previously damaged. The absolute best thing we can do for people whose property we want to save is to put the fire out as quickly as possible. Period.

Deputy Chief Adams discussed size-up and if you have read this column more than once over the years, we have been saying it too – size-up is huge. The failure to size-up before and upon arrival has led to firefighter close calls, injury and death. Many firefighters think size-up is what you do when you pull up, but that’s only part of it.

Here is a better way to look at it.

1. Size-up before the fire:

• What do you protect? What are the buildings, risks and potential fire and rescue challenges in your response area?

• What do you want to do? What is the goal? Protect exposures? Put the fire out? Rescue people? In how long? In what percentage of the time?

• What resources do you have to do that with? What is your staffing and deployment plan? Where are the firehouses? What is your normal staffing? What are your response times? Where are your closest automatic/mutual aid resources?