Engine Company Priorities at Garden Apartments

Lt. Michael Daley shares how engine companies should evaluate garden apartment fires for fire attack, search and ventilation needs with other crews.

This month, we will be discussing some strategic considerations for companies when they arrive at a working fire in a garden apartment complex. Previously, we had discussed some of the more common issues (engine operations - truck operations) with multiple dwellings, no matter the size or configuration. We will take a look at how these issues affect the operations while at these types of residential units.

As previously stated, engine companies play a key part of the fireground operation. Each of these units has specific responsibilities on-scene, such as:

  • Water supply
  • Placement of attack and back up lines
  • Protection of exposures
  • Master stream operations
  • Protective system operations
  • Property conservation
  • Overhaul
  • Search (off the hoseline)


A primary concern of the engine company is not only location of the fire, but also the access route for companies to efficiently reach the seat of the fire (see Photo 1). It is important that the engine company members understand and recognize how fire spread may occur, particularly how fire may spread in these occupancies.


Issues For The Initial Company

One of the most critical issues with Garden Apartments is that the living quarters are joined to each other on multiple sides. This means that the fire load and the victim potential is in the direct path of natural spread, allowing the fire to spread quickly and affect victim egress immediately. Secondly, residences in these buildings are served by common halls and stairways. Taking this into consideration, it is vital that control of the stairways and vertical/horizontal arteries in the occupancy are controlled by the first-arriving units (see Photo 2). Getting handlines into the stairways is a vital task to protect the occupants during their escape, and control most vertical fire spread. Many times, occupants leave the fire doors at the stairs chocked open, and this allows for smoke and heated gases to spread to upper floors, and cuts off any escape paths that the victims may have.

Initial companies should also anticipate vertical fire spread via pipe chases and void spaces located throughout the structure. Construction techniques result in voids for utilities and pipes throughout the dwelling, and can serve as an artery for flame spread. One of the biggest voids in the building will be located behind the bathroom wall, in the vicinity of the toilet.

Construction practices will allow utilities for multiple occupancies to run in the same void space, increasing the size of the void and the amount of units exposed by the void. This area can be used for both the drain pipes and the vent pipes for each unit, each going in opposite directions. Open this void space and check it thoroughly whenever this area is potentially exposed to fire spread.

Choosing the right line during initial operations can make or break any operation. The initial-arriving engine company officer has some critical thinking to do: choosing the right size line (diameter and length), and making sure the line can make the required flow to extinguish the fire. But first, the officer needs to know where the fire is, and what stage the fire is in; therefore, location and extent of the fire is considered the most important size-up concern for most officers.

Furthermore, how will the company reach the entrance to the unit? Is the unit facing the street or is it tucked into the courtyard (see Photo 3)? Before the first company commits, locate the most efficient route to the fire, and then stretch in with an ample supply line (minimum 3 inches in size), preferably equipped with a water thief. I prefer the water thief for a few reasons: first, using this appliance will support flexibility when transitioning to a larger handline. Secondly, should the supply line need to be extended, the center discharge can make the stretch much easier with additional hoselines and an additional appliance.

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