1. #1

    Join Date
    Apr 2008

    Default Basement vs Cellar

    This subject comes up time and time again. What is the difference between a cellar and a basement? I view it as follows: if more than half of the floor height is above ground it is a basement, if less than half is above ground it is a cellar. The ground level reference is in relation to the front of the building. Many feel that they are the same they are not interchangeable terms. If we call it a basement it must be counted as a floor. If it is a cellar it is not. We all must be on the same page.

    I give the following two scenarios

    A ff goes to the rear of a building and reports fire out 2 windows on the third floor and the engine reports heavy fire on the second floor. The chief in the front now thinks he has 2 floors of fire.

    A ff gives a mayday and reports he is trapped and out of air on the 2nd floor the FAST / RIT sizes up the building as a 4 story building - cellar, basement, and 3 more floors above. The fire is the cellar with heavy smoke condition on all floors

    Where do they go?????? All of our lives depend on it. Imput please



  2. #2
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    crazy6downunder's Avatar
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    May 2008


    I agree that you need to be on the same page when it comes to terminology used, I find this problem within my own and neighboring volunteer departments. Here in the Midwest I have only heard the term cellar to be used to define a below ground food storage room that is in a basement. The term basement is used to define anything that is completely or partially underground. Anytime you have to go down to enter itís considered a basement, even with split level homes. Buildings built into hill sides are sized up by the main entry; if itís on top the hill every floor below is considered to be the basement levels, if the main entry is at the bottom then we categorize the levels in the acceding order. Itís important to be familiar with your buildings and informing Mutual aid departments of the game plan when they arrive.

  3. #3
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    Join Date
    Dec 2005


    It can be tricky. If we can deternmine what the 1st (main) level is we call that "Division 1", everything above that is Division 2,3,4,5,6 and so on, every thing below that is "Sub-Division" 1,2,3,4 and so on.

    On a standard 1 family house we usually just call it a basement.

    Hope that helps.

  4. #4

  5. #5
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    Dave1983's Avatar
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    Oct 2003
    Gator Country



    I always thought it was just a case of people using different terms for the same thing. I know when I lived in Ohio, everyone called them basements. When we went to my grandmas in upstate NY, they called them cellars. Kinda like pop-soda or purse-pocket book.

    Either way, you should decide on a single term to assist operations on the fireground.

    Down here, although they are VERY rare, the term basement refers to any room/level with its only access from grade is by going down a set of stairs, regardless of layout or use of the space.
    Last edited by Dave1983; 06-01-2008 at 09:26 AM.
    Fire Marshal/Safety Officer


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  6. #6
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    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Cupcake NY


    Good discussion. Basically the guy who goes to the rear should look at the front and see how many floors are at or above grade. He should remember this to apply it later when he gives a radio report of location of fire if the inside team fails to get it to it before you locate it. We have some buildings with 6 stories in the front and 12 in the rear. NYC Law says any building that is over 75ft must have a standpipe, guess what, these buildings that are built into the sides of hills are exempt because they never exceed 75 ft in the front.

  7. #7
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    dadman's Avatar
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    Dec 2003


    In this part of rural Ohio, I'm not aware of any mult-level below grade basements/cellars.

    It's assumed here that:
    Basement is below grade, most likely windows above grade, poured or block walls, 8-10 ft. height.
    Cellar has shorter height, almost head banging height. Stone or block walls. Most likely underneath half of the first floor area. Seen with older farm-type houses.
    Some places have a sloped grade with a walk-out door/patio area.

    Here, common residential below sub-floor spaces are crawl space only, cellar and crawl space, basement with crawl space, basement/cellar/crawlspace only.
    Schools with a basement for sprinkler equipment and cisterns, and HVAC.

  8. #8
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    Join Date
    Aug 2006


    I think this has naught to do with the daffynitions, but of communicating the type of construction following the initial walk a round.

    While it is true that the initial attack crew may not get the information, subsequent crews must be aware of the construction architecture prior to entering the structure.

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