Thread: Basement Fires - More Dangerous
03-08-2002, 03:37 PM #1
Basement Fires - More Dangerous
I just finished reading about our two brothers who died during a basement fire in NY State. I remember there was a fatality or two last year during a basement fire (DC?) and earlierthis year a FF was seriously burned after a falling into a basement.
My questions are not to Monday morning Quarterback. I am from Texas and with one exception have never scene a basement.
How do you attack these fires. Do you enter from within the house or an exterior entrance to the basement. How are the interior floors sounded (similar to a roof?) Do floors above basements have better construction than say the second story floor. I would think the chances of backdraft and flash are higher (cement walls) and opening the door to a basement is level with the highest temps in the basement. How do you make entry w/o burning yourself and upsetting thermal layers that could burn trapped civilians? What are the other dangers?
03-08-2002, 03:51 PM #2
- Join Date
- Feb 2000
- Here and There
Basement fires can get pretty hot for the reasons you cited.
Attacking a basement fire requires good coordination with the vent team outside to get the temperature down, but it can't be done too early or the influx of fresh air could feed the fire more. Taxpayers and other commercial buildings are generally worse than houses, since there are fewer vents available to take (and usually more flammable materials).
Most of the time, you only have one choice for entry, except in a few older houses and some taxpayers that have both exterior and interior basement stairs. If the fire is too hot, then you have to cut the floor (if still structually safe) or squirt from outside windows (if there are any). At any rate, you'll have to get in there sometime to hit the seat of the fire.
03-08-2002, 04:58 PM #3
Basement fires bring a couple thoughts to mind...
1. Most basements you have to enter by going DOWN through heat & smoke going UP. Either via the interior stairs or an outside bulkhead, the smoke & heat wanna rise when you open it.
2. Most basements have limited windows -- either none, or usually just small ones near the ceiling. You can't break them out during a search to vent as you go, you can't use them for egress, you can't use them to thrown burning stuff out of.
3. About a quarter of the homes in my district you luck out -- at least one, sometimes two, basement walls are "at grade" and have full windows and you walk in a conventional door. This is common on hill-side lots where the ground is higher in the front than the rear.
4. Most basements are not finished -- there is no sheetrock protecting the floor joists! A fire in the basement will very rapidly compromise the "gravity resistance structure" -- much more so than a fire in a living space enclosed in sheetrock or plaster.
5. Most basement stairs are not protected -- typically it's just an unfinished Pine stringer with unfinished boards. Lots of surface area for a fire to quickly burn away.
6. Many basements use a steel I-beam running lengthwise through the middle and supported by one or more lally columns (concrete enclosed in steel) to reduce the span the floor joists have to go. Steel does what when heated?
7. In balloon frame construction, fires extend from the basement to the attic, initally bypassing the living areas. The rule in areas with balloon frame construction is simple -- if smoke is showing from the eaves, first place you look is the basement! Sucks to be putting water on the attic fire, and have the floor burn out from under you.
8. Basements tend to be collecting locations for all your junk -- from kids toys to your 70s magazine collection. Lots of fire load, pretty much no walls dividing them.
9. Basements hold your utilities -- that's where the electrical panel is, the furnace is, and usually in my area the 275 gallon Heating Oil tank. Often throw the Washer and the Dryer down there for good measure.
10. Housekeeping. In addition to the floor joists being exposed, cobwebs are common up in those suckers -- dust and cobwebs help speed the spread of the fire (kinda like kindling).
11. Use tools in front of you when advancing in the interior, and when going down the stairs. Thump, thump, thump...
12. Leave someone at the top of the stairs to help feed hose down, help you out if the stairs collapse, or simply to go get help when the world comes crashing down.
Bottom line -- they're a b*tch.
Now on the plus side, because there usually few interior walls and limited ventilation, most basement fires I've seen are knocked down pretty quickly either by direct or indirect tactics.
A direct attack on a heavily involved first floor might mean first knocking down a living room, then humping up hose and knocking down the kitchen, the hump a bit more and turn down the hallway to hit residual fire down there. With basements often (not always) open, once you make the basement your stream can knock down most of it from one spot.
An indirect attack can also be effective -- our favored technique "indirect" is to use a second-story applicator through on the of the small basement windows -- voila, steam. Disrupts the physical fire, displaces Oxygen, and lowers the highest temperatures interupting the "off-gassing." This can be combined with PPV after the knock down -- PPV in the front door, open the the bulkhead, open the interior door to the basement and vent the basement out the bulkhead and advance an overhaul line down the interior stairs.
Most of my departments basement fires are handled via direct tactics where there's a lot of smoke, but no obvious fire from the outside. Indirect works well when it's a definite worker.
03-08-2002, 05:03 PM #4
One other thing to always consider in Base. Fires.......if the fire is not extinguished, and your SCBA runs out....remember #1-The way up and out, and #2) You need to penetrate the same conditions on the way out! Heat and Smoke. Sounds like common-sense right? But in some Urban areas, especially NYC, we're treated to a little extra....the sub-basement, or sub-sub-basement fire.
The amounts of Carbon Monoxide are also something to consider.....much higher then above ground, even after the fires extinguishment.
Last edited by FDNYRR; 03-09-2002 at 10:19 AM."All gave some...Some gave all!"
9/11/01 Lest we forget!
03-08-2002, 05:21 PM #5Attacking a basement fire requires good coordination with the vent team outside to get the temperature down, but it can't be done too early or the influx of fresh air could feed the fire more.
The advance into a basement, if from the interior should be as rapid as possible. I suggest running down the stairs backwards and pulling the line down with you. (much like decending a ladder). Should a stair or stairs fail, you will fall to your belly and be facing up and out.
Don't try to fight your way down the stairs, it's a sure way to get steamed.
In multiple dwellings, we position our first line at the top of the basement stairs and protect the public hallway. If we can make the basement we do, if not, the second line attacks from an exterior entrance and we maintain the hallways integrity. This has been the source of many a "family feud".
Just my 2 cents, after gonzo gets done you'll have a nickle.
03-08-2002, 07:11 PM #6
The Spotted One (Dalmatian 90) summed up basement fires in quite nicely! Sponge, FDNYRR and E229lt covered the basement fire tactics in the same fashion.
I had a company under my command fall through a floor into a basement. I would have been with them, except for the guardian angel who knocked a piece of plaster off of a ceiling and knocking my "brain bucket" off of my head. We got the crew out of there rapidly, there were a few minor injuries, but seeing them go through the floor was one of the scariest moments of my career (so far!)
Last edited by CaptainGonzo; 03-08-2002 at 08:43 PM."The education of a firefighter and the continued education of a firefighter is what makes "real" firefighters. Continuous skill development is the core of progressive firefighting. We learn by doing and doing it again and again, both on the training ground and the fireground."
Lt. Ray McCormack, FDNY
03-08-2002, 07:38 PM #7
- Join Date
- Dec 1999
- NorthEast Paid on Call
I haven't had the pleasure of a basement fire yet. Just before I got on my department they responded to a call of a house full of smoke. Crew advanced through the front door, heavy smoke and one of the crew later said her knees were uncomfortably warm. As they advanced to the rear of the house heading for the door to the basement heavy black smoke banked down to the floor and they retreated. Unknown to them a second line had been advanced to the rear of the house and into the daylight basement. I think they were very lucky they didn't make the stairs. Sounds pretty similar to the incident in DC a while back, just a much better outcome. Coordination and ventilation are critical.
03-09-2002, 11:36 AM #8
Great subject. I think it would be fair to say that for most seasoned firefighters, the basement is the least desirable place in a structure to have to initiate an interior attack. Like the good Lt. stated...Get downstairs as fast as you can...I liken it to climbing down a chiminey. The balloon construction reminds me of a story about the crew of CFD firefighters that pulled up to a church fire rolling through the upper level. As they were making their way in, the pipeman went right through the floor. He was grabbed by a fellow firefighter and pulled fron certain death. The guy who grabbed him got a nice "atta boy" in Firehouse( heroism awards). The guy that went through summed it up by saying "I would hate to see what would have happend if I wasnt Catholic"...He is a Captain now.
03-09-2002, 06:35 PM #9
Basement fires can be and are most often scary as hell. Usually only one way down and one way up. Most often like to find the seat of the fire from the outside through a window if possible but usually not the case, then give a short burst from a hand line just to get some steam generation going to knock things down, then get some serious venting going. This has got to be coordinated with entry team and is serious because you don't want to frying them in a steam bath. If you have a peircing nozzle on one of your rigs at the scene it to can come in very handy, get as close over the seat of the fire as possible without endangering your personel. and drive it through the floor into the basement and let it rip. Another handy tool is a rotating cellar nozzle, and it can deliver a great deal of water to the basement in a hurry. The good thing about peircing and rotating nozzlez is that you don't have to commit personel to the basement first where you can be rest assured it's as hot as the hubs of hades.
03-09-2002, 06:40 PM #10
03-09-2002, 08:52 PM #11
- Join Date
- Feb 2002
- Syracuse NY
I would like to add an addtional comment with regards to Dalmatian90's post.
I'm in Central NY and got to listen to the whole call on the radio. It's pretty nerve racking to hear such a thing take place. Even though I didn't personally know the two firefighters, my thoughts and prayers go out to the fire dept, friends and families.
Don't take what I'm about to say as proven fact. This was a newer home, and I've heard that the floors were the newer wooden I-beams attached to the sill with the metal joist hangers. As we all know, the wooden I-beams do not have as much wood in them as in a regular 2x6 so of course it will burn through faster, and also the metal joist hangers will melt as well.
In general, I think the newer homes are becoming more dangerous for us firefighters when they catch fire. I realize that wooden I-beams are stronger,lighter and use less wood than a standard 2x6, but when subjcted to fire...well god help us. I guess the same thing holds true with the roof trusses. Once the staple plates go, I would not want to be on or under the roof. Back in my old dept, the local government changed the building codes to the point where the new houses would be so air tight that if you didn't know what you were doing, you could have the potential for a backdraft.
This posting is of my opinion only and not of my fire dept.
Moyers Corners FD
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Manlius FD, friends and families.
03-10-2002, 02:41 PM #12
- Join Date
- Nov 2001
- Clermont County, Ohio
Basement Remodelling - Another Hazard
Another thing to think about in basement fires is if the entire basement is one compartment or not. It's very common in my neck of the woods for people to remodel their basements and divide them into a number of smaller rooms. They'll even put in sleeping rooms if there is no outside access to the basement. This makes our job much harder since it creates barriers to both direct and indirect attack. Picture this: you crawl down through high heat and heavy smoke, but you can't reach the seat of the fire because there are rooms & doors present. However, the fire is above you because there's a dropped ceiling and the walls only go to the bottom of the floor joists - giving the fire lots of voids to travel in. Indirect attack with a cellar or piercing nozzle only works if you guess the right place to place the hole.
No good answers, just more things to keep in the back of your mind.Proud to be honored with IACOJ membership. Blessed by TWO meals cooked by Cheffie - a true culinary goddess. Expressing my own views, not my organization's.
03-10-2002, 04:19 PM #13
- Join Date
- Sep 2001
- No. Providence R.I. : Land of the "How ya doins"
I think that everyone has summed up the hell that is the basement fire quite well. Another thing to consider is the storage of highly flammable and hazardous materials in the basement, especially if the residence does not have a garage. People store lawn mowers with gas, propane gas tanks for grills, aerosol cans,fuel oil tanks, paints and associated materials, as well as much Class A fuel as you can think of. The build up of heat with lack of easy ventilation can turn the situation
bad faster than if it were above grade. Always use caution and try to find out if possible what could be down there.
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