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    Default "Vacant" Buildings

    In another thread, someone was giving a large city FD a hard time for searching in a vacant dwelling fire. Now, if it was vacant, how did the fire start?

    After reading that thread about this topic, I wanted to pose this question. What does your Dept. consider a "vacant" building, as opposed to an unnoccupied building? I was always taught that if it still had utilities, and had some sort of upkeep, then it was considered unoccupied. If the utilities were shut off, and no one was maintaining the site, then it was considered vacant. But I was still always taught, EVERY building must be searched. (Obviously, a fully involved fire would have to wait to have the fire knocked down, but it would be searched nonetheless.)
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    Default vacant vs. unoccupied...

    Boy, good thread. I can imagine the heat you took for mentioning that. I guess it depends on the status of the building through the marshal's office etc. but if it's boarded up completely without and indication of entry through various doors/window's then you could do a risk vs. benefit analysis to determine your course of action. Many a "vacant" building has been set ablaze only to have firefighter's find "derelict's/skells/bum's/homeless" inside. I would have to say, at least in our city that vacant is usually vacant because the marshal's office has indicated it so and building dept. has ordered it closed up tight and demolished rather quickly. A recent location was the scene for various small fires indicating a vagrant populous was currently using the building for shelter. Well, after two small fires, our shift had the big fire and we still did a search after knockdown. Fire on arrival prevented any sort of real search. Picture is included...

    My opinion: If you can get inside to search somewhat safely, do so. If it is not necessarily boarded up etc., I would assume it is simply unoccupied and search/attack accordingly. We don't have alot of vacant's and when we do, they are taken down quickly....
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    Vacant Buildings, or derelict Buildings to give them their UK name were a regular occurnce in inner London up until the early 90's before every square inch of space was deemed an 'investment opportunity' for property developers.

    I have to say that they were where we cut our Firefighting teeth and where we were encouraged to get inside and learn a little about the job up close. I'm not going to get into a right or wrong argument but for me that was almost 20 years ago and with plenty of gaps and ventilation in these buildings it gave the older generation a good chance to send us in without BA teach us a little and also I daresay test our 'Bottle' to see if we'd choose fight or flight.

    Personally, I learned a lot of what I still use today on thses fires, more than once I as a young Fm would be told to go and set into the hydrant and then be held back by one of the Officers who would demonstrate the growth fo the fire and the effect of the fire and extinguishment, what the smopke was doing and so on. That was back in a day where practical skill was greatly emphasised and a bit of risk was neccesary to understand danger.

    Nowadays, in London, derelicts are nowhere near as common. A look on our Daily news Bulletin of Make ups (Workers/Multi Alarm jobs) on WoF will show that we still have them a few times each week, but that isn't that often in a City with 112 Fire Stations. Health & Safety also has a part to play now... a Dynmaic Risk Assessment is carried out and if the Building is unlikely to be able to sustain a life due to fire involvement then the operation will not be as offensive as it is inside an occupied structure.... assuming that an occupied structure was reasonably sound before the fire but a derelict may already have been structurally compromised. I have to say I agree with that, yes, there are plenty of rescues of vagrants carried out from iside such Buildings...

    I think somewhere around 10 were rescued from a large derelict Building in Peckham, South London late last year. But that is down to the expertise of the first arriving Officer to determine if any life therein is still savable..as it was in this case.

    As to the determination of a derelict Building...that is not always the easiest call. With properties such as old Factories being brought up, emptied and developed at an alarming rate they may be derelict as in no longer used and never going to be used again, but it may only be in this state for a few weeks before they are demolished or building work starts, so although they are derelict, they may never deteriorate in such a way as to be a problem if they were to become involved in fire...i.e broken windows, holes in floors, doors removed etc.

    By the same token, an unnocupied Building, one which is for sale or to let as a future concern and owned by someone may, depending on area become vandilised very quickly and ending up in a dangerous state often to catch out Fire Crews.

    THis isn't so much of a problem in London as I said becuase of the high value of real estate. But some of the old Industrial Towns in Northern England such as Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield etc are really going through some difficult spells at this time. Unemployment is high and crime and disorder are rife. The Fire Service are seen as a valid target. Many of you may have read my articles on violence toward Fire Crews in the UK where we are seen as fair game. Buildings are frequently booby trapped and crews have no option but to use 'squirt and run' tactics when dealing with them.... the Police are amazingly overstretched so your vision of a Police Cruiser standing by, Officer cradling a shotgun to protect the crews is a fantasy over here.

    In these areas the housing is so bad that it is often difficult to tell the difference between derelict, unoccupied or occupied...I have visited some of these areas and they are not far removed from what I saw on the film 'The bronx is Burning...street after street of empty houses, boarded up places with lights on inside, three or four burnt out houses in every terrace, pretty distressing stuff. I think every fire has to be judged on its merit. There are no fancy marking schemes or Building marshall notifications..the Officer has to make a judgement when he pulls up...he will then live and die by that.
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    We often use the term vacant to discribe a dwelling that appears to not be regularly occupied. We still make aggressive interior attacks as well as complete searches. It doesnt matter if they are boarded up or not. Often these crackheads make entry thru the roof, so though it appears sealed by the city in actuality there might be a number of people inside. The need for aggressive interior attacks is also born from the housing construction that is prominent in this city. We are a city of rowhomes and though the primary fire dwelling may be vacant, we must remember that the ones on each side may be occupied and that the primary fire dwelling could be attached to upwards of 40 homes on some of our longer blocks.
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    The term “vacant” here is just a term we use for our alarm bureau. Here the alarm bureau will notify the Red Cross for any “occupied” fire in order to help displaced residents as quickly as possible. When a first due company reports a working fire in a vacant dwelling, the alarm bureau will not notify Red Cross.
    We assume all buildings here to be occupied until proven otherwise, conditions willing of course.
    There is no hard fast rule for determination on whether or not it's ocupied, just the company officer's discretion and opinion.

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    I have a question, especially to PFDTruck 18. you mention that there are times when crackheads will make entry through the roof and keep the lower levels all sealed up. well, if you have a building that is condemed by whatever agency does it (fire prevention, building dept, etc), has known holes in the floors, and who knows what else inside it, are you still going to do an interior search if it catches fire?
    If my basic HazMat training has taught me nothing else, it's that if you see a glowing green monkey running away from something, follow that monkey!

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    I saw something like this today... there is a derelict Pub in my Stations area. It is well boarded up...I mean with metal grilles over the ground floor doors and windows. Upstairs on the first floor there are a few wooden boards over some of the windows, but tellingly, some of them have been removed...including one right off of a flat roof of an extension...this is their way in and out.

    It isn't just junkies and wino's who use these. Often the 'Tree Huggers' (as we call them) you know, urban warriors, anarchists, professional protesters...they refuse to pay to live in places and generally live in empty building where because of complex laws once they go in the claim 'squatters rights' meaning they have some rights to stay there

    These places are often overcrowded and well barricaded againt bailiffs and the like,. With no electricity they use gas stoves or open fires making a massive risk. So a fire in one of these places is almost certain to involve people, requiring Firefighters to get through their barricades and booby traps to search for them. Fire Safety is the last thing on their list of worries.

    LIke most have said...there is no way anyone can treat a derelict as an empty building...there is a good chance people are inside and because of their circumstances they are probably more vulnerable than most.

    While we are talking about Pubs,...this one got torched early last week. As you can see it was going well when the Guys turned up, although the whole Ground floor was alight, at 01:30 in the morning it was likely that someone was on the premisis up stairs so the first floor had to be immediately laddered and searched. In the event no one was in there.
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    This was another derelict pub on my Stations area... as you can see it was open at the top and being squatted and boarded up downstairs, in this case the squatters torched it as they left...but you can see where the flames have buckled the metal boards on the ground floor.
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    [QUOTE=SteveDude]This was another derelict pub on my Stations area... QUOTE]


    Who else sees a problem with this? What is a pub doing being derelict and empty? I thought that you english were big drinkers? I hate to see a closed bar.

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    Quote Originally Posted by GFDLT1
    Who else sees a problem with this? What is a pub doing being derelict and empty? I thought that you english were big drinkers? I hate to see a closed bar.
    Bruv,
    The English are big Drinkers...but there aren't many English left in that part of London. The majority of the population are Muslim so they don't have much use for them...apart from burning them!!!!

    Most of the old East End 'Cockney' families (like my own) have moved out to the Suburbs of East and South East London or to Essex and Kent, the Counties just East of London.
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    Quote Originally Posted by DrParasite
    I have a question, especially to PFDTruck 18. you mention that there are times when crackheads will make entry through the roof and keep the lower levels all sealed up. well, if you have a building that is condemed by whatever agency does it (fire prevention, building dept, etc), has known holes in the floors, and who knows what else inside it, are you still going to do an interior search if it catches fire?

    Uh? Yeah! Thats what we get paid to do.

    When the dwelling/building/whatever is sealed, we have no idea what the interior condition is. You go as you can. Gain access as you can. Search what you can. Thats the way it is. Remember, we arent just running in standing up. Are we? Duck walk, crawl, whatever it takes sounding the floor as you go.
    Just another one of the 99%ers looking up.

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    I conquer with PFDTRUCK18. What are you going to do Dr.....watch it burn??
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    PFD, I'm glad you answered that question as you did, if you'd said otherwise I was going to be surprised.

    Unfortunately I believe this may be an example of a growing sect of FF's that rank the save-worthiness of potential victims based on socio-economic status and perceived building conditions. If you view the thread regarding the "would you act" principle if you arrived and someone was trapped, but you had no SCBA, you'll see the mindset thats becoming ever too prevalent. Too many safety freaks.

    Every building should be searched, as should cars that are on fire. Even if its too unsafe during the fire (a perception thats apparently too widely interpereted) it should be done afterwards. What do you tell someone who says their family is all out, but the 14 year old kid came home from the school dance early when he wasnt due home til a few hours later, and he was sleeping on the couch because he didnt want to wake others in the house up?? or whatever the possibilities are. Search everything.

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    Going back to DrParasites comment, even if a building is condemmed and apparently abandoned we do search them because at times we do find people in them. Other then the "squatters", in an urban area an abandoned building is a playground to many children. It's not an assumption, it's a fact I've seen with the fire department and an activity I've participated in as a kid. Since they know they aren't supposed to be in there they'll hide if we come by so we have to look for them. It's just the way it is.

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    Uh? Yeah! Thats what we get paid to do.

    When the dwelling/building/whatever is sealed, we have no idea what the interior condition is. You go as you can. Gain access as you can. Search what you can. Thats the way it is. Remember, we arent just running in standing up. Are we? Duck walk, crawl, whatever it takes sounding the floor as you go.
    Well put. Pretty simple here too, it's not "vacant" until we say it is.
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    I might have been a rookie on my old vollie department and in 6 months haven't done more than try out for a local FD here around Memphis but it was always explained to me that you assume a building is occupied unless and untill ALL occupants are present and/or accounted for.
    In any case of going in,I was expected to check the path before me and I expect the same if I am not the one holding the nozzle.It didn't matter to those showing me the ropes that it was a single story building or taller(we only had 3 stories max in my district),we searched if there was any chance that someone could be viable and when we left the scene after finding nothing,we went home with clear consciences.


    Quote Originally Posted by PFDTruck18
    Uh? Yeah! Thats what we get paid to do.

    When the dwelling/building/whatever is sealed, we have no idea what the interior condition is. You go as you can. Gain access as you can. Search what you can. Thats the way it is. Remember, we arent just running in standing up. Are we? Duck walk, crawl, whatever it takes sounding the floor as you go.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DrParasite
    I have a question, especially to PFDTruck 18. you mention that there are times when crackheads will make entry through the roof and keep the lower levels all sealed up. well, if you have a building that is condemed by whatever agency does it (fire prevention, building dept, etc), has known holes in the floors, and who knows what else inside it, are you still going to do an interior search if it catches fire?

    Like I said in the other thread, the fire must have started somehow! The searches must be done. Buildings dont just "catch fire".
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    It's not vacant if firefighters are inside. Once the first engine company sets foot in the door there are people in there. The building may be a piece of crap but now it's occupied. There is a life hazzard, us. You have to look at it different now.

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    We get alot of these fire's. Are city is a little detroit, people are moving outside of the city. Arson in this town is an everyday thing. There are less vacant building fires now (2-3 a week). Five years ago we would go out 2 or 3 times a night. Most of them would be working. My first fire as a paid FF was at a vacant house. We fight these fires and search the structure just like any other structure.

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    Quote Originally Posted by MG3610
    Unfortunately I believe this may be an example of a growing sect of FF's that rank the save-worthiness of potential victims based on socio-economic status and perceived building conditions. If you view the thread regarding the "would you act" principle if you arrived and someone was trapped, but you had no SCBA, you'll see the mindset thats becoming ever too prevalent. Too many safety freaks.
    I take offense to this comment. my question had nothing to do with the worthiness of any victims based on their socio economic status, but rather entering structure where you knew the floor wasn't solid, and more to the fact that there was a much higher possibility that you could fall through the floor and it wouldn't be related to the fire at all. but hey, we all know that firefighters never fall through a floor and have their names etched on the memorial in Emmitsburg.
    Quote Originally Posted by MG3610
    Every building should be searched, as should cars that are on fire. Even if its too unsafe during the fire (a perception thats apparently too widely interpereted) it should be done afterwards. What do you tell someone who says their family is all out, but the 14 year old kid came home from the school dance early when he wasnt due home til a few hours later, and he was sleeping on the couch because he didnt want to wake others in the house up?? or whatever the possibilities are. Search everything.
    so when you show up to a FULLY INVOLVED structure (not one room, the whole house is going), where everyone and everything in there is probably well done, your going to send a search crew in before the hose team starts putting out the fire? oh wait, your going to search after the fire is out. but you should make sure that your search gets done after the fire has been extiguished.
    If my basic HazMat training has taught me nothing else, it's that if you see a glowing green monkey running away from something, follow that monkey!

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    Quote Originally Posted by DrParasite
    so when you show up to a FULLY INVOLVED structure (not one room, the whole house is going), where everyone and everything in there is probably well done, your going to send a search crew in before the hose team starts putting out the fire? oh wait, your going to search after the fire is out. but you should make sure that your search gets done after the fire has been extiguished.
    DrP.....here's my take on it. Not Every building that is vacant, is in shambles. New construction for one...comes to mind. No utilities yet or not turned on, no tenenents....just about done....etc, etc. I know in my area skells will seek these out for shelter(especially during work stoppages). These buildings are "vacant"......

    A good firemen knows the difference between making a ballzy move and suicide.....just my take on it....but...things can and will go wrong.

    Stay safe.
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    deleted....
    Last edited by MG3610; 05-16-2006 at 08:52 AM.

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    ................
    Last edited by DrParasite; 05-16-2006 at 10:48 AM. Reason: responding to a post that was deleted
    If my basic HazMat training has taught me nothing else, it's that if you see a glowing green monkey running away from something, follow that monkey!

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    Quote Originally Posted by VinnieB
    DrP.....here's my take on it. Not Every building that is vacant, is in shambles. New construction for one...comes to mind. No utilities yet or not turned on, no tenenents....just about done....etc, etc. I know in my area skells will seek these out for shelter(especially during work stoppages). These buildings are "vacant"......

    A good firemen knows the difference between making a ballzy move and suicide.....just my take on it....but...things can and will go wrong.

    Stay safe.
    Well stated. This is basically my position on the matter as well.

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