1. #1
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    Default Once again....Why we search "vacants"

    Once again....

    NY TIMES

    February 6, 2008

    2 Die in Harlem and Bronx Fires
    By ROBIN STEIN and BRUCE LAMBERT

    Two people were killed in separate fires in Manhattan and the Bronx on Tuesday morning, fire and police officials said.

    A woman died and a man was critically injured in a fire that swept through an abandoned Harlem apartment building where they were squatters, Fire Department officials said.

    The woman, in her mid-20s and identified only as Titi, was found dead on the top floor of the five-story building at 79 West 127 Street, where a blaze erupted around 5:40 a.m., Fire Marshal Peter F. Clinton said.

    The injured man, Michael Outerbridge, 42, was taken to Harlem Hospital with second- and third-degree burns, Marshal Clinton said.

    Firefighters rescued three people from the roof, but seven firefighters were treated for minor injuries, said Michael Parrella, a Fire Department spokesman. A preliminary investigation indicated that the fire had spread from candles in a third-floor bedroom.

    The second fire, which occurred about 11 a.m., claimed the life of a 59-year-old man in an apartment at 1317 West Farms Road in Crotona Park East, the police said. The victimís name was withheld pending family notification.

    Three other occupants, two men and a woman, were taken to Jacobi Medical Center, where they were in stable condition.

    In the area of the Manhattan fire, Jane McQueen-Mason, secretary of the 127th Street Block Association, said residents had been waging a long battle with city authorities to clear the building of a persistent stream of squatters and drug users.

    After several people were rescued there in a fire last spring, Ms. McQueen-Mason said, the city removed the sidewalk shed and erected concrete and steel barricades in the front.

    But vagrants soon found their way inside the rear of the building, she said.

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    That's impossible. The article clearly stated that the buildings were vacant...
    I am a complacent liability to the fire service

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    You know, this sort of thing NEVER happens in Louisiana.
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    Quote Originally Posted by fireman4949 View Post
    You know, this sort of thing NEVER happens in Louisiana.
    Do you prefer live bait or a lure?
    Last edited by FDAIC485; 02-06-2008 at 04:11 PM.
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    around here its not only the homeless, the neighborhood kids will wriggle into a vacant through whatever little holes they can find.

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    Quote Originally Posted by nameless View Post
    around here its not only the homeless, the neighborhood kids will wriggle into a vacant through whatever little holes they can find.
    Absolutely...Many times as a kid when we found a new vacant building we'd get inside anyway we could. It was like a day at an amusement park.

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    Search 'vacants' by all means but be sure to adjust your tactical approach by applying risk-based principles in your size-up .... unless there is a 'known' life hazard.

    Don't just wade in there! Take sensible precautions and reduce the risks to yourself and your crews.

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    ....

    I think a can of worms was just opened by the guy above me...


    him and the louisana guy will get along just fine.

    bottom line: until proven otherwise, a house, no matter how badly it looks or what not, is not vacant till its searched.


    And, what says that you treat a vacant house different than a occupied house?

    Foreclosures are vacant homes, are they not?
    So are model homes....
    homes recently built but not occupied

    Is there a price value you put on a home before you make entry?

    Do you do a walk around, measuring the approximate area of the house, taking into account the neighborhood, locale, water system, schools, and real estate value's...

    pull out your calculator, do some simple math, compare it to a chart, and determine if its meets the criteria to make entry to?

    "Well, the house is valued at 54,000 but we only go in for 55,000. I sure hope no one is in there..."
    The Box. You opened it. We Came...

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    Quote Originally Posted by JHR1985 View Post
    ....

    I think a can of worms was just opened by the guy above me...


    him and the louisana guy will get along just fine.

    I disagree. I agree with what Batt18 was saying. Don't read into it too much.

    Batt18 didn't tell anyone to not search a vacant building, he told people to use a risk benefit in their decision making process, and to not just "wade" in. That's something that is done at every fire we go to. I don't know of anyone who just "wades" into a fire.

    Well, now that I think of it, we do have some window lickers who might. Well, after a second thought, our window lickers really aren't ever in any danger at a fire.


    Is there a price value you put on a home before you make entry?
    Absolutely. The price is how much fire you have, and how much you can put out.
    There are times in which we back out, there are also times when we never go in. The price tag is determined at each individual fire.
    Last edited by jasper45; 02-07-2008 at 04:00 PM.

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    Your size up definately should influence how aggressive you get with your search, and other tactics. Recently made vacant by occupants moving out. Or abandoned and left to decay for many years. Also volume and location of fire among other factors. I'm sure just about every urban FF can tell about finding "outdoorsmen" in buildings that were abandoned for years.

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    you shouldnt put a dollar sign on a house fire.

    it should be A: can we put it out without getting anyone hurt or B: its about to collapse.

    Just because it may only be worth 5, 10 or 15k doesnt make it not worth out time. That might just be all the money that person can afford. Who are we to judge what houses are to burn down just because they might not fit our expectation of how a house should look.

    That house is all that person owns.

    I bet there are people here who would work 2x or even 3x as hard to save a millionare's house than to save a house belonging to one of the lower class.

    You should determine the initial tactics at a fire based of personal and personel safety... not the value of the structure, the look, and so forth.

    If you just rolled up on vacant homes on fire and did exterior attacks, I know there are SEVERAL posts previously by FFFRED and others to show just how clueless some people really are
    The Box. You opened it. We Came...

    "You'll take my life but I'll take your's too. You'll fire musket but I'll run you through. So when your waiting for the next attack, you'll better understand there's no turn back."

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    Quote Originally Posted by JHR1985 View Post
    you shouldnt put a dollar sign on a house fire.


    I know there are SEVERAL posts previously by FFFRED and others to show just how clueless some people really are

    Clearly you were clueless as to what I was talking about. I wasn't talking about money.

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    that was a general statement. If I was refering to you, I would have used the quote feature.

    Like this...

    Clearly you were clueless as to what I was talking about. I wasn't talking about money.
    The Box. You opened it. We Came...

    "You'll take my life but I'll take your's too. You'll fire musket but I'll run you through. So when your waiting for the next attack, you'll better understand there's no turn back."

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    Wasn't even going to get envolved in this discussion again as it accomplishes nothing, but since my name has been drawn in without even posting ....

    fireman4949:
    You know, this sort of thing NEVER happens in Louisiana.


    Actually it does. I'm sure it does in New Orleans on a regular basis. Probably an issue in Baton Rouge as well. I know it happens across the river in Shreveport a couple of times a year. It probably occurs now and then next to us in Bossier City. There may be other communties in the state where occupied vacants or abondoned strucxtures are an issue.

    I'm sure it happens all the time in NYC where this article is from. And Chicago. And Houston.

    What does this have to do with our community?

    I'll say it again. For the last time. It's not an issue here. You can come down here yourself and ask our 20-year plus members. You can ask any of the Sheriff's department deputies assigned to our area. You can ask our residents. If there are reasonable indicators that there may be folks inside an abondoned(which is how we would define this property), and the initial risk assessment says that we can enter and search and extinguish the fire with a manageable amount of risk, we will. If we have no reason to beleive there is anyone inside, which is the case the majority of the time, and the initial risk assessment says there is anything more than minimal danger to our primarily volunteer folks we won't. It's that simple. It works here.

    NO matter what not, is not vacant till its searched bottom line: until proven otherwise, a house, no matter how badly it looks

    You can operate under that premis if you choose. We don't. If we have relaible information that tells us it's empty we operate as it's empty. We base our tactical decisions on that.

    When you produce a story such as this from our district, we can talk. We are not NYC, NO, Shreveport, Chicago or LA. Our operations are based on our community and the issues we have here. It works. Period.

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    FDNY Procedure states - Fires in 'Vacants' ....

    Since vacant buildings have low victim potential, they should be searched within the limits of safety after building conditions have been evaluated and the fire has been largely extinguished.
    The Fire Department is charged with the protection of life and property from the ravages of fire. However, as has been emphasized, the life hazard at vacant building fires is almost solely that of our operating members.

    The fact that some interior operation may be needed is the reason considerable detail has been taken as it pertains to the safety of our members operating in, and around, the building, Nevertheless, it must be stressed, The Primary Emphasis in Vacant Building Operations is That of EXTERIOR ATTACK.
    Safe tactics based on a risk-based evaluation of fire conditions, structural awareness and likelihood of occupancy. Balance risk versus gain but don't treat every building the same. Abandoned buildings and vacants may present additional hazards such as holes in floors, weakened structure from previous fires and several windows breached (glass removed) allowing abnormally rapid fire spread.

    Take care.

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    Quote Originally Posted by fireman4949 View Post
    You know, this sort of thing NEVER happens in Louisiana.

    I'm sure that you were being facetious about it.
    The last time I was in NOLA,the big news was the benevolent NOPD evicting transients from their squatters' tents right across from City Hall.
    My guess is that they found whatever shelter that they could,including finding or making an opening into a vacant building.
    This is why we should make at least a cursory search of any residential fire.As an officer taught me"Houses= occupied until you know better".
    You know your district,you should know where the homeless hang out and where they most likely would hide from the elements and build a fire to keep warmer,which as we know,can start a bigger blaze resulting in a dispatch to your station.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Batt18 View Post
    FDNY Procedure states - Fires in 'Vacants' ....





    Safe tactics based on a risk-based evaluation of fire conditions, structural awareness and likelihood of occupancy. Balance risk versus gain but don't treat every building the same. Abandoned buildings and vacants may present additional hazards such as holes in floors, weakened structure from previous fires and several windows breached (glass removed) allowing abnormally rapid fire spread.

    Take care.
    Exactly!

    I think at the heart of this debate is that we all may not be talking about the same things in regards to "searches" of "vacant" buildings.

    General statements like "all building have to be searched" can easily be interpretted as the FD shows up and somebody goes in to do a search because "it's not vacant until we search and say it is" regardless of what the fire conditions are.

    I know that the "search" some have referred to on a defensive fire is taking place well into the incident after the fire has been knocked down. I think there's a big difference between doing an aggressive search under active fire conditions and "sifting thru the ashes" after the fire. They both may be "searches", but hardly the same thing.

    Additionally, some may not be understanding how some of us need to operate and mistakenly interpretting it as though we don't do searches. For example, in my department we usually only have 6-7 FFs on duty. For us a primary search crew is not assigned initially unless we have a reasonable belief of or information indicating that a victim may be inside.

    It's not that we blindly believe that a "vacant" building doesn't need to be searched or whatever. It's simply because with minimal staffing at the onset, we have to prioritize our actions and take actions that'll produce the most benefit. Is the primary search of a "vacant" building or one in which the resident states "everybody is accounted for" a higher priority than stuff like exposure control, ventilation, back up lines if you don't have enough people to do all of these tasks yet?

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    Quote Originally Posted by LaFireEducator View Post
    Actually it does. I'm sure it does in New Orleans on a regular basis. Probably an issue in Baton Rouge as well. I know it happens across the river in Shreveport a couple of times a year. It probably occurs now and then next to us in Bossier City. There may be other communties in the state where occupied vacants or abondoned strucxtures are an issue.
    It most surely is. 1 out of 4 "vacant houses" have atleast 2 people living in them, in my district. Over haft of the vacant houses have the meter pans jumped, unless the power company cuts the drip loops at the pole.
    Down here if you assume building are empty you are going to need body bags.
    With in reason we treat all building as if someone is inside.

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    There's a first time for everything, even in Mayberry.

    The sole criteria for conducting a search is whether or not you think firefighters will get killed or seriously injured by going inside.

    Anything else is bull****.

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    Let's expand that to EVERY structure; residential, commercial, vacant, industrial, ALL schools and daycare centers no matter what staff said.
    We just has a small job in a daycare (sprinkler didn't even fuse, so their shouldn't have been any panic) well the staff stated three times that everyone was out and accountable, but guess what? Yep we found a kid sleeping in another classroom.
    Just another lesson, search EVERY building EVERY time. Fire stopping you is about the only exception.
    A true vacant building dosn't spontaneously combust, so something started the fire. That is good enough for me to start a search.
    By us we don't have that many vacants so while driving around we usually note what the layout is, tell the city if not secure and do a mini preplan just in case.

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    A true vacant building dosn't spontaneously combust, so something started the fire. That is good enough for me to start a search

    Ding ding ding. Give the man a prize.

    Of course, the problem is that a lot of people dont work in cities where they dont have vacant homes. Uppity snobs
    The Box. You opened it. We Came...

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    Quote Originally Posted by ADSNWFLD View Post
    Let's expand that to EVERY structure; residential, commercial, vacant, industrial, ALL schools and daycare centers no matter what staff said.
    We just has a small job in a daycare (sprinkler didn't even fuse, so their shouldn't have been any panic) well the staff stated three times that everyone was out and accountable, but guess what? Yep we found a kid sleeping in another classroom.
    Just another lesson, search EVERY building EVERY time. Fire stopping you is about the only exception.
    ADSN brother, this thread is full of brash 'macho' statements founded on nothing more than limited experience. I am certainly not including you in that category for you acknowledge that there are exceptions. However, the content and advice in this thread may be highly influential to younger lesser experienced firefighters or company officers so we must be somewhat guarded in the way we come across.

    Search EVERY building EVERY time - Fire stopping you is about the only exception.
    Now that is a misleading statement. You state that 'fire' stopping you is about the only exception (meaning it is not the only exception).

    What about a three person crew on-scene with no 'known' life risk? To search the interior in this situation may be a clear breach of OSHA regs.

    What about a 'vacant' that is known to have parts of floors missing and stairways partially burned through from previous fires? Do you really want to commit crews into heavy dark smoke and above raging fire, merely on the one in fifty chance that there is an occupant? How about we at least knock the fire down from the street before we send good people into such a hazardous environment based on the unlikely odds that there is someone there.

    Then there are conditions-based searches where any decision to search is made on the basis of large building/small fire/building just evacuated (maybe similar to the situation you describe in the school). This to me is an obvious search situation. I take it the kid was ok? Maybe protected from and unharmed by the smoke? Or was it a close call with resuc? I am picturing what you describe as a small fire (sprinkler intact) so not life threatening smoke ... reasonably good visibility etc. This is a completely different ball game to the crumbling vacant that is heavily involved!

    What about searches of dangerous structures with a hose-line? This is a great risk control measure to put in place. Did you know that the majority of occupants that are located in 'vacants/abandoned' are found by a crew advancing a hose-line?

    Lets all be clear in our message here. Nobody is saying
    don't search the interior unless you are assured that there is/are occupants
    . Its a common sense approach that is called for that again, balances any potential for gain against a potential for loss, or harm.
    • Interior operations must be based on available staffing
    • Interior operations must be '(fire)conditions based'
    • Interior operations must have sufficient 'risk control measures' (RCMs) in place
    • Interior searches ahead of, and above, the fire are hazardous
    • Interior searches in this way must be supported by confining actions
    • If there is a 'known' life hazard then exposure to greater risk may be acceptable but the approach must still be controlled

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    What about a three person crew on-scene with no 'known' life risk? To search the interior in this situation may be a clear breach of OSHA regs.
    I think that is the point, we never have a "no known life risk" situation. Hell, not that long ago we had a fire fatality in a semi trailer. (Likely homeless squatter). Our focus should allways be on our safety, but we have a high risk job. That is where experience should be our guide. If a known run down vacant with holes in the floor or open walls allowing unusuall fire spread is going our search will be less agressive, but we still should search. The search not only looks for life but fire spread also. The SOG should instruct us to search, it is up to the officer to limit that based on fire and building conditions.
    As for the OSHA regulations, if you suspect a life hazard and search accordingly you are compliant with the OSHA standard.

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    just remember: just because YOU wouldnt live in there doesnt mean that SOMEONE else might
    The Box. You opened it. We Came...

    "You'll take my life but I'll take your's too. You'll fire musket but I'll run you through. So when your waiting for the next attack, you'll better understand there's no turn back."

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    Quote Originally Posted by ADSNWFLD View Post
    I think that is the point, we never have a "no known life risk" situation. That is where experience should be our guide. If a known run down vacant with holes in the floor or open walls allowing unusual fire spread is going our search will be less aggressive, but we still should search. The search not only looks for life but fire spread also. The SOG should instruct us to search, it is up to the officer to limit that based on fire and building conditions.
    As for the OSHA regulations, if you suspect a life hazard and search accordingly you are compliant with the OSHA standard.
    Lots of statements stand out here that conform more to a 'risk-based' approach as discussed.
    • Situations may exist where our search must be less aggressive
    • The extent of our search should be based on building and fire conditions
    • That is where experience should be our guide
    • The search not only looks for 'life' hazard but fire spread also

    I agree with all of those statements and emphasise the points I made in the last post.
    • We never have a 'no life risk' situation
    • As for the OSHA regulations, if you suspect a life hazard and search accordingly you are compliant with the OSHA standard

    This is where local interpretation of the OSHA standard is varied and 'loopholes' are exploited in what is a poorly written standard.

    The IAFF do not support this stance and neither will many local state interpretations of the OSHA standard.

    Further, how do you define the term 'suspect'? The way you are suggesting this should be approached is that you should SUSPECT occupants at EVERY enclosed fire.

    That goes against risk-based concepts in every way because we KNOW that when an occupier informs us that ALL occupants are out and accounted for, the likelihood of any remaining within are 100-1. Of course there are situations when they are wrong but these situations are rare.

    So you have a house at 3am and the occupier assures you that his wife and two children are outside and safe, standing by his side. The fire is ventilation controlled and heavy smoke occupies the second floor with fire on the first floor. The question is ....

    Do you commit a crew to search the second floor before the primary attack line is in place? Or before the fire is knocked down? Or before ventilation of the second floor has taken place? At what stage do you commit?
    So you have a prior-damaged vacant burning at 5.40am with heavy fire in the basement extending up the stairs to the second floor. There were occupants in this building six months ago but do you have reason to suspect now? How far do you go in committing crews into a very dangerous situation? Do you enter at all? Do you take the fire from the interior and search after knockdown or control? Do you commit search teams into heavy smoke on all upper levels, knowing that there were occupants in this vacant six months ago but most vacants in this street are secured?

    If you are thinking about those options you are already approaching this from a risk-based methodology.

    If you are not thinking these options through then you are dangerous to both yourself and your crews!

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