N.J. Lieutenant: Use Caution During Roadside Calls

Bergenfield Lt. James Kirsch told Firehouse Expo attendees to always be on the lookout for what dangers they might encounter during roadside fires, accidents and other emergencies involving vehicles.

Refrigerated trucks, because of their construction to keep items inside cold, are usually virtually air tight, Kirsch said. So, when they catch fire, or are pressurized with smoke, doors and openings can burst open violently harming anything in their paths, including firefighters, Kirsch said, ripping a page from recent firefighting news headlines.

The refrigerant in the trucks area also hazardous, hence the repetitive call for use of SCBAs, he said.

Roadside food trucks are also very hazardous in fire conditions typically having large, on-board supplies of propane and cooking oils. And, on the other end, garbage trucks are dangerous when on fire, not only because of their hydraulic-powered packers, but for the content they carry.

"When you get called to a garbage truck fire, the best thing you can see is the pile of garbage burning in the middle of the road because that means it's out of the truck," he said.

Welding trucks, pool maintenance vehicles and a myriad of service related vehicles each present unique challenges, Kirsch said.

"Look for the clues," he said. "If you've got placards, great, but if you don't have them, it doesn't mean it's not dangerous."

One of the most unusual mobile hazards Kirsch has encountered is a mobile electrical substation, a vehicle, or device, public utilities can place anywhere in the grid to help with power distribution, he said.

"And it's usually done without regard where it is, like in front of a school or a day care or something like that," he said.

Mobile substations are hazardous because they can handle up to 26,000 volts and they are often filled with hazardous materials.

Kirsch said that whenever there's a vehicle fire, or any kind of vehicle emergency, its wheels need to be chocked. He showed a video of a burning truck rolling into a fire engine and another box truck on an incline losing its brakes and rolling across a busy four-lane roadway almost hitting a building. And when it comes to rolling, Kirsch said he doesn't allow anyone to stand or work in front of vehicles for fear of it rolling or for fear of bumpers or hydraulic pistons for hoods and doors launching at responders after being damaged.

Above all else, Kirsch said firefighters need to be observant when it comes to vehicle fires and emergencies. Complacency can kill or seriously injure he said.

"You don't know what you have in your district unless you go out and look around," Kirsch said, noting that he's often known to take the engine company out patrolling to find things like the mobile substation. "You've got to keep your eyes open and look for the clues."