Barn Fire Tactics and Strategies, Part 2: Cross Barns

By Chris Willis

My previous article discussed hazards firefighters might face when dealing with fires in agricultural barns. The second part of this article deals with cross barns, or "mega barns."

Cross barns refer to a combination barn and living quarters. They are usually super-sized.

The first two photos below show the left side of the barn and the right side of a cross barn, respectively.

When facing these barns, be very careful in regard to operations, response, and size-up.

The preplanning process starts from the moment the barn is built. When that barn goes up, start developing a game plan for an emergency response. Let's take a look at the preplanning process for one of these "mega barns."

PREPLANNING

When you learn about one of these mega barns going up in your area, you have a couple of options. Try to start preplanning as the structure is being built; be there to see the wiring going in, and determine how far the studs in the walls are set apart from one another (you can't always go by code--if things aren't being done by the book, here is your chance to catch it and put a stop to it). Otherwise, you must preplan after the barn is up and in place. I like to preplan from day one of the build, since I prefer to be involved with the blueprints and see how the barn is being constructed. This does a few things: You get to know the owners, which can help with public relations as well as allow you to do some fire prevention talks pertaining to the "mega barn." It also allows your crew to become familiar with the structure: the builder knows his work inside and out. If your firefighters know the building layout and construction in the same way, they will be better prepared for an emergency at the structure. Some things to look for are the following.

Barn Fire Tactics and Strategies, Part 2: Cross Barns

Yes,  pull stations in a barn.

Barn Fire Tactics and Strategies, Part 2: Cross Barns

Preplanning from day one helps familiarize your crews with the building construction. Some of these barns are heavy timber (Type 4) construction; others are built Type 1 or 2. In the following photo, note that the barn is a cross between a heavy timber and a lightweight steel truss barn.

 

It is critical to identify the type of structure you are dealing with. Which do you think would go first in this photo--the wood beam or the steel trusses? On the left side toward the middle of the photo is a catwalk, meaning it is a two-story structure.

Barn Fire Tactics and Strategies, Part 2: Cross Barns

In this photo, we see a sprinkler line. Note that the steel trusses are just bolted to the I-beams .

Barn Fire Tactics and Strategies, Part 2: Cross Barns

Note how all the weight is BOLTED to the support. How long do you think this will last under heavy fire conditions?

Barn Fire Tactics and Strategies, Part 2: Cross Barns

Lightweight steel trusses in a barn.

 

The above photo was the roof setup to the utility/storage room. Here we see breaker boxes--the "big brother" versions of what you would find in a house. All this inside a barn!

Barn Fire Tactics and Strategies, Part 2: Cross Barns

This photo shows what looks like a random door, except it is the main point of access to the second floor; several full-style apartments are present. (I was unable to get pictures of the living quarters.)

Barn Fire Tactics and Strategies, Part 2: Cross Barns

This vehicle is not a tractor, but rather construction equipment loaded with fuel and hydraulics. This equipment under fire conditions could create a near-zero visabilty setting for your attack and search teams.

Yes, these are solar panels on a barn. Notice the windows above them, which are the windows to the previously mentioned apartments. There is nothing traditional about this type of barn.

HOW TO SET UP YOUR APPARTUS

At emergency calls in these structures, pay close attention to rig placement and approach. For example, are local roads and bridges going to hold responding apparatus? Don't try to take a 40,000- or 45, 000-pound apparatus over a bridge rated for 38,000 pounds. This requires preplanning. I know of a certain bridge trucks cannot get across, but our engines can; this may require your engine crews to be ready to do truck work in some situations.

Another issue is location. Sometimes these mega barns are way off the main roads, complicating access and water supply. In some cases, multiple apparatus may not be able to drive up to the property; you will have to stage them.  This can either help or hurt you: If you have to relay pump, it's nice to have your engines in a row, but it can pose problems for personnel getting to the command post or getting tools off the rigs. For example, if you have rapid intervention team (RIT) duty and you are 50 yards or more from the front of the house, you must bring all the tools with you to the RIT staging area.

Another concern with rig placement is water supply. If you are on a two-lane road and you require a water-shuttle operation, you don't want to block your tender access.  

Barn Fire Tactics and Strategies, Part 2: Cross Barns

Notice how the chauffeur is checking his clearance as the firefighter is preparing to set up for an attack line to come off the front-bumper discharge.  The chauffeur is making sure that his tenders can set up a dump tank at the rear of the engine. Dump, and then pull away is "bread-and-butter" rig placement for water-shuttle operations.

Barn Fire Tactics and Strategies, Part 2: Cross Barns

One major problem is finding the location of the fire building. For example, I have seen a farm that had mega barns and houses scattered throughout the farm area. There were enough streets that it appeared to be a small town. As a second- and third-due, this can really create problems if  you are unfamiliar with the area, especially if you are a covering officer.

Barn Fire Tactics and Strategies, Part 2: Cross Barns

What you see on that post is the number 13. This was a system that the Lexington (KY) Fire Department had set up for its coverage areas. It worked like this: when you had an incident on a farm, it would come up as incident at fire gate "blank" (in this case, fire gate 13). The farmers knew these gates well and could help firefighters get dispatched to the correct location

TACTICS AND STRATEGIES FOR THE FIRE ATTACK

After all the preplanning (and, hopefully, training) on what do to and how to set up at one of these mega barns, what do you do when you get there?

A thermal imaging camera (TIC) is extremely useful, but if you don't have one, you can still manage. It is critical to locate the fire, even more so than in fires at homes. As you can see from the photo below, firefighters from Engine 13 are advancing down a long passageway that's an easy stretch for their 2½-inch line, but if this is not an easy task for your crews to perform, get out and train hard.

Barn Fire Tactics and Strategies, Part 2: Cross Barns

Line selection is critical at these fires. On reason is water supply. If you are in an area that has no hydrants or sources of water to draft from, a 2½-inch attack line will be difficult to use unless you put in the work beforehand to make sure you have enough water. If you are flowing 180 gallons per minute (gpm), you can run through your tank water in a hurry. If you run a ram monitor or any other little blitz-style monitor, which can flow 500 gpm, you will empty your tank water very quickly. The plus side of this, however, is that, if your lines are placed correctly, you will knock down a lot of fire with that tank water and knock it down fast. One thing you can do to correct this situation is to have a water shuttle plan in writing so that if one of these mega barns goes up, your water supply is preset and ready to go.

Another reason line selection is so important is layout (remember the photo with the catwalk?) When you have to stretch around tight corners, navigate stairways, and then enter apartment rooms, your firefighters will struggle with maneuverability, in which case you may be better off opting for a smaller 1¾-inch line. You may consider hoisting the hoseline up to the floor you're operating on (for example, in the barn discussed above, you could hoist your hose up to the catwalk and then take it to the fire room).

Hose placement is very critical at these fires. Good hose placement will buy you time; poor hose placement will have firefighters trying to catch up with the fire. In the photos below, notice that the working length firefighters have set up for the advance are set so that so they won't have to drag it around corners and sideways--they will be able to proceed straight in a line, ready to make their advance. If your crews are fighting the hose, they are going to tire more quickly than if they were fighting the fire. It should be noted that this is a four-person crew--two firefighters, one chauffeur, and the officer.

Barn Fire Tactics and Strategies, Part 2: Cross Barns

When stretching down one of these long hallways, focus on your stance on the line. In the photo below, the nozzleman is set up to advance the line while flowing water. He has good positioning on the line: The nozzle is not tucked in his armpit (which renders it useless), his backup man is right there and ready with him for the fight. When you have a high fuel load, you must be ready to flow water quickly .  Also, his body positioning lets him keep his head up and in a position that allows him to look around for victims and fire behavior.

Barn Fire Tactics and Strategies, Part 2: Cross Barns

Barn Fire Tactics and Strategies, Part 2: Cross Barns

Another option is to use staffed monitors. In the photos  below, firefighters use a ram monitor.

Barn Fire Tactics and Strategies, Part 2: Cross Barns

Barn Fire Tactics and Strategies, Part 2: Cross Barns

Note the reach of the stream and that one firefighter can manage the line with ease. This allows for several things on the fireground:

  • If you have limited staffing, these monitors will help you in that they allow you to manage the 2½-inch line with only one firefighter.
  • They allow you to reach deep into the building, giving you some leeway when it comes to crawling up to the seat of the fire. These tools will reach from a good way off.
  • The nice thing with these tools is that you can knock down a lot of fire quickly, then take a gated wye and put it on the end of the monitor, and hook a hotel pack up to it for mop-up.

FORCIBLE ENTRY

Many mega barns have a cross between residential locks and commercial grade bar-style security. This is primarily to keep animals from running around loose (in this case, Lexington thoroughbreds).

Closed

Open

On these security bars, use your rotary saws to either cut the door around the lock in a V-shape or force the door's lock. Make sure you chock it open.

Barn Fire Tactics and Strategies

That's a roll-down door on a barn. With these doors, you have options: Cut an inverted "V" into the door, or cut the lock and keep the door chocked open using tools like pike poles and clamps.

THE SEARCH

As an engine company member, you may be doing searches and other truck work during emergencies at these mega barns.  In the photo below, the control firefighter does a quick sweep of the stalls to make sure no one is there. In this photo, the firefighter uses a TIC for the job.

Barn Fire Tactics and Strategies, Part 2: Cross Barns

Barn Fire Tactics and Strategies, Part 2: Cross Barns

Vent-enter-search is another option. This photo shows a room is on the inside of the structure; the window is a good point of entry from the exterior. In a lot of cases, this is the best method to perform a search.

Another option is to use a search rope and perform an anchored search by anchoring the rope off to a post or the rig. Another option is to do a search with a rope attached to your hoseline. One reason to use a search rope is that, because of all the material and open spaces inside these structures, you will encounter extremely poor visibility and have a high risk of getting disoriented.

ARE PEOPLE INSIDE?

Barn Fire Tactics and Strategies, Part 2: Cross Barns

Barn Fire Tactics and Strategies, Part 2: Cross Barns

The pictures above show one indication of possible occupants. In this case, you may have several victims in which need saving. In many of these barns, the fact the fire can spread rapidly because of high fuel loads, thereby making search difficult or impossible.

Barn Fire Tactics and Strategies, Part 2: Cross Barns

The photos above show the high fuel in some of these structures. An additional concern is the presence of trusses, which could mean severe fire spread. There is also significant overhead weight in these mega barns, which leads to the potential of collapse under fire and water.

Barn Fire Tactics and Strategies, Part 2: Cross Barns

The presence of cars at these mega barns is a tell-tale sign that someone is there. Their exact location will vary--these structures have many rooms,  from stables to equipment-holding areas for saddles and other equipment, to name a few. HVAC units are another great indicator of occupancy, especially if they are window mounted.

I call them mega barns for the simple reason that they are huge. For example, a news story recently dealt with a fire in suburban Illinois that destroyed a 25,000 square-foot metal horse barn. In many cases, if you can save the contents of some of these barns (horse, tractors, and so on) it represents a huge save for the livelihood of property owners. In many cases, the contents are more valuable than the barn itself.

Special thanks to Captain Eddie Crews of the Lexington Fire Department for his help with this article.

Chris Willis has been in the fire service for 12 years and is a firefighter with the Falmouth (KY) Fire Department.

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