Firefighter Training, Firefighting, Truck Company

Reading a Building, Part 3

By John W. Mittendorf

Part 1
Part 2

In parts 1 and 2 of this series, I covered how modern construction is significantly different than the construction of just a few years ago and how fireground time has changed as a result. What you see on the exterior does not match what you’ve been trained to expect to find inside. Firefighters today need to “undress a building” to evaluate what is inside (strengths and hazards) and generate a workable idea of what they want to accomplish, and most importantly, how much time they have to safely accomplish their intended goal(s).

With these thoughts in mind, two additional items must be considered when reading a building: the “fireground clock” and how much time you have to make an impact on the fire. To some, the term “fireground clock” means the time a fire has been burning, dispatch time, time of response, type of materials that are burning, and other similar factors. Although these are important, the time it takes to make a visible impact on the fire is the most important consideration. When you arrive on scene and conduct your initial size up, ask yourself how long it will take to make a visible impact on the fire. The answer to this question will help determine whether you will employ interior or exterior operations. Consider the following factors when making your decision:

  • Size of fire and extension probabilities.
  • Time of access to fire.
  • Length of time to get your initial line into position.
  • Time to get water to the nozzle.
  • Last but not least, time to get all PPE operational.

These factors are of utmost importance because they will determine how much time you will “spot” a fire until you start the actual extinguishment. Remember, fires are dynamic. When you arrive on scene, the fire will not wait until you put it out. Rather, it will continue to burn and weaken the building until you take action. Consider the following examples:

  • Assume you stop several hundred feet from a well involved unattached garage fire with no noteworthy access considerations. How long will it take you to start the initial flow of water on this fire – probably 1.5 to 2 minutes. That means the fire will burn several additional minutes (from your arrival) until you start the flow of water on the fire, and this has not taken into account the actual time of extinguishment.
  • Assume you stop in front of a newer (read probable lightweight construction) two-story residential structure with visible fire on the second floor. How long will it take you to start the initial flow of water on this fire? Considering stretching the initial line, forcible entry, access to the second floor, etc., assume five minutes. This means the fire in this scenario will burn 5 minutes before you start the initial flow of water. This example does not consider the two-in/two-out concept that may force you to wait several minutes before you have sufficient personnel to initiate an interior attack.

In our next article, we will continue to examine the concept of fireground time.

John W. Mittendorf joined the Los Angeles City (CA) Fire Department (LAFD) in 1963, rising to the rank of captain II, task force commander. In 1981, he was promoted to battalion chief and in the year following became the commander of the In-Service Training Section. In 1993, he retired from LAFD after 30 years of service. Mittendorf has been a member of the National Fire Protection Research Foundation on Engineered Lightweight Construction Technical Advisory Committee. He has provided training programs for the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Maryland; the University of California at Los Angeles; and the British Fire Academy at Morton-in-Marsh, England. He is a member of the editorial advisory board of Fire Engineering and author of the books Truck Company Operations (Fire Engineering, 1998) and Facing the Promotional Interview (Fire Engineering, 2003).