Firefighting, Truck Company

Reading A Building – Access And Egress

By John W. Mittendorf

To date, this series has covered five basic factors you should evaluate when reading a building:

  • Type of construction
  • Roofs
  • Style
  • Method
  • Age of the building

This installment covers access and egress considerations.

Access and Egress
When a building is exposed to fire, three factors collectively combine to reduce the building to a parking lot:

  • Gravity wants the building;
  • Fire weakens structural members; and
  • Water weighs 8.35 lbs per gallon (if you are using hose lines for extinguishment).

Therefore, when preparing to enter a building that is exposed to fire for any reason, you should consider how you are going to enter the building, and more importantly, how you will exit the building. Additionally, entry and exit points are also used by occupants, so evaluate these points for firefighter entry and exit options as well as occupant exit considerations.

Before examining several types of buildings with noteworthy access and egress challenges, let’s review one basic access and egress fireground rule: there should be a minimum of two openings available to interior fireground personnel, but the more the better. Why? If the 2005 fireground now features flashover as a common potential fireground problem, then interior personnel should evaluate the number of ways to exit a structure if the need suddenly arises. Remember, personnel who have been caught in flashover-type conditions commonly verify that you have 3-5 seconds to exit a building if caught in a flashover. Do not limit yourself to one way in and one way out. Also, remember that most firefighters who die during interior firefighting operations die from running out of air and resultant smoke inhalation. I guarantee that if an environment suddenly becomes untenable and/or you run out of air, your primary concern will be locating the nearest exit opening.

Let’s look at examples of buildings and their variety of entry/exit challenges.

Vacant Buildings
Vacant buildings, particularly buildings that are boarded up, can be the most dangerous buildings you will encounter. You can expect to find substandard construction, holes in the floors, and other similar problems, but initially, covered doors and windows confront you. The more openings you create during suppression operations (and the sooner the better), the safer your interior operations become.

Concrete Tilt Up
Quite often, concrete tilt up type commercial occupancies have a single-man door into the office area, one or two overhead doors in the rear of the building, and no windows. If fire conditions and resource space permit, go for the overhead doors as the resultant openings will be significantly larger than a single-man door which may also allow entry under a mezzanine.

Security Bars
Security bars are becoming more popular in numerous municipalities as the concern for security increases. Normally, security bars will be placed over all windows (and doors) for maximum security. Therefore, the more you remove, the better, particularly in areas where interior personnel are expected to be operating.

The next installment will continue with access and egress considerations.

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).