Fire Prevention & Protection, Firefighter Training, Truck Company

Reading A Building – Doors Vs Windows For Access/Egress

By John W. Mittendorf

The last Reading A Building edition ended with fire escape considerations. This week’s installment addresses door versus window issues, presenting an overview of the basic considerations as applied to access/egress.

Doors Vs Windows
When considering doors and windows for access/egress openings, several basic thoughts should come to mind:

  • Which opening is normally used by occupants?
  • Which opening is normally larger?
  • Which opening can be made larger with the least amount of effort?
  • And which opening can be opened with the least amount of effort?

Windows are relatively simple as they can be easily broken to provide quick access into the interior of a building. However, there are several “Rules of Engagement” to remember:

  • The size of a window can be an indicator of the floorplan of the building. For example, large windows might indicate display areas of commercial buildings, and living/dining rooms in residential structures. Smaller windows located higher up on a wall on residential structures can indicate a kitchen/bathroom as these windows are above a counter top.
  • Window glass comes in several noteworthy varieties:
    • Plate or annealed glass which can be easily broken but will break in large pieces. This is the least expensive glass and is commonly found in residential structures.
    • Tempered glass can be found in commercial and high rise buildings, and is not easily broken.
    • Glass with a plastic mylar film can be clear or shaded. This type of glass is similar to the windshield in automobiles and must be removed in a similar fashion.
  • If a window must be used for access/egress, remember to remove the entire window (glass and any restricting frames) as you may need to use the window for egress.
  • If access to windows in vacant buildings is restricted by plywood or other similar materials (or windows in residentials by security bars), remove as many obstructions as possible if fireground personnel will be entering the building. Remember, make a building safe and easy to exit.

Without a doubt, doors normally provide several advantages for access/egress when compared to windows. These include:

  • Larger, and sometimes, much larger sized.
  • Normal entry and exit point for occupants.
  • Allow entry and exit lower than windows (visibility, lower heat levels, etc).
  • Consist of four general types:
    • Sliding
    • Revolving
    • Overhead
    • Swinging

Similar to windows, when fireground personnel are committed to the interior of a structure, make the opening as large as possible, and, ensure there are at least two ways to exit a structure. With these basic thoughts in mind, here are two questions:

Question #1
Assume you are the second company to a fire in a residential dwelling and the first company has forced entry through the front door for an initial attack. Is forcible entry completed?

Question #2
Assume you are the first company to a fire in a concrete tilt-up commercial building. All things being equal, would you force entry through the front main door into the office area, or would you force entry through the rear overhead door that is used for loading and unloading materials?

You’ll find the answers to these questions in the next Reading A Building installment.

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).