Firefighter Training, Firefighting, Truck Company

Reading A Building – Name And Utilities

By John W. Mittendorf

The last installment left off with doors and windows, and two questions. Let’s look at the two questions and then examine the last part of our size-up series: name and utilities.

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?

Answer: Based on the concept of two openings (minimum) that allow ingress and egress, the answer is no. In addition, as you size up a structure, ask yourself how easy egress will be once you are inside. The answer to that question will also answer whether or not additional forcible entry is necessary.

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 used for loading and unloading materials?

Answer: Based on the concept that the larger the opening the better, the rear overhead door would be a superior opening. Additionally, consider the following advantages of using the rear door:
  • If the front man-door into the office area is broken, glass will likely be on the ground where personnel are entering and exiting the building, creating a potential hazard.
  • If there is a mezzanine over the office area, personnel will be working under another potential hazard.

Name And Utilities
The name on the front of a building can be an excellent indicator of what to expect inside the building. As an example, although residential buildings normally do not have a name on the front (unless they are commercial residential buildings), every firefighter is aware that occupants could be inside. Depending on the time of day, this number can vary. However, when observing a commercial building, your concern should center on what is inside the building, and the name is an excellent indicator. Additionally, any materials, stock, and/or storage outside a building can indicate of what is inside.

For this discussion, let’s consider electrical and gas utilities as our main concerns. Always look at the size and number of the utilities that enter a building. This is excellent indicator of a potential interior hazard. Following are several examples:

Most firefighters are familiar with a typical residential triplex electrical service (two insulated wires and one bare supporting wire) which is standard and not a major concern. However, consider the following:

  • Duplex service (two wires): Used before triplex, and is an indicator of knob and tube wiring. This service was also used about the same time period as balloon frame construction.
  • Quadraplex (four wires): Three phase service (instead of single phase commonly used in residential structure) is indicative of heavy electrical needs within a structure.
  • Large transformers or a bank of transformers: Obviously the electrical needs within the structure far exceed a normal electrical service.

Look at the size of the gas meter or meters and resultant piping that enter a structure. There is a significant difference between a residential type meter, a large commercial type meter, and a rotary vane meter. The size or type of meter indicates the amount of gas being used or type of process inside a building.

If you are thinking about entering a structure that is in complete darkness or is charged with smoke resulting in minimal or zero visibility, and you see heavy utilities entering the same structure, reevaluate your priorities.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).