Fire Prevention & Protection, Firefighting, Truck Company

Reading A Building – Practicing The Theory

During 2005, we spent numerous articles describing a seven-point size-up to increase firefighters’ abilities to size-up buildings before they commit themselves to a structure for firefighting operations, which are normally conducted inside a structure that is being weakened every minute a fire is burning. Although firefighters are injured and killed every year as a result of interior firefighting operations, firefighters are also injured and killed every year as a result of exterior firefighting operations. Therefore, it is imperative that every person on the fireground continually look at a building that is exposed to fire (remember: buildings exposed to fire are really buildings going through a process of demolition) to determine the strengths and weaknesses of a building and if the building will give you the necessary time to do whatever you are planning to do in a safe manner.

With these thoughts in mind, let’s use the preceding “Reading A Building” series to analyze different types of buildings in a new series. Before we start, make sure you have the preceding series handy so you can refer to a more comprehensive explanation of the various factors we will discuss for each building. We will use the seven point size-up that was described in the previous series:

  1. Construction
  2. Roofs
  3. Style of Building
  4. Method of Construction
  5. Age of the Building
  6. Access/Egress
  7. Name on the Building and Utilities

For this article, let’s look at two structures that have the capability to make your day, and if you are an officer, possibly make you briefly consider why you are working that day. Remember that our seven point size-up consists of numerous factors that if present can give you a good idea of what to expect. These two buildings contain numerous factors that can lead to multiple problems on the fireground.

Building #1

First, a quick description that may not be evident: the photo was taken from the rear as the front of the building is virtually covered by trees and large bushes. Additionally, the ground dramatically slopes from the front of the building to the rear.

This is an obvious residential, but with a twist. If you look closely, notice the wooden ladders that are nailed to the left side and rear of the building. This is an indicator that this is a commercial type residential (remember the Uniform Building Code (UBC) requires at least two exits for commercial residentials) and not just a large single-family dwelling. Therefore, you can expect a potential extreme life hazard in concert with a difficult egress from the upper floors.

If you look closely, there are three occupied floors to this building.

What access? Remember the front is blocked with trees and bushes, the ground slopes front to rea,r and is also partially blocked by large bushes. For all practical purposes, there is no meaningful access to this building if you need ladders to rescue occupants.

This structure’s construction is older wood frame with wood shiplap exterior, making it a probable candidate for balloon frame construction. If there is two-wire service to the building, this would indicate knob and tube wiring.

There are several large attic vents that would indicate if a fire extended to the attic. Also, notice that most of the exterior windows are the same size. Expect the interior floor plan to different than you anticipate.

Building #2

This photo depicts the front and one side of the building:

This structure uses unreinforced masonry construction (look at the lintels over the windows). With a working fire, where would you park your apparatus? Answer: in the corners or more than double the height of the exterior walls out from the walls.

This roof is a bridge truss. This is a heavy grade of truss and indicates this building is very old. However, the brick walls and truss roof is a heavy grade of construction when compared to today. If a bowstring roof is dangerous (and it can be), then this is the same type of roof, just a different configuration. Also, notice the numerous HVAC units on the roof.

All of the windows have been covered up with what appears to be concrete cinder block. The important thought here is the only access/egress to structure is via the front and rear doors.

The name on the front of the building (Shooters) indicates this is some type of bar/night club, which canindicate high occupant load depending on the day of the week and time of day. Additionally, the number of cars in the parking lot can indicate the potential load.

Tthe only way in or out are two “mandoor” type doors in the front and the rear of the building. With a working fire on the weekend at midnight, you will have a major rescue consideration.

The electrical service is located on the corner of the building, is of moderate size, and is an underground service. The gas utility which is next to the electrical service is of a residential size.

Notice the metal façade on the front of the building.

If either of these buildings were in your district (or buildings similar to these gems), you should have them memorized and preplan your potential operations.

The Reading A Building archive can be found HERE.

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).