Our Most Hazardous Environment

Basement fires are some of the most treacherous incidents to which we respond. A large majority of firefighter fatalities or significant injuries occur at what were ultimately basement fires. There is a need in today’s fire service for early recognition of these fires and it is my goal to provide methods that firefighters can use to identify these fires early, as well as multiple options for attacking these fires.
Firefighter Nicholas A. Martin’s (District of Columbia Fire Department) “Basement Fires” Hands On Training (H.O.T.) Workshop reviewed several case studies involving firefighter injuries and near misses, some of which Martin was personally involved in as a firefighter.
“I chose to do a presentation on basement fires for a reason,” said Martin. “That’s because somewhere around 6 or 7 years ago I started realizing that every bad fire I had gone to had started in a basement.
“By looking at these incidents, some of the things we need to be doing will explain themselves,” he continued. “We discussed policies that can be implemented to ensure that basement fires are not overlooked and outline options for attack based on building construction and our available resources.”
“I am hoping that students will go home seeking to implement the concepts we discuss in their own departments and that this influence will spread nationally,” continued Martin. “My goal is to make sure that every firefighter knows when they are fighting a basement fire, before it is too late. Hopefully with early recognition and sound tactics we can reduce the occurrence of injury and death that is attributed to these fires.”
Martin’s hope for attendees to this workshop was that they realize how often basement fires are overlooked and how this is a path to tragedy. “The importance of verifying the status of the basement early in the incident cannot be overemphasized. If we know what we are faced with, we can deal with it‑but too often we have no idea. We must also realize that there is more than one option when attacking these fires, and that a different approach may be indicated based on our size-up, building construction and layout, or available resources.”