Engine Company, Firefighting, Fireground Safety, Structural Firefighting, Truck Company

The Urban Attic Fire: An “Upside-Down” Basement Fire

Issue 4 and Volume 171.

BY BRIAN BUTLER Fires involving attics can be punishing and dangerous. They are common operations for urban departments in the northeast United States and wherever there are numerous 2½- to three-story wood-frame, single-family dwellings. Like basements and cellars, attics have unique dangers of which firefighters must be aware. Most urban attics are used for living space or storage and are accessed by interior stairs or through a hatch using pull-down stairs or a ladder. Some attics have exterior stair entrances, small windows, and dormers. This article focuses on the residential urban attic with interior stairway access used for storage or living space. Fire Causes The Federal Emergency Management Agency estimates there are 10,000 attic fires every year, most resulting from electrical malfunctions, lightning strikes, and electrical arcing. But in urban areas where the space is usually occupied, human error is also a factor in the origin of attic fires: Overloaded…

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