National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System: Roof Operations

Roof operations can be one of the most treacherous jobs you can be asked to do during a fire attack. Light weight construction and designer roofs, such as tile, offer an increased “live load” prior to the fire department ever arriving. Couple this with a live fire underneath and add inclement weather conditions like those noted in this report and now a truly hazardous environment exists.

Prior to commencing roof operations, several considerations need to be addressed. First, how are firefighters going to access the roof? Once they have gained access how can two egress points be safely established? Next, and most important, what is the roof made of? What is the support system like underneath? What is the location and extent of the fire underneath the roof? And what uncontrollable factors like rain or slippery surfaces are firefighters going to have to overcome to be safe? In this week’s featured firefighter near-miss report, the reporter stated that pitch of the roof and the slippery tile inhibited their safe progress towards the objective. The length from the edge of the roof to the peak also was a contributing factor as to why a roof ladder was not used. This report illustrates that several solutions to safely working on a roof need to be addressed prior to deploying firefighters to work.

“We were dispatched to a residential structure fire. Weather was rainy all day. The structure was a residential two-story house with a tile roof…Upon arriving on scene my captain asked me to throw a 24 foot extension ladder…After taking a second step on the roof I realized that it was very slippery, so I sat down on the roof and waited for my captain to come up with the rubbish hook…He then handed me the rubbish hook which I used to break some tiles around me and make a path to the chimney…The intent of breaking the tiles was to improve our footing. This worked until the tar paper became wet and the roof became slippery again…I started sliding down the roof until I hit the chimney. That prevented me from falling off the roof. My engineer helped me up and we finished our operations and got off the roof.”

The objective in this report was a zero clearance chimney that was producing large amounts of smoke. This became the main target of the roof crew and other concerns were not necessarily addressed. This report is a great example of the need to properly place aerial apparatus and work from the tips versus sending members to roofs that are already heavily loaded with construction materials and in this case water from the rain.

The following questions should be considered:

  1. Do you engage in regular training regarding building construction and various loads?
  2. What secondary options does your department use when a roof cannot be safely accessed by firefighters?
  3. Does your department provide regular training on roof operations utilizing aerial apparatus?
  4. Depending on the time of the year, is weather a consideration in your incident action plan?

Vertical ventilation of a roof is a cornerstone of aggressive interior attack. A coordinated effort between the incident commander, the roof crew and the safety officer are crucial to safely assigning firefighters to any roof.

Have you avoided a near-miss while performing roof operations? Submit your report to today to pass on your experience. For more on the value of firefighter near-miss reporting, CLICK HERE.

Note: The questions posed by the reviewers are designed to generate discussion and thought in the name of promoting firefighter safety. They are not intended to pass judgment on the actions and performance of individuals in the reports.


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