Training Days: Training at a Vacant House

Article and photos by Tom Kiurski

On this training day, my department used a ranch-style home that was going to be torn down. The property owners wanted to take down the small cottage-style home and make a nicer, open, sprawling ranch that could easily overlook the woods on two sides. After brief introduction and discussion, I went to look the house over. It had been vacant for quite some time, and it was obvious that several animals had taken over the inside.

Outside training can be quite interesting and challenging, but this drill had to be put together quickly because of the
owner’s short time frame. It was decided that the structure would be used for a laddering scenario and some ventilation practice.
Laddering Exercise

The laddering exercise would consist of a review of ladders, their components, and the styles and lengths carried on our apparatus. You can always find a few people who have forgotten a few things about ladders over the years. During this exercise, several members asked to see the temperature-sensing label on the ladders, an easy feature to forget. We then discussed climbing angles and the rules of thumb that apply to a fire scene. The rule of thumb for roof access has changed over the years. Years ago, it was sufficient to have three rungs over the top of the roof; now the suggested number is five. Why the change? I imagine that five is more visible than three. In addition, we don’t have to change our center of gravity much to move from a roof to a ladder when five rungs are extended over the roof. Three rungs make us stoop down, which changes our center of gravity, making us more likely to slip, fall, or drop things off the roof. We then had the firefighters place the extension ladder and raise it to the proper height and stabilize it so that it was ready for climbing. Since this lot is on a grade, it was a good time to discuss how to chock the ladder spurs to help straighten out the ladder. Once done and discussed, we reversed the process—lowering the ladder and placing it back on the truck.

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(1) Is it possible to train on ladders too much?

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(2) Many things can be covered in a basic ladder drill.

Roof Ventilation

In the other training scenario, we covered ventilation on the roof of a typical residential house. We discussed the types of ventilation and what was needed to accomplish each type. The firefighters then got out all of the equipment they would need to accomplish vertical ventilation at this structure, if given the order. The equipment was then placed, and we assembled on the roof to discuss the basics of vertical ventilation. This served as a great refresher for veterans, and since we had just hired a new firefighter, it provided him with the opportunity to cut his first ventilation hole. You remember the basics: Vent as high as possible and as close to directly over the fire as possible; never put water into a vent hole; and so forth. Although today’s chain saws make light work of the roofing materials found on most homes, several firefighters were eager to make a vent hole with hand tools. This is always interesting to watch and discuss. They usually tell the group how exhausting it is, which is nice to hear coming from someone who has just completed the task. With a whole roof to cut, I usually ask that each member start the saw from the roof and make one horizontal cut. Newer members will cut an entire ventilation hole, as will anyone who asks to. Once finished, we brought the tools down and assembled for a few parting thoughts on the events of the day.

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(3) Donated houses make great training grounds when damage is encouraged.

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(4) Practice ventilation holes with your chainsaws, and let some of the new folks find out what it is like to make a vent hole the old-fashioned way–with hand tools!

If you feel there was no “new information” presented to the firefighters, you are probably right. This training presented a basic review of some of the things that are done at many structure fires to which we respond. Given a structure, a tight time frame, and a building that will be demolished shortly, it is a great time to review some basics and have some fun.


Tom Kiurski is training coordinator, a paramedic, and the director of fire safety education for Livonia (MI) Fire & Rescue. His book, Creating a Fire-Safe Community: A Guide for Fire Safety Educators (Fire Engineering, 1999), is a guide for bringing the safety message to all segments of the community efficiently and economically.



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