Building Hazards on the Outside

“THE BUILDING IS YOUR ENemy.” Francis Brannigan reiterated this statement to us in the fire service up until his passing. The goal of every fire is to consume and destroy the building on which it feeds, along the way creating numerous hazards such as holes in floors and falling debris. These hazards injure and kill firefighters every year.

Aggressive fire attack and interior searches for life are extremely dangerous operations. While the engine companies are pushing toward the seat of the fire, the truck companies are also inside, on their hands and knees groping through the darkness for victims and checking for fire extension. Many might view the truck companies’ interior operations as their most dangerous work.

Nothing is further from the truth. The truck firefighters assigned to perform the critical exterior operations such as vent-enter-search (VES) and roof work face their own equally dangerous hazards. The difference is, many times exterior hazards are manmade and were there long before the fire took possession of the building.

The following is a series of photos showing just a handful of the hazards that truck company firefighters face; they are found across the nation in towns both big and small. The key is to “discover” and pass along these hazards before they are found the hard way.


1. Photos by author.

Photo 1. This building, part of a large hospital complex, houses heating, cooling, and mechanical equipment. Note the arrow pointing to a scupper (roof drain).


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Photo 2. That is a 20-foot fall from the tip of an aerial in heavy smoke.


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Photo 3. The balcony of this second-floor apartment could be laddered and function as a work platform for VES operations.


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Photo 4. The balcony appears to be vacant.


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Photo 5. Note the chicken wire. What do you think that is for? Moments before I took these photos, I saw at least three pit bull dogs being let into the apartment unit.


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Photo 6. The arrow points out the target building, a three-story Type III (ordinary construction) building, 20 × 50 feet. The one-story building is to the rear of the target building and is actually part of exposure B (at the right-hand side of this photo). A truck company firefighter would normally ascend the stairs and cross the roof of the one-story section to access the upper floors of the target building.


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Photo 7. This is a view from the top of the stairs. In the dark or in heavy smoke, a truck company firefighter might not notice the gap between the two buildings.


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Photo 8. This is looking down from the roof of the exposure. It is easily eight feet between the buildings and a 16-foot drop to the ground.


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Photo 9. Crossing over from one of the exposures to access the fire building is a common truck company technique. Using the roof of this two-story building, a truck company firefighter could access the third floor at the rear of the fire building.


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Photo 10. A closer look reveals a section of wire mesh attached to a flimsy and rotted wooden frame. The mesh helps keeps birds out of the air shaft. In the dark or in heavy smoke, a truck firefighter may inadvertently step onto the mesh, which would probably support him just long enough for him to realize what a terrible mistake he just made. Additionally, trapped firefighters inside the building making a hasty exit through that door (arrow) would have an unexpected surprise


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Photo 11. a three-story drop to the bottom. Once at the bottom, it could be a long time before anyone finds you.

. . .

Don’t become a victim of any of these hazards. I urge you to get out of the firehouse and into your community and discover your own local outside hazards, most of which are not visible from the street. During inspections or training, take the time to look over the building with more than a cursory glance. You may be surprised at what you find. The roof is one of the best places to start, offering a vantage point that you cannot find from the ground. Make notes, take pictures, and share the information with your fellow firefighters.

JAMIE C. MORELOCK is a firefighter with the Toledo (OH) Department of Fire and Rescue. He previously served with the Fremont (OH) Fire Department. He is an Ohio-certified fire instructor, a lead instructor of fire tactics for Bowling Green State University, and a member of the Truck Company Operations-Ground Ladders crew at FDIC.

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