Detroit Private-Dwelling Fire

(1) Members of the Detroit (MI) Fire Department arrive at a well-advanced fire in a private dwelling. <i>(Photos by Dennis Walus.) </i>“></td>
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<td align=(1) Members of the Detroit (MI) Fire Department arrive at a well-advanced fire in a private dwelling. (Photos by Dennis Walus.)

A fire in a private dwelling in Detroit gives us some real on-scene indications of how fire behavior and dynamics are explained in the fire research science being discussed and affecting tactics in the fire service today. This fire shows the flow path and the movement of smoke, heat, and fire. None of this is new; we have been venting, isolating, entering, and searching for almost as long as the fire service has been in existence. The awareness of flow paths, ventilation-limited fires (too rich to burn), and consequences of uncontrolled venting must be part of the training requirements for all firefighters and fire officers. With the modern interior contents, these too-rich-to-burn environments react quickly to any opening, allowing oxygen in the structure. Members need to understand the reactions to the actions they take on the fireground. Consider any opening made in the structure venting.

(2) As the engine company prepares to drop two handlines, you can see from the smoke conditions that the fire is deep seated and has progressed beyond the incipient stage.
(2) As the engine company prepares to drop two handlines, you can see from the smoke conditions that the fire is deep seated and has progressed beyond the incipient stage.

At any fire, the first consideration is the life hazard in the building. Is the building occupied or vacant? Is there a known or suspected life hazard? Are there searchable/survivable rooms? We know that all firefighters and officers operating at this fire are a known life hazard. If the building is vacant, we still have to perform primary and secondary searches throughout the space within the realm of safety for our members. There have been many cases of victims found in vacant buildings. We have to complete the searches and locate and extinguish the fire. Where did the fire start and where is it going?

(3) As members flake out the handlines, another member can do a walk-around to look for any problems not apparent from the street.
(3) As members flake out the handlines, another member can do a walk-around to look for any problems not apparent from the street.

At this fire, the conditions rapidly deteriorate once members force the front door and the ventilation-limited environment gets a new burst of oxygen. The introduction of oxygen into the fire compartment allows the fire to burn uncontrolled because of lack of compartmentation. Without the application of water, there are typically 90 to 120 seconds before interior conditions rapidly deteriorate and fire follows the path to the opening (the front door here). If water is not going to be applied to the base of the fire quickly, then we should control the front door and allow as little oxygen as possible into the fire compartment. The windows on the exposure D side start to fail, and additional oxygen is allowed into the structure. We do not know from the photos if members took these windows to vent the structure or if the windows failed from exposure to flame and heat. If you are operating at a fire and a window fails, that is critical information to communicate to the incident commander (IC) and interior forces, as the introduction of oxygen will change interior conditions. We have to accept that venting these types of situations prior to the application of water does not equal cooling. In fact, without water, you are going to increase the fire and temperatures. This is especially important if there is a wind condition and the wind is affecting that window. If you are planning or are ordered to take a window and you have a wind condition impacting that window or side of the building, that is also important information to communicate. That information might change the venting profile of the fire.

(4) A member forces the front door while engine members wait for water.
(4) A member forces the front door while engine members wait for water.inside.

In the photos, we see a member on a ladder take the second-floor window. There are valid reasons to take windows at a fire; they include venting for the engine company’s advance on the fire, making entry into the window to look for potential victims, allowing a hoseline to advance through the window for fire extinguishment (maybe the stairs are damaged or enough members and hoselines are on the stairs and the line needs to get above), and trying to clear the building of the products of combustion after water application and by providing a vent for the remaining steam and fire gases. It may be possible to vent by opening windows and keeping them intact for the building occupants or leaving the window intact to prevent squatters from entering after we have left the scene of a vacant building fire.

(5) Members of the engine prepare for entry on the front stoop as the member on the D side finds an indication of a possible basement fire showing at a window and passes this information on to all members and command.
(5) Members of the engine prepare for entry on the front stoop as the member on the D side finds an indication of a possible basement fire showing at a window and passes this information on to all members and command.

It is never acceptable to break windows, take a door, or make any opening in a structure that vents a structure without permission from the IC or the officer operating inside the building when members are committed to the interior fire operations unless you have a known life hazard and need to take the window or door to access the victim. You might make cuts and be prepared to open, but you must coordinate making the opening and leaving it open with the IC and interior crews. Ventilation has major effects on fire behavior, and we must understand what we are doing to the flow path and to fire development by introducing more air and, therefore, more oxygen to this fire. This is also nothing new; we have given a name to air entering the structure and fire leaving the building: flow path. Have coordination and controls in place to ensure that the venting is done appropriately and timed with interior fire attack. Venting is still an essential and effective tactic to improve conditions if coordinated and done at the right time.

(6) Members make entry through the front door; at the same time, a window on the D side fails.
(6) Members make entry through the front door; at the same time, a window on the D side fails.

In the first photo, the fire is well developed and has control of a good portion of the house. The smoke is coming along the ridge line and soffits. Smoke coming from many different openings indicates a deep-seated fire. Smoke colors indicate that the fire has sufficient oxygen. The other issue in the photos is that plastic is placed over the windows in the interior. This is sometimes done in winter to save heat and prevent drafts, indicating that the building may be occupied. Or, another reason for the plastic could be the occupants might be doing something that they don’t want the public to see. It might be a red flag.

(7) A member on the outside communicates changing conditions not readily apparent to a member operating on the inside.
(7) A member on the outside communicates changing conditions not readily apparent to a member operating on the inside.

The last takeaway from this fire is that it is winter. Hoselines can become frozen, as can hydrants. The engine having to find a good hydrant and stretch a handline in these conditions might delay getting water on the fire. All members should be monitoring the fireground communications, changes in the smoke’s color and intensity, and the status of the water supply.

(8) Fire shows out of the window that started to fail earlier.
(8) Fire shows out of the window that started to fail earlier.

This fire was successfully extinguished, the house was searched, and the members returned to service. This happens like clockwork as a result of good training, fireground operations, and command. If you don’t know what’s happening or, more importantly, what is going to happen based on the actions you take on the fireground, look to some of the new fire research to help explain why something worked or didn’t. As Tom Brennan, former editor of Fire Engineering, once said, “You can never train enough for a profession that can kill you!”

(9) Fire shows out of two windows on the first floor and at the front door. Water is now the most important tool on the fireground.
(9) Fire shows out of two windows on the first floor and at the front door. Water is now the most important tool on the fireground.
(10) Members apply water to the fire. The steam conversion is visible in the smoke. Visible fire at the windows is gone.
(10) Members apply water to the fire. The steam conversion is visible in the smoke. Visible fire at the windows is gone.
(11) A member vents a second-floor window. As can be seen by the smoke conditions, fire had extended to the second floor.
(11) A member vents a second-floor window. As can be seen by the smoke conditions, fire had extended to the second floor.
(12) A member operates a hoseline into the second-floor window to cool the gas and make the space safe for hose team entry.
(12) A member operates a hoseline into the second-floor window to cool the gas and make the space safe for hose team entry.
(13) A member takes windows on the second floor. This might appear unwarranted, but that is not the case, as you can see in the next photo.
(13) A member takes windows on the second floor. This might appear unwarranted, but that is not the case, as you can see in the next photo.
(14) The engine company has made entry from a second-floor window. The hoseline pushes fire and smoke toward the windows that were vented on the exposure B side by a member outside. This is a textbook operation.
(14) The engine company has made entry from a second-floor window. The hoseline pushes fire and smoke toward the windows that were vented on the exposure B side by a member outside. This is a textbook operation.

MICHAEL M. DUGAN, a 40-year veteran of the fire service, was a 27-year member of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY), where he served as captain of Ladder Company 123 in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, before retiring. As a lieutenant, he served in Ladder Company 42 in the South Bronx. While assigned as a firefighter in Ladder Company 43 in Spanish Harlem, he received the James Gordon Bennett Medal in 1992 and the Harry M. Archer Medal in 1993, FDNY’s highest award for bravery. He was a volunteer firefighter in Halesite, New York. He lectures on truck company operations, building construction, size-up, and today’s fire service. He is a member of the FDIC and Fire Engineering educational/editorial advisory boards.

DAVID RHODES is a 30-year fire service veteran. He is a chief elder for the Georgia Smoke Diver Program, a member of the Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC) Executive Advisory Board, a hands-on training coordinator for FDIC, an editorial advisor for Fire Engineering and the UL Fire Safety Research Institute, and an adjunct instructor for the Georgia Fire Academy. He is a Type III incident commander for the Georgia Emergency Management-Metro Atlanta All Hazards Incident Management Team and is a task force leader for the Georgia Search and Rescue Team. He is president of Rhodes Consultants, Inc., which provides public safety training, consulting, and promotional assessment centers.

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