Drill: Fire in the Attic Space

BY MICHAEL M. DUGAN

The fire IN THE PHOTO BELOW appears to be in the attic space, which might mean a small stairway, a hatchway, or no access into the attic. The engine company will need a line on the second floor of this building to extinguish the fire in the attic. Bring a 1¾-inch handline to the second floor. This size handline is a quicker stretch and is more maneuverable on the second floor. You could stretch the hoseline dry to the second floor and charge it when it is in position. The dry stretch might make it easier for the members to quickly place the hoseline. Once the hoseline is in position, the officer can call for water in the line and operate the line from a position where water can hit the fire.

The line might have to be operated into the attic from the second floor once the fire is knocked down. You can use an attic ladder, a folding ladder, or even a piece of furniture to get water through the entire attic.

Click to Enlarge
Photo by Scott LaPrade.

Truck company members should be on the top floor with the engine so they can access the fire in the attic. This access could be by a small stair or hatchway; some homes may have no interior access to that space. Pulling the top-floor ceilings might expose the fire and allow the line to get quick water on the fire. Truck company members need to bring hooks to the second floor to assist in pulling the ceiling and exposing the fire. You might encounter plywood, depending on whether the attic is living space or storage space.

If the first hole in the ceiling shows plywood, move over about three feet and try again. If, after the second try, you still have plywood, that means that the occupant most likely put wood there for storage or there is a full floor in the attic space and it is used for living space. If that is the case, you will need to use the stairs or hatchway for access. If this attic is used as living space, members have to access the space as soon as the fire is knocked down to search for possible victims.

If civilians from the fire building report everyone is out, you can delay the searches until the fire is extinguished. Once the fire is exposed, members have to make room for the engine company members to operate the handline.

 

Roof and Top-Floor Operations

 

The roof covering appears to be slate shingles. They are difficult to open and dangerous to operate on because they are slick. If you are opening the roof, operate from an aerial or a basket. Members on the street level must be aware of the possibility of falling slate pieces.

The slate roof appears to be holding in all of the fire, judging from the volume of fire at the attic window. Before placing any holes in the top-floor ceiling or opening the hatchway to the attic, make sure a charged and bled handline is in place. There is a distinct possibility that the introduction of oxygen will cause the top-floor ceiling to be blown down on the operating forces. The support system of the top-floor ceiling and, more importantly, the roof has been exposed to heavy fire conditions.

If a member has any knowledge of the type of construction system used in this building, that information should be communicated to all operating forces and passed up the chain of command to the incident commander. If this building has lightweight construction components, do not commit members to the top floor to pull ceiling, as they might cause a collapse and pull the burning members down on themselves. If there is any indication of a collapse or a failure of any part of the building, withdraw members to a safe operating area. If there is a collapse potential, evacuate all members and initiate a defensive operation.

All members operating on the fire floor should have identified at least two points of egress, remote from each other; a portable ladder or an aerial device should be present if the egress is a window. Commit a minimum of personnel to the top floor. Stage all additional units on the floor below the fire.

The other problem departments have with buildings like this is communication as it pertains to the fire’s location. Is it on the third floor or in the attic? Is the second floor also going to be referred to as the top floor? It does not matter what your department does, but it should be consistent in all buildings of the same construction style. Identify building floors in the department’s standard operating guidelines before a fire occurs, to eliminate miscommunication about the fire’s location or members in trouble.

MICHAEL M. DUGAN, a 36-year veteran of the fire service, is a 25-year veteran of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY), where he serves as the captain of Ladder Company 123 in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. He previously served as a lieutenant in Ladder Company 42 in the South Bronx. While assigned as a firefighter in Ladder Company 43, in Spanish Harlem, Dugan received the James Gordon Bennett Medal in 1992 and the Harry M. Archer Medal in 1993, the FDNY’s highest award for bravery. He was a volunteer firefighter in the Halesite (NY) Fire Department. He is an instructor at the FDIC and has been a featured lecturer around the country on topics dealing with truck company operations, building construction, size-up, and today’s fire service.

 

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