Proper communications on the fireground are vital to the incident commander. Information concerning exposures, fire location in the building, direction of fire spread, the need for additional companies, and so on will help the IC make proper fireground decisions.

Most firefighters are familiar with exposure identification using the front of the building as side 1 or A, then moving in clockwise direction to side 2 or B, side 3 or C is the rear, and side 4 or D is to the right. This system works fine for one- and two-family dwellings and other smaller structures. But as building size increases and the layouts become more complicated, designations such as exposure 1 and exposure 2 may not be enough. Several occupancies under one roof or buildings with multiple wings make it harder to identify specific areas of the fire building.

Photo 1. In large apartment houses, you must identify multiple wings as well as any exposures outside the original structure. To ensure effective communications, all personnel operating on the fireground must use the same reference point for their reports. Usually, the front of the building, near the front entrance, is exposure 1. If the building is an “H”-shaped apartment house, the wing on the #2 side is designated the A wing, and the wing on the #4 side is the B wing. If your department uses A and B for exposure identification, name the wings 1 and 2. The area that connects wings together is known as a “throat.” Wings also can be further subdivided–front and rear, or front, center, and rear if size dictates.

In a double “H” building, you will find an A, B, and C wing connected by throats at A-B and B-C. A common problem arises when personnel operating on the roof look over the front of the building as they communicate with the IC: Their perspective switches exposures 2 and 4–the exposure to the left of the roof man, usually 2, is the IC`s exposure 4. Roof personnel must make sure that they are facing the same direction as the IC, usually the rear, and that all reports are referenced to exposure 1. An aerial raised in the vicinity of the front entrance (exposure 1) can serve as a rooftop reference point. A saw strap or hand light left at the tip can help differentiate aerials.

Firefighters reporting to the command post must be clear and concise as to what tactics they are using and if they are making progress. They also must relay any delays in carrying out assigned tasks.

Companies working on the top floor should relay to the command post information on the number of apartments in the fire wing, fire and smoke conditions, and where the fire is spreading. In these large apartment houses, if manpower restrictions result in delays in stretching lines and performing vertical ventilation, it is imperative that the IC make a decision as to where he can get ahead of the fire. He may have to give up one wing to save the rest of the building.

Photo 2. For fires in really large structures, the standard exposure marking system may not be enough. In the incident shown in this photo, the fire building was in excess of 280,000 square feet. Exposure walls ran hundreds of feet, with companies operating on each side. To assist in communications, you may find that areas of the building are easier to identify with additional markings–add a sector chief, building feature, or company name to identify the section you`re in (for example, “exposure 2 side, center section, Brentwood`s ladder”). Such a description makes it easier for the IC to determine from a distance where a company is operating. It also lets additional companies know how far they have to travel to bring water or to report to an area.

Photo 3. Probably the most confusing structure for identification purposes is a strip mall or taxpayer. A strip mall is a single structure divided into several separate businesses. Problems arise when adjoining structures within the original building are identified as exterior exposures. The entire building is still surrounded by four exposures. In a five-store taxpayer situated on a corner, with adjoining apartment houses, the exposures would be exposures 1 and 2–streets, and exposures 3 and 4–apartment houses (see diagram). If the fire is in the middle store, there are two interior exposures on each side of the fire store. In some departments, such as in the City of New York (NY) Fire Department, these are given an “O” designation along with the appropriate exposure number. The first store to the left of the fire store would be “O2” and the next store would be “O2-A.” Stores to the right of the fire store would be “O4” and “O4-A.” Prefixes such as “interior” and “exterior” also can be used. Interior exposure 2 would be the adjoining store to the left of the fire store, under the same roof. Exterior exposure 2 would be whatever is to the left of the entire strip mall. If remembering number and letter sequences seems confusing, use plain English: “The fire is in the store to the left of the original store.” Just be sure to reference your left to the front of the building.

As with other large structures, proper identification of fire travel and fire conditions and the timely transmission of multiple alarms or additional mutual aid are all needed to have a shot at not losing the entire building.

BOB PRESSLER, a 22-year veteran of the fire service, is a firefighter with Rescue Company No. 3 of the City of New York (NY) Fire Department. He created and produced the video Peaked-Roof Ventilation for the Fire Engineering video series “Bread and Butter” Operations. Pressler has an associate`s degree in fire protection engineering from Oklahoma State University, is a frequent instructor on a wide range of fire service topics, and is a member of a volunteer department.

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