FIRES FOR THOUGHT
BY TOM BRENNAN
YONKERS, NEW YORK
Firefighters battle an early morning fire in this three-story, wood-frame private dwelling. It took six engines, three truck companies, a rescue/squad unit, and two battalion chiefs to bring this life threat under control within one hour.
How many of you have an opinion on what these firefighters are doing atop the overhang of the second floor, directly over the fire? How many of you need more information before forming an opinion? The latter group is the one for whom I am writing this column.
These firefighters are trying their best to account for reported victim(s) within the structure. Early morning private-dwelling fires located below the sleeping rooms tend to have trapped people. These firefighters were told one adult female was still within the structure. If you had been in earshot of the report of the trapped occupant, what would you have done before racing off to glory (or injury)? What information do you need to risk your life for someone?
First, get closer to the shouter (the person who`s reporting the victim). Calm the person down and ask the following questions: Who is missing? Where do you think the victim is? What is the victim`s name? These questions will help you determine the degree of risk and how you can outguess the fire`s location, its apparent travel, and building construction to give you the best shot at locating and removing the victim.
Look again at the photo. What are the lessons? First, the ladder chosen is the right size. It is put to a “working platform” (the porch roof) for the third-floor windows. Depending on fire intensity, the conditions below, training, and guts, the team can go from window to window. Ladder placement is good as well. A bad placement is over the set of windows below before the glass lets go. A better placement is little more (as far as possible) remote from the extending fire–farther to the right. The firefighters, with SCBAs on standby, are removing all of the window to make a “door” for entry. If the opening is too hot, probe with a tool and call out the name you were told belongs to the victim. You`ll be surprised how much more courage you`ll have when you feel a human form inside the window or hear an answer to your call.
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BROOKLYN, NEW YORK
Firefighters enter structures early on at an extending three-story attached-frame dwelling fire in the early morning hours. Before the fire is under control, it will go to a fifth alarm, bringing many more apparatus to assist in stopping the fast spread of this fire to eight additional dwellings. What structures in your response district exhibit these same conditions and threaten this same extension problem? “Our stuff doesn`t look like that!” you say. The common ground is two- or 212-story frame buildings. Now do they look familiar? They are 212-story garden apartments built in the 1940s through the 1960s, the townhouses built from the 1960s on, and the condominiums built in the 1970s through the pres-ent.
Fire starts on the second floor rear (look at the smoke and the glow over the roof of a rear extension fire), goes up the interior stair and rear siding to the third floor, and rips into the cockloft. It spreads by convection and the other physical “sciences” horizontally over each adjacent exposure and races to the end of the cockloft enclosure–the last structures in the row. It flashes over the combustible exterior, depending on wind conditions. In the photo, it appears that exposure D has the heaviest extension; but looking over the roof, the flame spread in the rear appears to go in the opposite direction. What is your tactic? Simple: typical row frame–get lots of help now!
Initial handlines go in this order: first, to the fire building; second, to the most severe exposure; third, to initially back up the fire building position and then to the exposures or the rear of the structure, depending on fire conditions; fourth, to the opposite exposure or rear, depending on the position of the third line; and fifth and sixth, charged and awaiting information.
Trucks should enter and search the fire occupancy; vertically ventilate the fire building (this one action is the key to fire control); force entry to exposures as necessary; and enter and search adjacent (B and D) exposures, continuing as additional exposures are opened. The objective of truck personnel is to search for any apparent extension but mainly to open the cocklofts of exposures–first for the handlines stretched into B and D. If the fire has passed these exposures (you can tell after pulling the ceilings), rapidly continue to check until you find a “stoppable” fire condition in one of the exposures. Communicate to the personnel with the handlines who are staged in front of the structure, “pinch” off the fire spread, and then fight the fire going building by building back to the original fire building.
JERSEY CITY, NEW JERSEY
Firefighters arrive quickly and make “quick” work of controlling this fire in a three-story brick mixed commercial occupancy. The fire, occurring in the cold of December, is brought under control within one hour.
It is rare that a photographer arrives in the earliest stages and, in this case, with the first-arriving units. Where is the fire? “Third floor,” you say. Look again! It is also the top floor. This information should spark the need for additional personnel immediately–horizontal extension, and extensive roof operations for vertical and then horizontal ventilation. The fire appears to be severely threatening the cockloft, if it isn`t extended there already. See the smoke condition around the roof overhang to the right of the fire window?
What time of day is it? What are the life problems? Well, if the sportswear store Morlees is in business, it is the early morning hours. Employees have not yet arrived to open the gaily colored roll-down metal heavy security doors, meaning that most of the second floor also will be unoccupied. But what about the third floor? Does it contain offices or residences? Look in the lobby as you ascend. Look at the windows as you enter. Are the curtains different? Is each window uniform in makeup–venetian blinds, shades, and so on?
Two handlines are stretched. The aerial ladder is in position for two objectives: first, to drop off the roof team; then, to go to the top-floor windows for ventilation, entry, and search before water has been started. With the light smoke condition and this aggressive setup, the firefight looks like a “piece of cake.” n
TOM BRENNAN is chief of the Waterbury (CT) Fire Department and a technical editor of Fire Engineering. He spent more than 20 years in some of the world`s busiest ladder companies in the City of New York (NY) Fire Department. He is co-editor of The Fire Chief`s Handbook, Fifth Edition (Fire Engineering Books, 1995).