GARAGE FIRES

GARAGE FIRES

BY BOB PRESSLER

Photo 1. Heavy fire envelops this detached garage and is rapidly spreading to the exposures as you arrive on the scene. Your assignment consists of two engines with four personnel each and one truck company, also with four. As you exit the chief`s car, the first-due engine turns into the block and radios for instructions.

What are your options for attack? Where should the truck company personnel be sent, and what should be the assignment for the second engine?

The first engine has several options. It can stop and lay a feeder line on the way into the fire. It may work off tank water and let the second engine feed it, or it can stop at the fire, stretch off the main bed, and then lead out to the hydrant.

The first option, stopping and laying in your own feeder, establishes a water supply and leaves the engine near the fire scene. The third option, although also establishing a water supply, puts the engine and all other equipment down the street at the hydrant.

Both of these options are acceptable ways of attacking this fire, but both will delay getting water on the fire.

The second option, working off tank water, results in faster water application. If the engine is equipped with at least a 500-gallon water tank, working off tank water is a great option. The fire is too far down the driveway for effective master stream application, so the preconnect 212-inch handline becomes the mode of attack. The engine pulls just past the driveway, leaving room for the truck to ladder the house that is most exposed. Two firefighters can stretch the 212-inch line down the driveway while the officer starts his size-up. The size-up should concentrate on the possible life hazard in the houses and the rapidly spreading fire. Once the hoseline is in position, start the water. The line should give the main body of fire a dash and then hit the exposed house. The original fire building, the garage, has already collapsed. The second garage is also involved, mostly on the exterior but probably also on the inside. The house has visible fire at the roof and eave line and probably has extension into the first-floor rear. After darkening down the fire on the exterior of the house, return the line to the original body of fire.

After giving water to the first handline, the engine operator can take a quick look for a nearby hydrant. If one is relatively close, he may elect to hand stretch to the hydrant.

The truck company on arrival should be split into two teams. One team must conduct a primary search in the most exposed house. The other team may be used to force entry into the exposed garage; check the other house; or, depending on conditions in the first house, support the first team.

The second-arriving engine will supply the first engine with water if the driver has not secured one by a hand stretch. This may be accomplished by a flying stretch or hand stretch or by leading out to a hydrant. The remainder of the crew should start a second handline. This line can be 134 inches and should be stretched to the interior of the house.

Once the heavy fire is knocked down, the 212-inch line can be shut down and reduced to 134-inch for mop-up. For most fires in detached garages, 500 gallons of water is more than enough to stop the spread of fire to the exposures and knock down most visible fire.

If, on arrival, the officer decides the fire is too advanced for tank water, the engine can now drop the handline and lead out to the hydrant. If the engine is so equipped, two beds or handlines can be stretched at once. The second line will now be in the street waiting for the second engine`s arrival.

Photo 2. Same assignment, different type of garage fire. The potential for fire extension is much greater here than it is when there is a detached garage. Access is also limited by overhead garage doors, which are not easily forced. Your size-up indicates heavy smoke pushing from around the closed garage doors. The open front entrance door also has smoke showing from it, but not as dark or heavy.

The unknown here is the contents of the garage. Expect the unexpected. Even if only two cars are in the garage, as much as 40 gallons of gasoline may be inside. Look for other indicators that the garage is more than a space to park cars. Vans parked in the driveway with signs such as “Joe`s Plumbing” or even small signs at the front of the property advertising small home businesses may indicate a heavier-than-expected fire load. Homeowners may be storing pesticides or products for refinishing furniture. Suspect anything and everything in a garage, and use appropriate tactics.

The first engine should be ordered to take a hydrant on the way in (or stop and stretch out to one; the main idea is not to use tank water). The first line stretched can go to two different places. The fire is presently in the garage, and the smoke showing from the first floor indicates probable extension. If entry to the garage can be made immediately by raising a door or breaking out a panel, the first line can go to work on the main body of fire. This line should cover the right wall of the garage, adjacent to the front entrance area, as this is the probable location for the connecting door to the basement area.

If entrance to the garage area is to be delayed for any reason, stretch the line to the interior of the house to try to stop any extension. If the garage and connecting area are on one level, such as in a ranch-style house with attached garage, then stretch the first line to that connecting doorway from the interior of the house. But in this style home, the handline stretched to the interior will actually be on the floor above the main body of fire and will be forced to attack the fire by advancing down the interior stairs to the basement level. If the fire has already extended from the garage into the basement area, this line may be forced to maintain its position at the top of the basement stairs, preventing the spread of fire to the upper level.

If the garage doors are in the open position or the fire is burning through them on your arrival, use the 212-inch handline. The fire area is only about 25 feet 2 25 feet, but it has plenty of fuel. Big fire means big water. Stop the fire right in its tracks. This one handline should be able to put water on all parts of the garage from one position on the driveway. Again, after the heavy fire is knocked down, break down to a 112-inch line.

If the line will be going to the interior of the house, use the 112-inch. This smaller line allows for added mobility and maneuverability in the tight turns usually found in houses.

The truck company again should be split into two teams. One team should assist the engine in getting water into the garage area. This may mean forcing the doors themselves or just taking out panels to let the line operate. If the overhead doors are forced up, make sure that something is wedged into the track to avoid having the doors come crashing down. Portable ladders, hooks, or even a pair of vise grips may be used in the channel.

Once entry is gained, one member of the first team should try to get to the rear of the garage area to see if there is any way to provide ventilation at the rear of the fire area. This will also afford a view of conditions in the rear of the floor above. The conditions found at the rear should be relayed to the incident commander.

The second team must get to the floor above, through the front entrance. It must search for trapped occupants and ascertain the location of the interior stairs to the basement. Open this door carefully. The fire may have already extended into the basement area, and by opening the door, a chimney effect may be created and the fire will rapidly extend to this flue-like stairway.

Once the interior stairs are located, search the area directly above the fire for fire extension. Pull baseboards and open any pipe recesses. Ventilate windows as required. Be careful, since this area is above the main body of fire. If the second engine is delayed, a second handline may not be in place to protect the floor above. Premature ventilation may cause the fire to intensify and possibly overtake the interior crew.

If fire extends to this level, plan for possible roof operations should the fire extend into the attic area. In newer homes that may feature lightweight truss assemblies, start roof ventilation as soon as fire is suspected in the attic area. Once the fire gets into the trusses themselves, the survival time for firefighters operating above the fire is drastically reduced. If trusses are suspected, open up early and get down.

The second engine, as it responds, should verify that the first engine has a water supply. If not, it must establish one. If the first engine has water, the second engine`s job becomes stretching the second line. As stated earlier, this second line may also go to two different places. It is up to the engine officer to properly size up the existing operation, confer with the IC, and stretch the line to the proper position. If the first line has been stretched to the garage level and does not have sufficient gpm to knock out the fire, the second line may have to go to the same location. If the first engine stretched 134-inch line and is having trouble knocking down the fire, the second engine should stretch a 212-inch line to the garage area, and the first engine can reposition its line to the interior.

Garage fires, although usually routine, may present quite a challenge to the unprepared. Stored flammable liquids, home workshops, and plastic cars–all add to a substantial fire load. Remember, large volumes of water must be applied to large fires. Two firefighters can stretch and operate a 212-inch handline. This line flowing in excess of 250 gpm will slow down or stop most garage fires while affording some protection against the unexpected.



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 videos Peaked-Roof Ventilation and SCBA Safety and Emergency Procedures 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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