“Hey in there, don`t break any windows!” Is this a familiar cry, scream, or radio message on your fireground? The single universal quality that this statement shares on most firegrounds on which a structure (possibly occupied) is being attacked is that it is shouted from the outside of the building. The fire is usually “doubtful,” not yet under control, and the interior teams are suffering from the new firefighter disease, “Lackapeople.” As many times as I have heard it myself while in a primary search tactic, I have never heard it next to my ear that was close to the floorboards while I was wishing I was out of there.

The question remains, When you are searching the interior of a fire building and come to a window, do you break it or not? Hmmm, well, if you were to ask me, my answer would be simple: “If breaking that window will make you comfortable enough to search another foot on the primary search, break it.” We would most definitely talk about it later in the critique, and its lesson will be obvious for all. So, break it for now and for many, many reasons.


1. You may need it for your own mental and physiological stability. That means that instead of turning around and aborting the primary search, you continue.

2. The area has additional light–real light, not fire glow. Panic in the search team has settled back a few notches. Don`t forget the calming effect breaking glass has on the other inside crews as well.

3. It gives the victims who are unconscious and in some type of uncontrolled breathing or who are not breathing a little more time for us to find them. The carbon monoxide levels at the floor level begin to drop.

4. Visibility improves, at least at floor level. You can see things that were hidden by the pressurized blackness before the window was broken.

5. It can get a little cooler.

6. In one- and two-story buildings (three and four with personal ropes), you just identified for yourself your second means of egress when and if conditions deteriorate within the next few moments.

7. The outside people (if they stop shouting, “Stop breaking the glass!”) will know where you are. You told them you were going there, remember? Now, they know exactly where you are because searching firefighters, not civilians, break windows. Now, they can properly place portable ladders at your second means of egress.


Remember, fire buildings can be vented in two ways (at least at this writing, though we are going in a direction in which soon there will not be enough people to do anything).

There is venting for fire, which includes vertical and horizontal ventilation. This is textbook venting. First, vertical ventilation usually is equated with the roof. This move should not be coordinated and should be started without orders on arrival.

Then horizontal venting is performed, enhancing the conditions on the fire floor after the nozzles have charged and are preparing to move inward. First ventilate the openings opposite the nozzle direction, behind the fire, in the rear. Then, as the line moves in the occupancy, initiate assisted horizontal ventilation where possible at the flanks.

Venting for life is different. It is to open the structure to gain access to suspected life–whether it is seen on arrival, reported verbally on arrival, or suspected by size-up. You must do something to the building to get to your objective. Vent to redirect the fire. Vent to calm yourself down. And vent for all the reasons given above.

I remember sharing a podium with another instructor for a two-day seminar for fire chiefs in a Middle Atlantic state (where the fire wizard is purported to live). I was speaking of the exact event depicted here when a chief rose to his feet and said, “Sir, no one breaks any glass on my fireground until I get there.” To which I retorted (to this insane statement), “What if you`re on vacation?” After which, he went to the ICS manual, addendum 7b, and left the room. n

TOM BRENNAN has more than 35 years of fire service experience. His career spans more than 20 years with the City of New York (NY) Fire Department as well as four years as chief of the Waterbury (CT) Fire Department. He was the editor of Fire Engineering for eight years and currently is a technical editor. He is co-editor of The Fire Chief`s Handbook, Fifth Edition (Fire Engineering Books, 1995).

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