National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System: Dressed for the Occasion

Operating above a hostile fire is a high risk event for firefighters. Fires that have gained control of the attic space are eating away at the structure that is supporting ventilation teams operating on the roof. The need to ventilate a roof varies from incident to incident, and when properly performed, provides exponentially favorable relief to crews inside. When the need to vent the roof is determined, it is imperative that all members of the ventilation team are fully equipped and properly dressed for the work. As we will see in this week’s featured firefighter near-miss report, proper equipment and proper training avert a catastrophe.

“…my truck company was responded to a fire in a building call. This call had come in originally as a water flow alarm which is only a single engine response. Once that engine arrived and saw smoke they called for a full alarm…upon arrival was assigned to roof operations…We had smoke showing from the interior of the building and smoke coming from the dome area of the roof. The dome had several vents located on it. This is where the majority of smoke came from on the roof…We worked our way over to the dome hoping to be able to ventilate the building via the dome.

As we got close to the dome the area around the dome was not stable enough to work on. We backed away from the dome and made our first ventilation hole…We then worked our way back towards the “B” side and located the area for our next ventilation hole. Again, using the TIC and sounding as we moved. The area was sounded and we began cutting…At this point I began looking with the TIC at the area around us looking for the next area we would ventilate. I did have heat signatures on the TIC, but nothing like what you would expect for a large working fire underneath you. The signatures were very pronounced on the “D” side and faded as they moved to the “B” side of the building.

I took one step off the main beam to the “B” side without sounding that spot. I was within arm’s reach of my crew and I went right through the roof and into the attic. I watched my foot go through the roof and open up into nothing but orange. I put my arms out to my sides hoping to catch something to stop me from going through. The next thing I saw was nothing but orange all around me. I was waiting for the thud as I hit the ground but it never came. I had stopped and I did not care how. I could feel some very loose footing below me. I reached back and began pulling myself back up along with using the very limited footing I had. I looked around and there was nothing but fire blowing upward all around me. I watched as my microphone melted and I kept working my way back up to the roof. I finally got a hold of something solid and pulled myself to the roof line. At this point I saw my crew moving up behind me and within seconds I was back on top of the roof…”

The overall outcome at this event was good because the firefighter that fell through the roof was wearing full personal protective equipment (PPE) properly and the rest of his crew acted quickly. Consider the following:

  1. What is the minimum number of firefighters your department commits to roof ventilation at structure fires?
  2. Of the firefighters listed in Question 1 above, which firefighter is responsible for safe operations while the crew is operating on the roof?
  3. Does your department’s roof ventilation SOP require a TIC as part of the tool/equipment complement?
  4. Compare the details of this report and the related media clips listed below. Are there any commonalities between the report and the clips?
  5. When was the last time your PPE was properly inspected?   

Roof ventilation will continue to be a high risk tactic in structural firefighting. Managing the risk requires attention to three critical areas: constant training and familiarization with proper roof ventilation techniques, a sound working knowledge of roof construction and fire behavior, and properly maintained and worn PPE. This triad of risk reduction actions will promote the job getting done and the crew readied for the next task.

Related Media

Have you experienced a near miss during a roof ventilation operation? Did PPE save you from harm? Submit your report to today so everyone goes home tomorrow.

Note: The questions posed by the reviewers are designed to generate discussion and thought in the name of promoting firefighter safety. They are not intended to pass judgment on the actions and performance of individuals in the reports.

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