National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System: Look Out Five Floors Below!

The overhaul phase of a fire is said to be as dangerous a period for injuries as the firefight. The adrenaline of the firefight is over, personnel are tired, and their guard is down. The end result of this decreased awareness is an increase in the potential for injuries to occur. Tripping over hose, dropping tools, and walking into obstructions are just a few of the incidents that can occur.

The overhaul phase frequently involves clearing out debris from the fire floor to ensure rekindles do not occur and lessen the shock of the fire’s devastation to the occupants. This process is a staple of fireground activity. Debris thrown from the second floor is easy enough to control; or is it (Hazardous Mattress Drop)? What additional hazards are created when debris needs to be thrown out of upper floors?

“We were dispatched to a working structure fire at an 8-story apartment building with the fire on Division 5…After fire suppression was completed and the fire was under control, salvage and overhaul started. The officer working within the apartment decided to call command and ask for authorization to remove the smoldering debris from the apartment (i.e. couch, chair, mattress, etc.). Command gave authorization to have the contents removed. The officer decided to throw the contents from the fifth floor…”

The overhaul crews face a dilemma in this week’s featured report–or do they? Smoldering debris exists on the fire floor. Past practice (the norm) is to throw the debris out the window. The officer on Division 5 calls for and receives “authorization” to “have the contents removed.” After you have reviewed the entire contents of this report (CLICK HERE), consider the following:

1. Should there be a limit on the number of floors above grade debris can be thrown from?
2. What safeguards should be in place when debris is thrown from upper floors?
3. Are there other alternatives to removing smoldering debris from upper floors?
4. Is it necessary to remove debris from upper floor fires?
6. Consider the words used to describe the communication between Command and Division 5. Could there have been a misunderstanding between Command’s “authorization” to “remove debris” and Division 5’s decision to throw the contents from the 5th Floor? How could that miscommunication be corrected?

Have a near miss involving debris thrown from above? Report your incident to to avert an injury.

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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