Rescuing Through a Gable on a Multilevel Roof

While performing roof operations, operating conditions often start to deteriorate. Crews are working to get the roof open for vertical ventilation, and something goes wrong, and it goes wrong fast! A member falls through the roof and ends up in the attic space. Now what do you do?

Contrary to popular belief, you can’t go into the hole after the firefighter. That hole just became another vent hole. If he fell through the roof, that roof isn’t stable enough to be working on at that point in time.

Another bad idea is to be a “dope on a rope”: get a tower ladder, put the rigging together, and rappel down into the hole after him. Are you kidding? This is a rapid intervention team (RIT) operation. Do you think you really have time to set up all your technical rescue team stuff, rappel down, locate the downed firefighter, and then remove him?

A better idea is to look for the obvious solution.


Everyone tends to overlook the obvious. We want to use all the nifty equipment that sits in a compartment that’s used only at drills. We want to tie knots, put on harnesses, use the big red truck, and go in. Stop right there!

Why don’t we look at the building construction, get some hand tools, work like we have a purpose, and open up the gable side of the attic from the lower level of a multilevel roof? Now, I am not saying this is what is to be done every time, but this can be a very effective way of getting in to get a firefighter out. Let’s go to work, use the hand tools like we did in the academy, strip off any siding from the building, smash through the wall, and get in.

• Step 1. Using a halligan bar and a pick-head ax, remove the aluminum siding from the point of the roof in which you wish to make entry (photo 1).

(1) Using the ax, remove aluminum siding from the entry point. (Photos by author.)

• Step 2. Remove as much of the siding as you can to facilitate making the largest opening (photo 2). This exposes the building materials behind the siding for better breaching. Remember, you are removing a firefighter through here.

(2) Remove as much siding as needed to facilitate a large opening.

• Step 3. Begin breaching the building materials (photo 3). Work together; this will go a lot quicker.

(3) Working together makes for a faster breach of the building materials.

• Step 4. Continue breaching, and remove the building material away from the opening (photo 4).

(4) Move the building material away from the opening during breaching.

• Step 5. Enlarge the opening so that it is bigger than what is needed to get in or out with the victim (photo 5). You don’t want to find out that your opening is too small to remove the downed firefighter.

(5) Enlarge the opening so that it is bigger than what is needed to get in or out with the victim.

• Step 6. Make sure to remove any wall studs; this will make the opening that much bigger.

Let’s remember, this is just one method to put in the toolbox in case you need it. Everyone can be an armchair quarterback, but it is those who train and who are prepared who will succeed. Remember the basics: We still have to be proficient in hand tools, search techniques, and firefighter removal. Take these steps, and expand. Adapt them to the situation at hand.

ANTHONY VOLPE is a career firefighter/paramedic and a volunteer captain/training officer in Illinois. He holds state certifications at the firefighter III level and fire service instructor II level.


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