Last month, we left you atop the parapet (America’s most weakly constructed wall) hoping that you didn’t loosen a decorative stone so that it would plunge below to the operating members. Now, how high is it from the roof?

This question presents a twofold danger. First, we must consider the impact load the now 300-pound firefighter makes on the roof support members as he drops to the surface. Another partial collapse problem, and this time under a firefighter.

Second, if the height of the parapet causes you to jump to the roof, how will you be able to “jump” up again to retreat in an emergency? In short, if parapets are part of the roof access problem, try to get a good idea of just how tall they are by some other building indicators. You should be able to do this without going to the end of the building facade.

Means of egress off the roof. Your next problem is how to get off the roof. Your means of access is also your first means of egress, but your department must have a policy that places a second means in a remote location from that route. A fire escape or enclosed stairs from an adjoining building will suffice, but usually this means an additional portable ladder or aerial device. Remember, always keep yourself between the work you are doing on the roof and your method to get off that roof. This simple rule will keep you out of tons of trouble.

Another problem, which I am sure you know about, is that top-floor fires that have extended to the cockloft (attic space) severely weaken the support members for you in an ever-increasing area. To get to the point of your eventual operation, you should adopt a policy of walking along the bearing walls and not across the roof area (cross-country). This, however, is only a half truth as far as safety is concerned.

You must know at all times where you are on the roof in relation to the burn area below your feet. We lost a young firefighter who was staying along the building wall. He fell into the fire room that was in his path. Sense must en-hance rules-at least in this game! The point here is not to traverse any area under you that you feel (size-up) is exposed to fire.

Walking off the roof. “I walked off the roof, Cap,” said one firefighter. “I just ran out of roof, boss!” said more than I like to know about. The sadder story is that walking off roofs and falling into yards and shafts and building extensions can be prevented almost all the time. The greatest single safety rule of all time for structural firefighting activities is still this: If you can’t see, CRAWL. That rule goes for interior operations as well as movement on a roof, even if you cannot see the apparatus. How can you crawl into a hole? How can you crawl off a roof? Use that for the subject of a company drill.

Fire escapes. Fire escapes are wonderful tools for firefighters-they get us up to, down from, at, into, out of, and down. But, they cause injuries, too. They have disappeared from the new construction in our cities and town. They have been legislated out of existence by new building codes. They have become forgotten as inspection areas. They are left unattended, cluttered, and unmaintained! They come loose from support assemblies, come apart from corrosion, and are loaded with tripping hazards. But the hazard most often associated with roof teams is the gooseneck ladder-the one that gets you on or off the roof and from or to the top-floor balcony of the fire escape system. The weakest point is where the fire ladder is connected to the roof boards. Before you use it, shake it. When you are on that vertical ladder, “hook” your hand tools on the rungs so that you have both hands free, and anticipate what you will do if the ladder weakens and begins to fail. Remember, no surprises in this game!

We have had some firefighters jump across shafts, leap into the tops of tall trees in single bounds, and slide down escape ropes simply because of poor thought processes. If in place and ongoing, the thought process would have ensured the availability of the secondary and remote egress.

Remember, the earlier you get to the roof for ventilation operations, the safer everyone inside the fire building will be, because of less burn time. So will you!

  • TOM BRENNAN has more than 35 years of fire service experience. His career spans more than 20 years with the Fire Department of New York 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). He is the recipient of the 1998 Fire Engineering Lifetime Achievement Award. Brennan is featured in the video Brennan and Bruno Unplugged (Fire Engineering/FDIC, 1999).
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