The Book Said

By Michael N. Ciampo

Throughout your career, you’re going to recall information that you were taught from your initial fire training while operating at a fire or an emergency. Sure, most of it will fly through your brain in milliseconds and come naturally to you while performing the firefight, but at other times it won’t, and the brakes will come on and you will question yourself: “What did the books say?” The “books” are guidelines to assist us in determining a course of action in our procedural and tactical duties on the fireground. Unfortunately, the books can’t adapt to or have the answers for every situation that occurs on the fireground. They can give us a platform from which to work and guide us in a direction, but many times it will be through experience and “street smarts” that we’ll be able to handle the tasks before us.

Directly Over the Fire

Most of us can recall the line in the ventilation chapter for cutting a roof that states we should always strive to cut directly over the fire. However, what happens when the fire is already self-venting out two windows on the top floor of a flat-roof building, and you cut two feet back from the parapet because you wanted it to be “directly” over the fire? The fire is already self-venting out the windows, and if you cut too close to the parapet, there’s a good chance that the fire can autoexpose right over the wall and impinge on you. The book also states that we should strive to cut a little farther back so the fire, smoke, and gases lift to assist the engine’s hoseline advance, which is a great concept. I wonder why both lines aren’t right next to each other in the books?

Some items to look for when deciding where to cut the initial ventilation hole at top-floor fires are bubbling tar, probing the roof with a hook to look for soft spots, and cutting inspection holes (a kerf cut-single width of a blade or triangular cut). Another option is to use your six-foot hook as a guide and come off one of the outside walls of the building, over the fire apartment or fire room. Most rooms are about eight × eight feet to 10 × 10 feet, so after coming back off the wall six feet, you will hit some of the room. Many of us will come back a little farther, intending to catch two rooms or lifting it for the engine’s advance, but remember: We’ll all end up being off a little from time to time. It happens. If you’re off, expand your cut and get the job done by extending your initial ventilation hole.

Remember, before pushing down the ceilings, inform the members operating below so they aren’t blindsided with falling debris. Hopefully, they can find refuge in a door frame for protection.

Three to Five Rungs Over the Roof

How many rungs over the roof line do you place the tip of the portable ladder? We can all answer this question because we were taught a specific response through a lecture and practical hands-on training. In addition, it was a test question on the final exam, and now it’s etched into our memory to recall it in a split second. However, are three rungs even practical at all on the fireground? Think about it: At the end of a fire, carrying a saw in a sling over your shoulder, you walk to the edge of the roof. The tip of the ladder is at about waist level, and you find the need to lean forward and outward off the roof, twisting your torso to reach for the opposite side rail of the ladder with your opposite hand. Just about then, the saw swings around and almost carries you off the roof. Been there, done that?

Why do we settle on three? First, any good smoke condition obscures the tip of the ladder, and the sight of your means of escape is gone. Second, who wants to lean off the edge of the roof at anytime, especially after a fire, when you’re exhausted or you have tar on your boots and you slip transitioning from the roof to the ladder? Let’s try to raise the ladder to an appropriate height. If that means four to seven, for better access, egress, and vision, then let’s start doing it.

Place the Roofing Materials Near the Cut

When firefighters have cut a ventilation hole in the roof, they should place the roofing materials near the cut to warn approaching firefighters that a hole exists in the roof. This is written and tested on, but in the real world is it that practical? First, when firefighters are opening up the roof, the sheathing either comes up in a bunch of small pieces or in a large section. Either one of those two things left close to the ventilation hole or work area around the hole is a tripping hazard! We don’t need firefighters opening up the roof and taking a step backward, tripping over a pile of debris or stepping on a nail in that pile. One firefighter should have the sense to pull the debris away from the hole and work area to prevent firefighters from tripping over it and into the hole. And if it’s that smoky on the roof, firefighters should be down and crawling, probing with their tool or saw out in front of them, checking the roof conditions. Another reason to have these materials out of the way is in case you need to enlarge the initial ventilation opening. Having to move the debris again only makes more work for us and takes time and energy. After the fire is out, we can lay some doors over the opening we made in the roof for safety.

Using the guidelines set forth by the books in conjunction with practical applications to the situations we encounter will help us choose which tactical operations to follow on the fireground.

MICHAEL N. CIAMPO is a 25-year veteran of the fire service and a lieutenant in the Fire Department of New York. Previously, he served with the District of Columbia Fire Department. He has a bachelor’s degree in fire science from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. He is the lead instructor for the FDIC Truck Essentials H.O.T. program. He wrote the Ladder chapter and co-authored the Ventilation chapter for Fire Engineering’s Handbook for Firefighter I and II (Fire Engineering, 2009) and is featured in “Training Minutes” truck company videos on

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