Trailer Fire Tactics

By Jimmy Taylor

The trailer or mobile home presents some challenges to successful fireground operations because of the close proximity of structures, small interior spaces, and lack of permanent water supplies inside trailer or mobile home parks. As a rule, trailer parks do not have hydrants, and permanent water supplies will not be possible. If hydrants are present, a permanent water supply is a consideration, but not an initial consideration, because of time constraints. I have seen a trailer fire turn into three trailer fires because the decision was made to lay lines supplied from a hydrant. The best possible way to address the exposure issue is to quickly put the fire out.

Our first tactical priority is rescue, and our initial actions should support this priority if at all possible. It would not be possible in a fully involved trailer, a partial or total collapse, or an explosion that destroys the trailer. Accomplishing a rescue in a trailer is tricky. A three-sided size-up is usually all that is needed for a trailer fire, since the rear is usually only 12 feet wide. Trailers burn fast and have a lot of fuel. In most trailers, the bedrooms are in the rear and the living room and kitchen are in the front. Occasionally there will be one bedroom in the front and others in the rear.

First things first: Determine the location of the fire. If the fire is in the front of the trailer and rescue is a consideration, it may be best to enter through the rear door. This will place the line between the fire and the victims. If the fire has vented itself, hydraulic ventilation will give the best protection to the occupants. This entry point will give us better access to the occupants, but it will increase our egress route, since it would be farther from the fire. Keep in mind that the rear door may be harder to force if it has been reinforced and it may be blocked by debris and harder to access if there are no steps (use an attic ladder). Once access is made, a crew other than the attack crew should perform a rapid primary search, since hydraulic ventilation will cause the fire to increase. An attack from the front door is also acceptable, since it is the occupant’s primary means of egress. It is used more often than not because of the ease of access already there for the occupants. However, attacking the fire from the rear door offers the occupants the best possible protection.

The attack may be complicated by wood additions constructed to add to the trailer’s living space. Use caution when operating in the addition, since it is unlikely that it was built to current codes. The addition will also decrease the distance between trailers and make exposure protection more important. Propane tanks as well as other hazardous materials may also be stored in these areas.

The second tactical priority, exposures, is usually of greater concern in a trailer park. The best way to ensure exposure protection is to put the fire out. If you pull up to a fully involved trailer, exposures should be your first consideration. If multiple trailers are burning, you will need multiple lines to confine the fire.

Fire attack will handle our next two tactical priorities by confining and extinguishing the fire. There are some considerations that you need to think about when attacking fires in trailers. Higher heat and low visibility are givens, since exhaust openings are usually small. Always clear your path when going in because you are basically operating in a confined space and you want to ensure a safe egress path. A backup line is just that, a backup to the fire attack team that ensures the egress path stays clear. When assigned as a backup line, don’t get caught up in firefighting; it will only deplete the water supply faster. Remember, your main assignment is to protect the fire attack team.

If smoke is coming from the under skirting, fire is under the trailer, and your initial attack lines may need to go there. Keep in mind that that fire may be gas fed because of the flexible gas line burning in two. At the very least, investigate the smoke source before sending crews inside for an interior attack. Attack a major fire in the under skirting from one of the ends, because a collapse will be least likely to occur there. Collapse is not as imminent, since the metal acts like an adhesive and holds it together.

Usually, the power source is close to the trailer and resembles a temporary power source for a house under construction. It can be disconnected at that point with a breaker. Be aware of overhead power lines, and position attack crews away from these lines. Also, the gas meter is in close proximity to the trailer; cut it off the first chance you get. Be aware of the potential for a backdraft and a flashover, since the trailer will hold more heat because of the small vent openings.

Water supply probably will be addressed by shuttling water using the additional engines on the scene. Be careful while on an attack line:The water supply could be compromised at any time. If the attack pumper runs out of water, pull the attack team out until additional water is obtained. If there are no hydrants in the trailer park, consider a split lay. The first engine drops one supply line at the entrance of the park and continues to the fire. The second engine lays a supply line from the dropped line to the hydrant for a permanent water supply. Ensure that additional units stage out of the way.

Older trailers not in a trailer park may have propane tanks in close proximity that will need to be cooled to prevent a boiling-liquid-expanding vapor explosion (BLEVE). Assess gas service during size-up, because even though a propane tank could be at any trailer, a trailer by itself will almost always be supplied by LP gas. Even if the trailer is supplied by natural gas, the meter will be in close proximity.

Jimmy Taylor, a 24-year fire service veteran, is a battalion chief and paramedic with Cobb County (GA) Fire & Emergency Services. Taylor has a fire science diploma from West Georgia Technical College. He is a Georgia-certified instructor and has taught classes on incident command for high-rise operations at the Georgia Fire Academy.

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