National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System: Ceiling Collapse

The collapse of a ceiling is one of the more disorienting situations a firefighter can face. Sixty near-miss reports are returned when the keyword “ceiling collapse” is typed into the text box on www.firefighternearmiss.com. Each of these accounts provides lessons on the value of heightened situational awareness, correct use of PPE, rigorous training, and recognizing the effect of fire on building materials. This featured firefighter near-miss report¬†recounts one example.

“Our station was dispatched for a residential structure fire and we responded with two engines and four on-duty personnel… The near-miss happened about 30 minutes into the fire and there were two hoselines in place. One hoseline was on the second floor and one hoseline was on the first floor. Most of the fire was extinguished and overhaul was in progress. There were three members of my crew pulling ceiling to reach hot spots. The lieutenant stated to be careful because the floor above was moving when pulling down on overhead material. The firefighter and the lieutenant continued to pull down the ceiling. This is when the second floor collapsed down into the first floor and the room that we were in…”

The overhead world of a fire scene is fraught with hazards. Many of the hazards we can dispassionately discuss at the kitchen table, but seem to overlook when we are engaged in firefighting. Electrical wiring, telecommunication cables, structural support systems and storage are all elements hidden behind the drywall. Whether you are looking up at a ceiling that covers an attic or an upper floor, shoving your hook through the drywall is usually a benign act that simply pulls down a section of sheetrock to expose the hidden area above. However, it can also be a catastrophic act that brings down an entrapment hazard that has you fighting for survival. Once you have read the entire account (CLICK HERE), consider the following:

    1. Before ceiling pulling begins, is there an assessment of the structural stability and review of what might be behind the drywall before the first piece is removed?
    2. Do you and your crews observe best practices when pulling ceilings (i.e., starting at the doorway and working into the room, noting the location of structural members through visual notation of nails, “shadowing” or “ghosting” of studs, etc.) before pulling ceilings?
    3. Do you consider limiting the number of personnel in a room when ceilings and walls are being pulled?
    4. Who is responsible for ensuring utilities have been controlled before pulling ceilings and walls? How is utility control documented and confirmed before ceiling pulling begins?
    5. What is the likelihood that the space above the ceiling you are pulling is being used for storage? If storage is noted, can you determine what effect pulling down the ceiling will have on the structural members resisting the weight of the storage?
Overhaul activities occur during a transitional time in the firefighting process. The adrenaline and effort of the fire attack begins to fade, but there is still enough pent up energy that some members of the crews are propelled from one action to another without an assessment of conditions. The thinking officer and crew make periodic assessments, or benchmarks, to ensure the incident reality still matches the company’s perception.

Have you escaped a ceiling collapse due to exceptional vigilance? Have you ever gotten caught in a ceiling collapse? Submit your report to www.firefighternearmiss.com today so everyone goes home tomorrow. For more on the value of firefighter near-miss reporting, CLICK HERE.

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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