Flat-Roof Operations: From the Street to the Roof and Back

BY ANTHONY AVILLO

The roof is one of the most pivotal strategic points of operation on the fireground, yet many departments fail to address the required tactics aimed at controlling the interior weather conditions by access and vertical ventilation of the top of the structure. There are few areas more important than the roof when attempting to successfully mitigate a structural fire. In this article, I will address some of the basic roof activities, cover some operational tips, and discuss awareness considerations when operating on the roof of the fire building. Productive prefire activities, roof access, operational tactics and considerations, termination of the roof operation, and egress are among the topics covered (photo 1).

(1) In addition to, and even in spite of, an aggressive extinguishment effort, lack of support at the roof level will make this fire more difficult to fight, more dangerous, and more prone to lateral fire spread to exposures. Does your department assign these support operations? [Photo courtesy of Deputy Chief Mike Nasta, Newark (NJ) Fire Department.]

WHAT’S YOUR PLAN?

As an officer, you had better have a plan. First, what do your scene assignment standard operating procedures (SOPs) say about roof operations? As the first-arriving ladder company (or a nonladder company assigned to “get the roof”), do you even have an SOP for this type of activity? If you don’t, then every fire is likely to be different—depending on who is running the show. Shooting from the hip, which is what will likely happen, is dangerous. It becomes a guessing game. If I were you, I would put something together for my company to keep the operation organized; that’s the least you can do. At the very least, assign tools and tasks.

If you do have a ladder company scene assignment SOP, does it address roof operations and tool assignments based on the location of the fire? It had better, because in a flat-roof building, the location of the fire makes all the difference in which actions should be taken. Regardless, make the plan of action known to all personnel before setting it in motion. It is best to discuss this prior to the fire, preferably at the start of the shift, where assignments can be made and discussed in relative calm. Remember, if you are the officer, you have one main objective: get ’em in safe, work ’em safe, get ’em out safe. That is your job. Take care of it by organizing your team and letting the members know beforehand what is expected of them.

Remember also that you don’t need to have a ladder company to conduct these operations. In fact, many departments across the country and in Canada do not employ the services of a ladder company. This leaves engine or other support personnel to do this job. Roof operations still must be assigned as a primary operation in a flat-roof structure, as primary as the search and the stretching of the first hoseline. There is no excuse for not getting someone to the roof of a flat-roof structure. By “someone,” I mean a team. I have seen departments that staff engine companies with five personnel assign only one person to the ladder company. That firefighter just drives the rig to the scene. What a disgrace! As Deputy Chief Mike Nasta from the Newark (NJ) Fire Department says, “If you are going to assign one person to the ladder, give him a bike, and save yourself a million bucks!” The message: Ladder work, especially roof work, requires people—that is plural. Make sure you have enough.

WHERE IS THE FIRE?

There is no piece of information more important to the ladder company (or any company, for that matter) than the location of the fire. Based on this information, your initial assignment should become clear. If you are faced with a lower-floor fire, you will still have to make the roof to open the “naturals” and check the cockloft. The naturals include any scuttles, skylights, bulkhead doors, or soil pipes. They may also include old dumbwaiter shafts or elevator penthouse enclosures. In fact, if you think anywhere else in the building is more important from a strategic point of view, consider this: The building will literally begin to choke on itself, causing such issues as victim asphyxiation and disorientation; heat accumulation inside the structure, which can lead to fire extension and flashover and firefighter discomfort and disorientation resulting from having to work in heavy, unvented smoke; and masking the seat of the fire. If you can open it up at the top, all things get better—all the time. Just because the fire is not on the top floor does not excuse you from the roof duties. This is venting for life and is equally as important (and even more so from a life safety viewpoint) as opening the roof at a top-floor or cockloft fire (photos 2, 3).

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(2) Notice the intense, ground-hugging smoke. Note also that the area above the building shows no smoke. The building’s arteries are not yet being controlled here. (Photo by Ron Jeffers.)
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(3) Heavy smoke is showing above the roof, indicating the roof has been opened. Even the smoke from the top-floor window is moving properly. Things are getting better. (Photo by Ron Jeffers.)

GETTING TO THE ROOF

We have already established that we have to get there. Now, the question is how? Remember our mantra to operational success: Use the safest, most effective path of least resistance. Keep this in mind when deciding to accomplish the objective. The more you deviate or are forced to deviate from this mantra, the more time it takes; the more personnel are likely to be involved; and, most importantly, the more dangerous the operation becomes. When operating at attached buildings of the same height, the best way to get to the roof usually is by the exposure’s interior stairs and bulkhead door. This is even preferable to using the aerial. Be careful when crossing over to the fire building roof, as shafts are usually present between these buildings. Gravity never takes a day off (see the section on probing the roof) (photo 4).

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(4) The preferred way to the roof in attached structures is through the stairwell of the adjacent building, preferably on the windward side. Note the multiple bulkhead enclosures and the elevator bulkhead to the extreme right. Also notice the shafts between each building. You can cross over only at the front. (Photo by author.)

If the attached building does not have a bulkhead but has a scuttle, you are better off using the aerial or a ground ladder. The reasons for this are that the scuttle opening often is very narrow and that you are passing through the cockloft area where, if the fire is extending in the cockloft, you might be in a bad place even if you are working your way to the roof of an attached exposure. Do not ever use the interior stairs of the fire building as a way to the roof unless the stairs are in a wing that is definitely isolated from the fire area. If in doubt, stay away from this artery. It is a chimney.

Fire escapes also are not a good route, as they are narrow and are often subject to deterioration and barbecue-type exposure when in the area of a venting fire below. If you are going to use a fire escape, access it from the floor below the fire and ascend in an area away from the main body of fire or projected paths of fire spread.

If using the aerial, be aware of wires and where fire is likely to vent. It might be best to place the ladder to the windward exposure for access instead of to the fire building, where fire can vent below the device. Fire venting in the vicinity of an aerial will trap firefighters, can damage the aerial, and will render the artery useless for rescue. Customers in their nightclothes cannot descend an aerial that is being heated by fire (photo 5).

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(5) This venting fire at street level literally puts this aerial device out of service. Forecast fire spread before committing aerials and ground ladders not only for rescues but also as egress points from the roof. (Photo by Bob Scollan.)

Don’t forget the ground ladder as a viable option when confronted with buildings three stories or less in height. If wires are in the front, you may have to ladder one of the sides, the last building in the row and walk across the roofs, or the rear. I have seen many times roof access made by a ground ladder carried through an alley to the rear. The fact of the matter is this: If you are assigned to the roof, you must get there. If that means going under, around, or through a building, so be it. A good ladder company should be nasty enough to bite through any obstacle to get the job done.

INITIAL ROOF ACTIONS

Once on the roof, a set of systematic actions should take place, all choreographed by the Roof Division supervisor—the company officer.

• Brief your crew on the task to be accomplished. If you are the officer, to better organize your mission, make sure you have briefed your crew on the ground as to your assignment. Make sure they have the proper tools and understand what you want to get accomplished, even if you have an SOP that directs their activities and tool assignments. An experienced crew will require less direction—sometimes. It is your job to get your orders across.

• Don’t let your crew show up empty-handed—assign the tools. Establish tool assignments beforehand; if you don’t have a tool when you arrive on the roof, the opportunity for its need may have passed before you get the tool. If you are going to use a power saw, make sure you start it on the ground first, then shut it down and take it to the roof. The worst-case scenario would be that the saw doesn’t start after you have lugged it all the way to the roof. If you have enough firefighters available, take two saws to the roof, and don’t forget the other tools—axes (they always start), halligans (to pull up roofing materials and break windows when used with a rope), hooks or pike poles (to push down ceilings and break windows), roof rope (for rope rescue or self-rescue), and lights (don’t work in the dark—ever) (photo 6).

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(6) The triangular examination cut allows you to do a preliminary assessment of conditions below the roof. It also shows you how much material you need to cut through. Some of these old roofs are pretty thick. If the rotary saw does not penetrate deeply enough, follow it up with a chain saw. (Photo by author.)

If you have a lower-floor fire, you probably won’t need saws. Take out the naturals, and move on. When in doubt, take a saw so you can make inspection cuts if needed. Probably the most important tool to take to the roof never gets there. We have all heard of the “melting tar on the roof” or the “dry spot on the wet roof” indicator of where to cut. That is 19th-century thinking. A thermal imaging camera (TIC) will show a heat signature that is unmistakable, taking the guesswork out of where to at least drop an inspection hole. Make sure the TIC is part of your tool assignments for the roof team.

• Make sure the roof holds you and that it is actually there. Without a doubt, firefighter safety is the most important issue to address, and it must be the overriding concern of all fireground operations. This safety issue begins with making sure the roof will hold you. In addition, jumping off the aerial to the roof is always a mistake. You not only can break your ankle or leg, but jumping can also cause a weakened roof to collapse. If you can’t see the roof, probe to make sure it is within stepping reach. Firefighters have been severely injured when they mistakenly stepped to an area that was actually a six-foot drop (or more) to the roof deck. Such a mishap would now make this a rapid intervention crew operation and prevent roof operations from being accomplished (photo 7).

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(7) High parapets have injured many firefighters. This wall has also been reinforced. Let Command know this. If the roof goes, so goes the wall. Pay attention to your surroundings at all times. (Photo by author.)

• Establish the Roof Division. Once on the roof, establish yourself as the Roof Division supervisor. This is a basic of the incident management system and makes the incident commander’s (IC’s) organizational plan easier to manage. Operational safety and fireground control begin and end with an organized approach to the action plan. Basic incident management and accountability are major elements in safety and in the action plan. Do your part.

• Light the roof. Those large spotlights at the tip of the aerial are meant to be turned on so you can find your way around and off the roof. If you don’t have them available or have not used the aerial to get to the roof, you must still have lights at the egress points so they can be more easily identified in the smoke. Never work in the dark.

• Establish a tool staging area and a retreat point. Establish an equipment staging area that can double as a retreat point. It should be in a safe area that is out of the way of operations but close enough to the egress point so that a quick personnel accountability report (PAR) can be conducted in an area close to the point from which members will be leaving the roof. The roof of an adjacent exposure is a good place, especially if you accessed the fire building roof from that way. Another good location is near the access device you used to get to the roof. How many times do you see roofs littered with all kinds of equipment in a haphazard manner? This is a dangerous trip hazard. A sloppy roof (and roof operation) is unsafe and unacceptable; the Roof Division supervisor is responsible for ensuring an orderly, safe roof operation. Tools not being used should be kept in a staging area so no one trips over them.

• Have at least one additional way off the roof. Make sure also that, regardless of how you got to the roof, you have at least one other way off the roof. Note to ICs and other personnel who select or establish the second means of egress: Announce over the air that these egress points are available and where they are, because usually only those who ordered or established them know the egress locations. Keep your personnel aware of the safety measures you put in place on their behalf.

• Conduct recon—walk the perimeter. The personnel on the roof will usually have the first opportunity for an all-around view of the structure, especially at the rear. They must provide Command with valuable information they acquire from the walk-around or perimeter check. These personnel should be looking not only for the locations of fire and smoke but also for victims trapped in areas that are not visible or easily accessible from the command post (CP). They should also be looking for exposure issues. Remember that Command can take action only in regard to the areas he can see or knows. Thus, a lion’s share of the problems encountered will be from areas that Command cannot see (photo 8).

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(8) This area on the C side, with its combustible decks and closely spaced wood-frame exposures, is vulnerable to fire spread from one city block to another. It is something Command needs to know. Roof personnel are often the first ones to see this, if they are looking. (Photo by author.)

• Probe with your weight on the back foot. When making those forays across the roof, personnel should use a tool to probe ahead of them, especially at a top-floor fire, where structural integrity may have already been compromised or when smoke conditions hamper efforts to properly see on the roof. If you can’t see at all, stop moving. Going to a crawl might also be helpful here. When probing with a tool or with the lead foot, keep the weight off the tool or the lead foot so that you will not fall if something gives way or if an unprotected shaft or hole is present. During hands-on training search operations at the Fire Department Instructors Conference in Indianapolis, we noticed that most firefighters do a good job of probing for floors, but they keep too much weight on the probing hand, foot, or tool. We had areas with floors missing; when the probing tool or body part found that area, the individual usually could not stop from falling forward into the missing floor as his forward momentum carried his body and the tool into the hole. Keep the weight off the leading foot or tool, and this will not happen.

• Issue a Roof Division report. Once recon is complete, a Roof Division report must be given to Command. Although most company reports follow the CAR (conditions, actions, resources) model, the report from the Roof Division must furnish a bit more information (photo 9).

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(9) Command needs to be kept informed. A structured report from the roof helps round out information not visible from the command post. (Photo by John Clarke.)

This roof report should include at least the following information:

—Fire and smoke conditions, especially when it is not on side A, where the IC can see it.
—Location of any victims, which should include what should be done about them. If the roof team must rescue them, that should be included. If not, it might be necessary to direct a rescue team to the victims’ locations. Remember that if the roof team has to rescue a victim, it will likely be a roof rope rescue, which will demand additional personnel, will be coordination-heavy, and—most critical to the coordination of the action plan—means that the roof team’s primary job of ventilation will not be completed in a timely manner, which will have a detrimental effect on the interior attack operation and on any victims who can’t make it to the windows.
—Exposure issues: what is on the C side of the building (and the B and D sides)? In attached buildings, the Roof Division will usually be the first to see these areas if these members conducted a recon of the perimeter. Don’t keep this information a secret.
—Presence and location of any holes, shafts, high parapets, or cornices. They may be fall hazards, fire spread hazards, or collapse hazards.
—Presence of concentrated loads or other heavy equipment on the roof. Firefighters have been killed when undesigned roof loads crashed through the roof of fire buildings. Especially in a top-floor or cockloft fire, this is a strategy-altering piece of information, meaning that all personnel will be withdrawn and operations will be switched to a defensive mode—but only if the IC knows about it and can take action in time. I can tell you this: If I have a top-floor or cockloft fire in an old building and I get a report that there is a heavy undesigned load on the roof, I would pull the plug on the operation and order all personnel out of the building and off the roof. This is critical in older buildings, where the loads were not designed into the original structure and were added during renovations. If the IC does not know about this, he cannot act to safeguard personnel. If you as the Roof Division don’t make it known, you endanger the entire fireground (photo 10).
—Actions taken. Let Command know what you are doing on the roof and how it is progressing. Are you only opening the natural openings, or are you also commencing with a roof-cutting operation? In addition, as stated earlier, if you need help, request it. Don’t keep this a secret either.

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(10) Look at this mess. Not only was this building built long before this was added to the roof, but its support structure was probably not reinforced. A top-floor fire here can cause an early collapse. (Photo by author.)

ROOF OPERATIONS BASED ON FIRE LOCATION

Let’s talk about specific roof operations based on the location of the fire in the building.

• Roof operations at lower-floor fires. Conducting roof operations on a lower-floor fire is probably more important in regard to the life still inside the building than conducting roof operations on a top-floor fire. On a lower-floor fire, the building is literally choking on its own contents as they are transformed into a deadly blanket of oxygen-displacing carcinogens (smoke) and are filling the building. If we do not pop the cork to burp the building, all other operations are infinitely more dangerous and time consuming. We can’t find the fire or its victims. In addition, we, ourselves, are more prone to disorientation. The next time you get a fire in a lower floor of a flat-roof building, if you think any area is more important to address than the vertical arteries that can be controlled only from the roof, you will be jeopardizing all other fireground activities. This vertical artery control can be conducted only through timely roof operations. In North Hudson (NJ) Regional Fire and Rescue, we respond with two ladders on a reported fire. Our SOPs, unless someone is showing at a window in the fire area, direct the first ladder to get the roof. The second ladder has the interior. With three-person ladder companies (officer included), you have only one choice: Get the building opened, and all other things get better (photo 11).

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(11) This building, with the fire location in the cellar and spreading upward, is choking on itself. Roof operations here are more important than if this were a top-floor fire. (Photo by Bob Scollan.)

On larger buildings, you are likely to have bulkhead doors as seen in photo 4. On smaller buildings, usually three stories or less, you will find scuttles and skylights. There is no hard-and-fast rule here. In addition, you will find soil pipes on all flat roofs. You may also find dumbwaiter shafts and bulkhead skylights. When opening bulkhead doors, probe inside the opening for any occupants who might have fallen victim to the products of combustion in the stairwell. As a first operation, get them all opened up (photos 12, 13).

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(12) This photo shows some excellent vent opportunities: a bulkhead enclosure with a skylight at the rear, a dumbwaiter bulkhead with a skylight to the immediate right, and an elevator bulkhead with a skylight to the left. Note also the soil pipes. (Photo by author.)
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(13) This three-story building has both a scuttle and a skylight. Note also the open shaft between the building and the exposure. That’s a four-story drop. The exposure, while identical in appearance from the street, has a different roof layout (bulkhead). (Photo by author.)

Smaller buildings will usually have no bulkhead doors, but this is not an exclusive rule. Scuttles are usually found over the stairwell terminal point, whereas skylights may be found over stairwells, top-floor hallways, or maybe an individual apartment—this last location will usually have been added by renovation. Not only must these features be opened, but the returns must be pulled as well. The returns are the enclosure boards inside the scuttle or skylight opening between the roof and the top-floor proper. Their height indicates the height of the cockloft. They can be made of everything from plaster and lath to tongue-and-groove boards or wainscoting to gypsum board. I have also seen them covered with tin sheeting. You must pull them to ventilate the cockloft. If you do not pull them, you are only venting the top floor. Be aware also that sometimes beneath skylights there will be glass panels at ceiling level. Probe inside the opening, and make sure they are vented also. A word of caution: When opening returns or glass panels, use a long-handled tool. The smoke behind them may be above its ignition point and may ignite furiously once it is released and mixes with the oxygen at roof level. You don’t want your face to be there when it does (photo 14).

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(14) The wainscoting enclosure makes up the returns beneath this scuttle opening. If you do not open them up, you are not venting the cockloft. (Photo by author.)

Check all vertical arteries protruding through the roof. Fire may be traveling vertically in these voids. Once it is, it may bypass intermediate floors and even the top floor and break out in the cockloft. Again, the TIC is the best tool. Make sure it gets to the roof (the second time this was mentioned). If anything is showing excessive heat, communicate it to Command and the interior teams, and, as ordered, open it up.

Once natural openings are vented and operations complete, the Roof Division supervisor must make a report to Command. A PAR should also be taken, and the company should request another assignment. Sometimes, if personnel are sufficient, the IC may order them to stay on the roof to monitor conditions. Usually, it does not work out that way, and many departments have included additional actions in their SOPs. These tasks may include accessing the top floor and conducting vent-enter-search (VES) operations on the top floor and working downward by way of the fire escape. It is critical that before going to the next task/location specified in the SOPs the Roof Division report to the CP that the roof operations have been completed, the Roof Division has been terminated, and the location and next assignment/objective of the team members. The CP must acknowledge receipt of this information, so make sure you rebroadcast the report if you do not receive an answer. No company should take on another assignment, even if it is reporting to the CP by foot, without informing Command of that action. Do not freelance.

• The top floor or cockloft fire. For the top-floor or cockloft fire (or a first-floor fire in a one-story building), you must not only conduct all the tasks on the roof as addressed in the section above for lower-floor fires, but you must now cut the roof to attempt to localize fire spread and relieve the heat conditions at the top of the building. This is hard work and especially critical in attached buildings, where fire spread through a common cockloft can destroy a whole row of buildings. With the minimal personnel assigned to most ladder companies today, ask for another company or two. You will be able to complete the task more efficiently with more people. You might not get it right away, but it will be on the list of the IC’s priorities when it is requested in the roof report. If operations are extensive, say in a trenching operation, you should also request a chief officer.

CUTTING THE ROOF

A well-placed ventilation hole in the roof will make all top-floor operations easier and safer to accomplish. If completed properly and in a timely manner, the top-floor working area should be clear enough to see right into the cockloft and extinguish fire as the ceilings are being pulled. In these situations, let the top-floor support teams know that the roof has been opened so they may then pull the ceilings with less likelihood of creating a backdraft in the cockloft (photos 15, 16).

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(15) Note the smoke emanating from the top floor. Although the bulk of this fire was at the rear of the building, it was migrating toward the available A side openings. This smoke will get worse and make operations on the top floor more difficult unless the building is vented properly. (Photo by Ron Jeffers.)
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(16) The roof has been opened at the rear, and the smoke at the top-floor windows has all but dissipated, making it safer to conduct top-floor operations. The fire wants to go up and out. Make sure you provide that opportunity. (Photo by Ron Jeffers.)

First, we must decide where to cut. Again, bring the TIC to the roof. It will show heat signatures and at least give an idea of where to begin the exam hole. Of course, communication with companies on the top floor is essential and should be used to reinforce and coordinate the operation. As most flat-roof buildings slope slightly to allow for drainage, be aware that fire traveling in the cockloft will look to travel in an uphill direction; keep that in mind when planning the cut. These are called inverted roof systems and will be identified by 90° uprights attached to the main roof deck. They will (usually) diminish in size from front to rear (photo 17).

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(17) Note the 90º uprights between the lower and the main roof decks. This is an inverted roof. Make sure the ceiling is pushed down. If these uprights are at any angle other than perpendicular to the roof (90º), assume it is a truss, notify Command, and evacuate if fire is present. (Photo by author.)

Speaking of planning the cut, it is the officer’s responsibility to inform all the Roof Division members of the location and layout of the intended cut. Scraping it out on the roof with an ax or the point of a halligan will work. Make sure also that the members assigned to cut are identified and that all other members are kept out of the “circle of danger,” meaning that if the member with the saw (or with any tool, for that matter) can spin in a circle and hit you with the tool or saw he is using, you are in the circle of danger. The only person who should be in the circle of danger is the guide firefighter, who should be behind the saw operator and use a nonverbal communication system. I have found that a series of taps to communicate does not work. It is best, when the cut is being made, for the guide firefighter to keep a hand on the saw operator. Once the guide firefighter breaks contact, the saw operator stops cutting. It’s as simple as that. The saw operator concentrates on the cut while the guide firefighter keeps an eye on the roof and everything else. In fact, in theory, if the guide firefighter falls off the roof because he is not paying attention, the saw operator should stop his backward movement and the cutting of the roof as soon as the hand of the guide firefighter is removed from his person.

When planning the cut, make sure that you will be opening up as many joist bays as possible. This means making the cut parallel to the bearing walls. In most buildings, the bearing walls are the building walls closest to each other. The roof joists run from one bearing wall to the other. In most flat-roofed buildings, they will be the side walls. If you cut with the joists, which are usually 18 inches on center, you can open a 4- × 8-foot hole and vent only two or three joists bays, whereby if you cut across the joists (without cutting through them, of course), you will vent as many as six joist bays (photos 18, 19).

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(18) The bearing walls here are sides B and D (those closest to each other). Note the ventilation opportunities as well as the open shaft. Note also the window in the peak of the exposure on the left—something else to think about when venting. (Photo by author.)
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(19) Cutting in a direction that is parallel to the bearing walls and across the joists allows more joist bays to be opened. Note the “legs” that were cut to accommodate extending the hole. (Photo by author.)

A word of caution: If you cut the roof open and find anything but 90° uprights (indicating an inverted roof) such as joists at angles (30°, 45°, 60°—anything but 90°), get on the radio immediately. You have uncovered a truss roof, and if there is fire inside it, it is withdrawal time. This is strategy-altering information. Do not keep it to yourself. In fact, if you can’t see through the smoke, use the TIC to evaluate the joist orientation. The same goes if you come across wooden I-beams, which along with the lightweight wood and steel truss systems have been used in many renovations across the country.

Make the roof cut as close to directly above the seat of the fire as is safe. The key words here are “as is safe.” If the cut target is over an area that is close to the roof edge and, because of the wind direction, must be cut near the roof edge (such as when the wind is blowing across the roof with the cut target on the windward side of the roof), it is safer to move the cut in a few feet, away from the edge of the roof. Don’t jeopardize firefighters for a few feet of roof. A team of firefighters fell off the roof when the fire erupted from the hole they were completing. They were too close to the edge; as a result, one died, and the other was severely injured. Always make sure there is a buffer between your operation and the roof edge.

Note on horizontal ventilation: Top-floor horizontal ventilation is also best conducted from the roof at top-floor fires. Assign a member of the Roof Division this task; he must be ready to effect this ventilation when the attack team on the top floor informs him that the attack is about to begin. This announcement can come at any time while vertical roof operations are being prepared or conducted; make sure that the person who is assigned to perform horizontal ventilation is listening to the radio and has the proper tools ready to go. A halligan hook with its heavy head works better than a pike pole (hook), but the best is the rope attached to the halligan tool. In this case, the roof member assigned this task would lower the rope down to the window; measure that distance off; and then, when the request has been made from below, launch the tool out and away so it “pendulums” into the windows with as much force as possible (photo 20).

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(20) If you are breaking windows from the roof, the most important part of the evolution is to properly measure the tool down to the window. Wear your gloves. (Photo by Mike Daley.)

If you are confronted with double-hung windows, you will have to measure again to drop through the bottom sash (always do the top sash first). In addition, if double-pane windows are present, you will have to launch the tool twice (or more) for each sash. If you encounter hurricane windows (not common, but possible), horizontal ventilation from the roof will not be possible; members may have to access a fire escape to better defeat this tough barrier.

When you find a spot you think might be the place to cut, drop a triangular inspection cut into the roof. The single blade plunge (kerf cut) will also work, but it is not as effective during the daylight. The triangular exam cut, discussed earlier, not only gives you a chance to evaluate conditions beneath the cut but also starts you off with a “knockout” or grab point from which to extend your cuts and pull up the roofing once the cut is complete.

Continue your cuts, working with the wind at your back. If you have to enlarge your initial 4- × 4-foot hole, it would be easy to extend a 4- × 4-foot hole into a 4- × 8-foot hole if you think ahead while making the first three cuts: Prepare the larger hole before pulling the 4- × 4-foot hole. Do this by making your cuts or “extending the legs” that are parallel to the bearing walls (usually the second and third cuts) to a length of eight feet instead of four feet. Then make your last four-foot cut to complete the 4- × 4-foot cut, providing knockouts on each end for pulling. Pull the 4- × 4-foot hole, and push the ceiling down to vent not only the cockloft but also the apartment so the top-floor team will get some relief from the heat. Then, all you have to do to extend the cut to a 4- × 8-foot cut is complete the last 4-foot cut at the very end, leeward side of the cut. You can even use the pulled roof section from the initial hole as a shield to finish the cut. This whole 4- × 8-foot operation took only five cuts. This “extended leg” cut can be much more easily accomplished than the 8- × 8-foot hole, which requires a lot more work and people and still opens the same number of joist bays (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Extending the Cut

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To make an easily expandable roof hole, make your second and third cuts (the “legs”) eight feet long (as represented by the dotted lines). Then make your fourth cut to finish the 4- × 4-foot hole. You then have to make only one more cut to double your exhaust output from 16 to 32 square feet. (Illustration courtesy of author.)

Finally, as an officer, it is your duty to inform Command that the roof has been successfully vented and what the current (and forecasted) conditions are. It is also your responsibility to keep your eyes and ears on all things, observing and evaluating structural conditions and fire conditions and listening to reports for indications of deteriorating conditions in other areas. If need be, you can cut additional holes or expand the original hole. It is also a good idea to check the roof area of the leeward exposure for extension; then check the windward side.

Once the operation is complete, instead of standing around admiring your good work, terminate the Roof Division after approval from Command. Before leaving the roof, make sure all personnel are accounted for by conducting a PAR, and ensure that no tools are left on the roof. The final report from the roof should be the termination of the Roof Division. The team must then report back to the CP for additional assignments, rehab, or release—no freelancing!

The last phase of the roof operation is to inform firefighters responding to the address at a later time that the roof has been opened. An adopted building marking system is the best way. Not only should the building be marked, but there must also be a mechanism in place that informs companies during the response of the unsafe condition, such as including the information in a computer-aided dispatch report or having Dispatch announce that the roof is open (photo 21).

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(21) Mark the building as a warning to future responders to this address. This department has established a “no-entry” policy for this building (the square with the “X” in it). Not only is the roof open (RO), but the floor is open (FO) as well. Safety begins with awareness. (Photo by author.)

Note that these actions are not restricted to residential structures with flat roofs. They can and should also be used in taxpayer fires of ordinary construction. These are just a few operational tips aimed at making your roof operation safer and more efficient.

ANTHONY AVILLO, a 26-year veteran of the fire service, is a deputy chief in North Hudson Regional (NJ) Fire & Rescue, assigned as 1st Platoon regional tour commander. He has a B.S. in fire science from New Jersey City University. He is an instructor at the Bergen County (NJ) and Monmouth County (NJ) Fire Academies. Avillo, an FDIC instructor, is a member of the FDIC advisory board and is an editorial advisor to Fire Engineering. He is the author of Fireground Strategies, 2nd edition (Fire Engineering, 2008) and Fireground Strategies Workbook, Volume II (Fire Engineering, 2010). He is a contributing author to Fire Engineering’s Handbook for Firefighter I and II (Fire Engineering, 2009) and co-author of its Study Guide (Fire Engineering, 2009). Avillo was a contributor to the new Tactical Perspectives DVD series (Fire Engineering, 2011), has a blog on the Fire Engineering Blog page, and has a radio show on Fire Engineering Radio called “Fireground Strategies and Other Stuff from the Street.” He also writes “The Bigger Picture” column on Firenuggets.com.

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