Private-Dwelling Fire Drill


This fire is in a 1½-story private dwelling. The fire conditions are rapidly changing, and members operating inside the structure might not be aware of this fact because of the amount of smoke inside the building. The presence of high heat conditions may be the only warning sign of impending rapid fire extension or flashover. It appears that the water in the line is not getting to the seat of the fire, putting interior crews in a potentially perilous position. Photo 1 shows that the fire might be in the basement and the first hoseline will be needed to protect the interior stairway and the members doing the primary search of the first floor.

A second handline should be stretched to get water on the fire from a different location. Operating on the stairs at a basement fire of this intensity will be difficult and dangerous at best. If the basement is a normal, wide open, and unpartitioned space, the fire and heat will vent up the staircase and impact descending members. If the basement has been converted to a living space, the door and partition might make the basement steps tenable for a hoseline stretch. The engine company officer tasked with getting the line in operation should make this decision in communication with the incident commander (IC).

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(1) Photos by Tim Olk.

The ladder company members and officer operating on the interior must locate the fire on the first floor and determine if the fire started in the basement. If the fire is in the basement, the ladder company should allow the engine company to descend the stairs first with the handline; the truck company does not want to be stuck on the stairs with no water and no line for protection. If truck members are going to make entry onto the second floor from a ladder or up the interior stairs to perform a search, they MUST have a secondary means of emergency egress and know the escape point location. Command must maintain constant communication with the interior team.

If the ladder is placed at the window, be sure that it is in place for a quick escape and that all obstructions in the window are removed. Make a door out of the window. The truck company officer should use a thermal imaging camera (TIC) to determine the amount of heat coming up the stairs if there is a basement fire. That bit of information might help the engine officer and IC to determine if an attack down the stairs is warranted. A member of the first ladder company on scene should conduct a 360° survey of the building to see if the fire is visible out the rear and if the building has different levels in the rear. The IC must also be informed of a fire attack point.

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If the fire is minor and in the basement or there is no other access to the basement and you choose to attack from the interior, engine company members should be first down the stairs with the line. The basement stairs act like a chimney; if the heat showing on the truck officer’s TIC is significant and coming up the stairway, no member should be committed down the stairs.

Fire conditions are changing, and the situation is fluid right now; the IC has the final say on what the crews do. He needs the information from an interior member operating on the rear side.

If you are ordered out, leave immediately, but bring the handline with you for protection. The interior officer must coordinate and control venting before it takes place. If the ventilation affects interior conditions, communicate this to the IC.

Basement fires are difficult and dangerous for many reasons. Coordinating and controlling the fire attack are the foremost tactics at these private-dwelling fires.

MICHAEL M. DUGAN is a 36-year fire service veteran and a 25-year veteran of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY). He is a captain of Ladder Company 123 in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Dugan received the James Gordon Bennett medal in 1992 and the Harry M. Archer Medal in 1993, the FDNY’s highest award for bravery. He was also a volunteer firefighter for the Halesite (NY) Fire Department. He is a nationally recognized instructor and teaches at FDIC on truck company operations, building construction, and size-up.

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