Reading A Building – More Fascia Considerations

By John W. Mittendorf

Let’s continue with our fascia considerations:

In some cases, we are creatures of habit. As an example, do you sit at the same place for lunch and dinner at the firehouse? Answer – of course you do. So, when we apply this human characteristic to fireground operations, we can normally make two bold statements:

  • Regardless of the size of a fire, you will stretch a 1 3/4-inch line most of the time.
  • Regardless of the location of a fire in a structure, you will stretch the initial line through the front door.

When we apply the last statement to fireground operations that involve buildings with fascias, a potential problem can suddenly surface courtesy of human habits: you will likely stretch the initial attack line though the front door and underneath a fascia, known for its ability to collapse when exposed to fire. If you suspect that a fascia on the front of a building and/or over your entry point is (or might be) exposed to fire, consider stretching your attack line through the back door. Consider sending an engine company to the back of the structure. Ensure it has access to a rotary saw with a metal cutting blade as the doors at the rear of these structures are normally metal doors in metal frames. Although this approach might involve more time, it can significantly increase fireground safety.

If a fascia has been exposed to fire and must be overhauled, remember that gravity wants the fascia, fire weakens construction, and water weighs 8.35 pounds per gallon. These three factors work against you while overhauling a fascia (or any building for that matter) that has been exposed to fire. There are three basic ways to overhaul a fascia:

  • If the fascia has a slope (or pitch) on the front portion, you can try to work from the top (ground ladder or aerial device) down into the fascia. This is difficult and dangerous from a ground ladder, and difficult but relatively safe from an aerial device. If the fascia is flat on the front portion, you can try to pull the finish material from the front with a tool (pike pole, etc), but you will be standing in the potential collapse zone.
  • You can stand underneath the fascia and pull the bottom portion to access the interior. Because the uniform building code requires compressed metal lath and plaster over a public walkway, this can be a difficult operation at best,. Additionally, while you pull the bottom portion of the fascia, you will be standing in the potential collapse zone.
  • If the roof is safe, personnel can access the interior of a fascia by quickly removing the back side of the fascia (which is normally 1/2″ plywood, OSB, etc), and conducting the overhaul from the roof. If the fascia were to collapse during this overhaul scenario, the collapsing material would fall away from personnel.

The next Reading A Building installment will consider the most important factor when confronted with a fascia – your size-up and how you evaluate this type of construction.

John W. Mittendorf joined the Los Angeles City (CA) Fire Department (LAFD) in 1963, rising to the rank of captain II, task force commander. In 1981, he was promoted to battalion chief and in the year following became the commander of the In-Service Training Section. In 1993, he retired from LAFD after 30 years of service. Mittendorf has been a member of the National Fire Protection Research Foundation on Engineered Lightweight Construction Technical Advisory Committee. He has provided training programs for the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Maryland; the University of California at Los Angeles; and the British Fire Academy at Morton-in-Marsh, England. He is a member of the editorial advisory board of Fire Engineering and author of the books Truck Company Operations (Fire Engineering, 1998) and Facing the Promotional Interview (Fire Engineering, 2003).

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