Returning Fire Building To the Owner’s Control
The Volunteers Corner
Once the order to pick up is given, the chief officer in charge of a fire should be free to give all his attention to turning over control of the involved property to the owner or tenant. How well this is done will often determine the future firesafety of the property.
The chief should talk with the owner, or person responsible for the property, and formally return custody of the property to him. Doing this serves as a warning to the owner that it is now up to him to provide security against trespassers and the elements.
At fires where a home may continue to be occupied but further ventilation is desirable, the owner must be told which windows and doors have been left open. At the same time, you can offer to have your men close any the owner prefers to shut immediately. Then if a downpour or windstorm occurs after all fire fighters have left, the owner will be aware of the necessity to shut various openings.
Roof openings: A door or window that has been broken by fire fighters through forcible entry should be mentioned so that the chief and the owner reach an understanding as to who is going to take any immediate steps that may be needed to protect the opening. Roof openings should be mentioned, and if a salvage cover is left over it, arrangements can be made to get it back to the fire company. And this is a good time to explain why a hole was made in the roof to speed the extinguishment of the fire and reduce the potential fire loss.
If an attic, kitchen, industrial exhaust or other fan has been left operating to clear residual smoke, mention it.
When it is necessary to shut down an oil burner or other heating unit, the owner should be informed. This is especially necessary in freezing temperatures that can lead to frozen water pipes and further financial loss. Pipes can be drained, or sometimes an owner can arrange for an emergency heating system.
If sections of the building have to be boarded up for safety, the details should be worked out by the chief and the owner. Oftentimes the building inspector can be brought into the picture at this point, and his concurring opinion may carry some legal power that will get the job done at once. In some areas, this job is done by the municipality when the owner is not available, and he is billed for the cost of material and labor.
Electrical fires: When the fire has been caused by electrical equipment or has affected an electrical circuit, then power to the affected circuit must be shut off at the panel board. This means switching off the appropriate circuit breaker, if it did not switch off by itself, or removing the fuse in a fused panel.
Then the chief should inform the owner of the action taken and tell him that power shall not be restored to the circuit until a licensed electrician has checked the wiring. In some cases, of course, power to the entire building has to be shut off before the fire companies leave the premises. In any fire involving electrical wiring, warning the owner or occupant to have an electrician check out the electrical system should present the owner from concluding that his electrical system is all right because the firemen left the scene. We are not electrical inspectors, and we should be the first to say so to an owner.
Oil burner fires: A similar situation arises after oil burner fires. We are not oil burner inspectors, and it follows that the chief officer should tell the owner that the oil burner must not be started until an oil burner serviceman has checked over the heating equipment.
When fires are confined to mattresses and upholstered furniture, the burned material should be removed from the building. There, overhaul can be completed. If some smoldering area in the material is overlooked, at least there will be no danger to the building or occupants. Again, the owner has to be told where the mattress or furniture was placed. The chair or couch may be more valuable than you think, and the owner may wish to take steps to protect the item.
When a building can no longer be occupied but contains valuable articles, an owner will sometimes ask for a watchman’s temporary services. A chief officer can help an owner by arranging for a special policeman or a guard to stand watch. The chief may be able to let the last company stay until the guard arrives, or he might let two fire fighters stand watch for an hour or so until the watchman arrives.
When valuables have been removed from the fire area, the occupants of the premises should be notified by the chief officer. Many fire departments turn over money and jewelry to the police, and then the owner goes to a police station to recover his property. This is a businesslike arrangement to relieve the fire officers of having to protect valuables while fighting a fire.
In taking leave of a building owner or occupant, the chief has an opportunity to briefly explain how the fire was fought to limit the potential damage and how the fire might have been prevented by a better sense of fire prevention by the occupant.