Teaching with Fire Photos
TOM BRENNAN, the editor ol Fire Engineering, spent more than 20 years in some of the world’s busiest ladder companies in the Fire Department of New York City.
Random Thoughts On…
Fire photographs serve many purposes. They document, inform, excite, and form collections. But one of their greatest values is in teaching. This month’s cover is a good example. If we can forget the department and the actual event, and concentrate for a moment only on what we see, random thoughts can actually form a drill.
The construction of the fire building appears to be balloon-type frame, also known as Victorian or Queen Anne. The walls will hide a multitude of 20foot-high voids that connect with the attic space, unimpeded by firestops. The walls will probably be plaster, lathed with dried wood strips. Fire may extend and break out anywhere within the structure at any time. Members performing interior operations should know this and reduce surprises.
The home is heavily occupied. Judging from the two mailboxes on the facade, we must assume at least two families in residence.
It’s nighttime. The life hazard is at its worst. Mostly all home, the inhabitants are scattered throughout the structure and are at different levels of awareness. Searching and accounting for everyone will be tough and dangerous.
Help should be called for immediately upon arrival. At least three handlines are needed right away. Venting, entry, and search will require more personnel. Those operations have to be fast and thorough if we’re going to get to the occupants as soon as possible. Simultaneous inside and outside entry is the key. This is a fastmoving, hot, and punishing fire.
The melting siding is giving away valuable information. It’s plastic and it’s toxic. Fire may readily extend outside more rapidly than inside, cutting off escape routes. And later, self-contained breathing apparatus will have to be used during overhauling, because trapped pockets of burning plastic by-products might be freed at any time.
The firefighters are neither in a position nor properly protected to handle the “surprise” venting of fire as the superheated gases and flame from a rollover burst through the closed inside and outside doors. Because the members of the engine team are standing, the self-venting fire will pass through them instead of over their heads, as it would if they were crouching. The firefighters are wearing SCBA, but it’s not fully donned; their face masks aren’t in place.
This may have been the proper position for an initial line placement and attack. But the fire is now evidently in the front of the structure between the handline and most of the interior. If the attack continues from here, the fire will have punishing effects on those on the other side of it. And we won’t be able to protect the open interior stair, the descending occupants, and the ascending firefighters. Perhaps the firefighters are attempting to reposition to another entrance, where they can accomplish all these things more effectively.
The procedure that makes for successful search for and removal of the people waiting for us in this structure is ladders, ladders, ladders. The one seen in the photo may have been the only hasty access to the porch roof and thence to the rooms facing it. However, the extending fire makes it useless—momentarily, at least. Alternate positions have to be reached soon. Fences, bushes, and other ground obstructions will make this difficult.
In braced-frame or platform construction, the alternative to balloon-frame construction, we can generally put off roof venting because of the firestops in the walls. But in Queen Annes, roof venting is a must. In placing apparatus, we have to be sure that aerial and tower equipment can be positioned to be effective and make that operation as safe as possible.