Thursday, January 6, 2011

Vacant Buildings

Recently we see firefighters losing their lives or getting badly injured at abandoned or vacant fires and when you examine the training versus the response they are greatly at odds. The fire service knows this is a growing problem, the fire commanders and firefighters have the knowledge to react correctly but each and every time the only observable consistent thing is that most people on scene forget all the Mr.Obvious cues and go about risking a lot of life, for very little, even when an exterior set of operations would safely and effectively end the fire situation.

Very experienced officers will say in one sentence that the hazards are great and yet when they commit firefighters to an interior strategy they hurt them or get them killed. Why oh why are we inside, because that's where the action is! Not because of a confirmed rescue situation or hazards related to an exposure problem. You can use those last two as your excuses but they do not hold water with me because they are so few and far from the usual set of facts.

Its simply like asking yourself, if I know there is fire showing from a basement do I send firefighters in on the first floor? NO, NO, you do not folks, stop the madness!

Vacant and abandoned structures should be approached with aggressive observation and sizing up of the present and future possibilities of the fire potential. If interior operations are unavoidable then all necessary resources need to be called and a time limit might need to be employed. When the cues related to the fire tell you everyone out, do it immediately. Interior crews should always report conditions that are hazardous and leave when they are!

I listened to a recent vacancy fire in a big city with many resources and, while communication was great, no one responded to what they heard until very late in the game when a safety officer finally deems it unsafe enough to leave. Many of them reported very hazardous conditions and very little exposure problems but did they leave? NO. The commander wanted to know about the fire in the basement but not the holes in the floors and the sagging walls where people were operating. Real safety means taking real actions to make people as safe as is possible in this very dangerous job. They were lucky this time but how about I don't get to say that anymore and we all start keeping the firefighters safe.

Ask yourself this last question. If this fire I'm working has no one to rescue and no significant exposure issues and it burns to the ground what will happen?

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