-Brad, this is a subject that has been on the front burn for the last month or so and yet remains provocative in that many firefighters do not understand the true crux of the issue. I will take the liberty of paraphrasing myself from a previous discussion.
-It is a fact that abandon buildings do not set themselves on fire and therefore the only reasonable assumption is that the fire started as a direct result of human intervention meaning the structure is occupied and must therefor be searched. This condition of the homeless occupying these structures is something large city fire departments must deal with daily and because of this frequent exposure, generally have a better understanding of.
-Moreover, it is not just the homeless that "use" abandon buildings. These vacant structures, in many large cities, are frequently anything but vacant. They have become homes to the homeless, drug dens to the addicted or playgrounds for unsupervised inner city children. A vacant structure is an ideal location for anyone wanting to do something clandestinely from a drug lab or illegal pawn shops to chop shops, drop houses for illegal aliens and even bookie joints.
-The idea of addressing the problem with surround and drown tactics completely ignores the fact that potential victims may be inside and in need of rescue. This fact has been supported with several recent fires across the country with rescues of victims from abandoned structures.
-ALL structures must be searched at some point. The level of aggressiveness for an interior search must be based on structural integrity, available resources and fire conditions; not who the occupants are or whether or not the building is supposed to be occupied. Abandoned, occupied, vacant... it's all irrelevant while the emergency is taking place.
-As to the comment of all firefighters having some sort of personal escape gear; I stringently support the idea. So much so I personally believe that this should be a requirement for the basic equipment list to conduct firefighting operations.
-If you think about it, wild land firefighters are required to carry shelters, so why aren't structural firefighters required to carry escape/bail out kits? Because FD's don't want to spend the money on the such gear that's why.
-It's easier to roll the dice on something that doesn't happen very often; i.e. a bail out situation, as apposed to spending the money and equipping firefighters properly. And though this is turning into a rant that is off the topic, these very same administrators are usually willing to spend the bailout gear money to purchase A.E.D.'s, which are infrequently used pieces of equipment, for every apparatus in town. Poor logic on the part of a Fire Chief that can come up with reasons not to purchase basic survival gear and yet expects his people to perform interior structural firefighting.