We all have them. Some districts have more than others. It’s the vacant home, trailer or business. Kids play in them, people squat in them and we have fires in them. As aggressive firefighters we understand that VACANT does not mean UNOCCUPIED. Nearly ever week we see rescues made out of these “vacant structures”.
In “theory-land” a vacant would be easy to deal with. Line in place, and a quick search then don’t let it spread… checkmate. Why are we pre-programmed that this will be a quick and easy search? Because VACANT is a synonym with EMPTY right? Not even close. Vacants often have lots of furniture, trash, piles of clothes and much more. All things make a “quick search” not so quick.
When compared to the commercial structure, a firefighter has an easier time maintaining building and room orientation based on the rooms contents. Find a bed and expect you are in a bedroom. Find a table and you might be in the kitchen or dining room. Logical furniture set-up does not exist in the vacant. Expect overturned, broken and piled up furniture and debris, which can throw off a firefighters orientation to the “typical home”.
We may also find indications that the home is not at all vacant. It may appear quiet on the outside but beds and relatively fresh food or make shift lighting or heating may indicate squatters.
If you couple all the above with half finished construction, stolen building materials and booby traps and/or illegal activity and we’ve come to there realization that these vacants are very dangerous to us.
But we are aggressive! So we are going to do what we need to do to complete a primary. Are we aggressive with these structures before the alarm? We should be. When passing one on a medical call or on the way to the store are we stopping to take a quick look at what we may be faced with?
This brings up so many questions. Does my department encourage this or even allow it? Are we trespassing? Is it safe or should we do this with a police escort?
You need to weigh this out and decide. You need to have conversations with your Chief’s and make that decision together. I can tell you what I found surprised me and was worth a quick stop and peak in the windows. Snap a few pictures and share them with the other shifts. Take a look at what I found in one afternoon.
House #1-Home in a nicer residential area. Half the time the front is boarded up and half of the time it sits wide open. Furniture and trash everywhere. Also tons of bees coming out of h*** in the wall of the garage and a nasty pool on the C-side.
Vacant house on the main drag near commercial area. Most of the interior building features have been removed. It's clean and no evidence of squatters.
Commercial Building-Newer commercial area. 4 of the five buildings that look like this have active tenants. This one on the back side looks OK from the outside. Even has an FDC. Taking a closer look inside no sprinklers, ceilings, there are unprotected trusses and not even a floor.