Fire Engineering Training Community

Where firefighters come to talk training

Firefighter Safe Operations in Abandoned buildings and email from the USFA.

Recently it has come to the attention of most of us while probably sharing the same concern, have read or seen the news on searches in abonded buildings and collapses. While these events have recently ended in near misses or in tragedy, these things are not uncommon in our line of work. We always talk about how this may hae been avoidable or what can we do to prevent history from repeating itself? With todays technology, we can hopefully mitigate and change what may continue to result in tragic loss of our brothers and sisters. We must committ 100% to make ourselves better at communicating situational awreness on the emergency scene. We must continually provide the IC with information on the situation whether it be an MVA, a natural disaster or a fire. Lets just stick with fires since that is the majority of concern. We learn building construction and fire behavior for a reason and that is so that we can recognize that things in the environment we are in are or will be changing if we don't make good decsions for tactial firefighting. By continually providing feedback on building structural stability as well as fire conditions on all sides we provide the Ic and others a painting of what others can not see. By performing simple steps like reevaluating, recommending or reporting the measure we are or would like to take, we give others the chance to quickly evaluate how this may directly affect the crews and their safety. Ultimately the IC has the final say but may decide to let the crew with the best view into the fire make the call. By doing this we give the IC, and others a chance to evaluate their tactics to stay one step ahead of the fire and if necessary to change their tactics to adapt to the conditions while providing the necessary safety measures to ensure we all go home.

Today the USFA just put out an email containing the following comment:

"The recent double firefighter fatality fire in Chicago, the eight civilian fatality fire in New Orleans, and two other recent building collapses in Buffalo, NY and Washington, DC resulting in firefighter injuries stress the importance of safe operations in abandoned buildings.

These events serve as an impetus for the U.S. Fire Administration to highlight and share with you materials designed to raise awareness of the risks and offer suggestions for addressing the dangers associated with vacant and abandoned buildings. Please share this information with community officials and operations personnel so we might prevent another tragedy".

Below I have taken the links from their email and pasted them below.
USFA Coffee Break

Abandoned Cold Storage Warehouse Multi-Firefighter Fatality Fire

Vacant Residential Fires

Board Up Procedures

Abandoned Building Project Toolbox

What are your thoughts on this topic and what can we do as a Brotherhood to improve the aspect of our situational awareness in unfamiliar surroundings with the lack of funding and manning and come out on top?

Views: 264

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

While this has more to do with personal safety, I wanted to include the use of personal escape systems and training to familiarize yourself with their uses and advantages. We have the new MSA integrated system in the airpak and while not everyone has this system or some may not have a system at all, it doesn't matter, but knowing how they can help you may change that. Today I was doing some reading in the Capital City Firefighter and came across some info which lead me to the following link Safety Harness The DCFD along with Globe engineered and produced a harness system for the Extreme turnouts. The system is founded off events that have happened in the past in the DCFD and other jurisdiction while most notably from FDNY and the Black Sunday incident which occurred January 25th 2005. While many other self rescue and escape systems are out there, I am just giving an example to one of the many you may come across. As long as we are aware of our surroundings and have the proper training and knowledge of how to rescue ourselves if and when needed, it is up to you and or your department to invest in the harness and equipment for the situation that best fits your needs. The things you do to be a better tactical firefighter will have a bigger impact on not only saving your life but the lives of our own and others when the need arises.

-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.

Reply to Discussion


Policy Page


The login above DOES NOT provide access to Fire Engineering magazine archives. Please go here for our archives.


Our contributors' posts are not vetted by the Fire Engineering technical board, and reflect the views and opinions of the individual authors. Anyone is welcome to participate.

For vetted content, please go to

We are excited to have you participate in our discussions and interactive forums. Before you begin posting, please take a moment to read our community policy page.  

Be Alert for Spam
We actively monitor the community for spam, however some does slip through. Please use common sense and caution when clicking links. If you suspect you've been hit by spam, e-mail

FE Podcasts

Check out the most recent episode and schedule of

© 2023   Created by fireeng.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service