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Another abandoned building takes more firefighter lives

We are all mourning the loss of our Brother firefighters in Chicago and our hearts go out to their families and the families of those injured in this event. Yet in spite of this tragedy and several others including the tragic Worcester Mass fire killing six of our Nations bravest, we continue to enter these unsafe structures looking for the homeless and transient populations living in these buildings.

 

Here is a fact –homeless scatter like rats when the buildings start on fire meeting their own primal need of survival. They are standing outside when we arrive and watch as we enter those structures. The fire service has not and does not adequately address abandoned buildings with a comprehensive pre-fire evaluation. These buildings are in a deplorable condition, subject to collapse on any ordinary day AND with a fire inside, consuming much of the remaining structural support, they collapse and kill us.

 

This is not a Monday morning quarterback exercise, but one of concern with our limited staffing and response capabilities, many of these abandoned structures need to be relegated to the “urban master plan for redevelopment” and the fire service response plan should be to confine these fires to the building of origin with a “surround and drown” strategy.

 

Identification and pre-fire planning of abandoned buildings will save many firefighter lives when we make those conscious decisions early; with a well thought out response plan and the global decision NOT to enter abandoned structures looking for someone who is not there.

 

Be safe and be smart.

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While I am proud of my Chicago Brothers I agree John. We had a program to document all bow string truss roofs. We went out and looked at each one in our district. I'm sure that would be hard in a city as large as Chicago but its a start. Remember Chief Dunns approach, "never trust a truss". Words to live by. Stay safe. Chuck , retired NFD

-John, I respect your comments and opinions but I must strongly disagree with your careless comments, "Here is a fact –homeless scatter like rats when the buildings start on fire meeting their own primal need of survival. They are standing outside when we arrive and watch as we enter those structures."  My friend, this was an irresponsible thing to say and smacks of arrogance.

-This is not what the fire service is about. We do not question a person's social strata or standing when evaluating the need to rescue human life or the potential of life in peril. 

-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 is something large city fire departments must deal with daily and because of this frequent exposure, 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 pawn shops to chop shops, drop houses for illegal aliens and even bookie joints or chop shops.

-Such comments about the homeless besmirches the highest ideals of the fire service and tarnishes the actions of the Chicago Fire Dept.

-In an environment like Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles or where I work in Albuquerque, the only reasonable assumption to make is that any standing structure is occupied and must therefor must be searched as a matter of routine firefighting procedures.  This doesn't mean taking foolish chances in a structurally compromised building; firefighting is about calculate risks not foolish chances.  But because the building is supposed to be vacant doesn't necessarily mean that it is and most fire departments do not issue crystal balls.  That means short of a lightning strike someone got in and started the fire and they still may in fact be inside. 

-And what's more, the fire department as a matter of routine will search an obviously lived in occupancy despite not knowing for certain if someone is in fact home or not. 

-The blanket decision to not enter an abandon structure dangerously and irresponsibly assumes that whoever started the fire is already out and if they aren't out it's just too damn bad because they aren't worth out time, effort or courage.  To paraphrase Hemingway, "Human life... ALL HUMAN LIFE is precious and worth fighting for". 

-None of this is intended to imply that we should take foolish chances.  Rather, calculated risks in the normal performance of our duty is a matter of routine that cannot be ignored simply because the "occupant" may be from a social position that is deemed less than worthy.


Good grief. Another 'hyper-safety nut', saying it's firefighter's jobs not to risk their butt where life MAY be in danger... just because the
building isn't worth a damn, or the people in it are poor and barely
surviving.

Firefighters will ...die. PERIOD. There's nothing we can do to change THAT completely. We can
REDUCE that by not rushing into suicide situations... but we can't
eliminate all risk of dying in the business, no matter how much we and
citizens alike wish we could.

CFD did a good job on this call... and from what I can read about what they were facing... the call to
check the place was righteous.

What IS NOT righteous, is the fact that things aren't getting done at the political/government level, to
REMOVE these dangerous, dilapidated buildings BEFORE they burn, rather
than AFTER.

An abandoned/dilapidated building, is a disaster looking for someone to happen to.

If some tanker truck rolls over and dumps several thousand gallons of
gas... as a society, we don't just LEAVE the gas there until it ignites,
(assuming it has not ignited already). WE CLEAN IT UP!!! We don't
leave it there and HOPE that Murphy's Law is going to cut us a break.

So... why, as a society, are we NOT cleaning up these hazards BEFORE they
become disasters? Why wait... and wind up with a building fire that
threatens the whole block and all the firefighters around it... when you
can KNOCK IT DOWN BEFORE IT EVER BURNS... and save everyone a lot of
time and trouble and needless danger??

If there's some white hat out there, that wants to do his/her firefighters a favor... that white
hat will actually exercise some leadership BEFORE a fire happens, and
head up a lobbying effort to get laws passed and funds allocated for
HAZARDOUS BUILDING MITIGATION... to REMOVE abandoned and dilapidated
buildings, BEFORE they burn and potentially kill someone.

After all... isn't the best firefighting evolution of all... the one where the fire gets stopped BEFORE it even starts???

Paul

You make excellent points on this. These building owners have been given a pass on maintaining or removing these abandoned structures and the firefighters take the ultimate risk. You are also right-on indicating that these hazards need to be your community’s highest priorities when evaluating risk. Gordon Graham said it right - "predictable is preventable" and we need to work with our communities to identify those high hazard structures and do everything we can to mitigate those risks. Firefighters do not need to die

 

Thanks for adding to this important discussion

Michael

 I appreciate your point here. The fact remains that we are in a high hazard situation when we fight fires in abandoned buildings. This is not an issue about the homeless and god help them to survive or a slam on the social condition. It’s an issue of abandoned structures that cities and towns need to hold the owners feet to the fire and have them take these structures down. Boarding them up does not do the trick and there are alternate ways to search these buildings especially the ones with monstrous square footage without endangering our firefighters. The fire service should be smarter and safer when it comes to the approach dealing with abandoned structures. Remember, “predictable is preventable” (Gordon Graham) and we can predict disaster in these buildings.

 

Be safe


Michael Bricault said:

-John, I respect your comments and opinions but I must strongly disagree with your careless comments, "Here is a fact –homeless scatter like rats when the buildings start on fire meeting their own primal need of survival. They are standing outside when we arrive and watch as we enter those structures."  My friend, this was an irresponsible thing to say and smacks of arrogance.

-This is not what the fire service is about. We do not question a person's social strata or standing when evaluating the need to rescue human life or the potential of life in peril. 

-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 is something large city fire departments must deal with daily and because of this frequent exposure, 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 pawn shops to chop shops, drop houses for illegal aliens and even bookie joints or chop shops.

-Such comments about the homeless besmirches the highest ideals of the fire service and tarnishes the actions of the Chicago Fire Dept.

-In an environment like Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles or where I work in Albuquerque, the only reasonable assumption to make is that any standing structure is occupied and must therefor must be searched as a matter of routine firefighting procedures.  This doesn't mean taking foolish chances in a structurally compromised building; firefighting is about calculate risks not foolish chances.  But because the building is supposed to be vacant doesn't necessarily mean that it is and most fire departments do not issue crystal balls.  That means short of a lightning strike someone got in and started the fire and they still may in fact be inside. 

-And what's more, the fire department as a matter of routine will search an obviously lived in occupancy despite not knowing for certain if someone is in fact home or not. 

-The blanket decision to not enter an abandon structure dangerously and irresponsibly assumes that whoever started the fire is already out and if they aren't out it's just too damn bad because they aren't worth out time, effort or courage.  To paraphrase Hemingway, "Human life... ALL HUMAN LIFE is precious and worth fighting for". 

-None of this is intended to imply that we should take foolish chances.  Rather, calculated risks in the normal performance of our duty is a matter of routine that cannot be ignored simply because the "occupant" may be from a social position that is deemed less than worthy.

Chuck

Thanks for your comments and a nod to those programs to identify high hazard structures. We mourn the loss of your Brothers.

Be safe


Chuck Wehrli said:

While I am proud of my Chicago Brothers I agree John. We had a program to document all bow string truss roofs. We went out and looked at each one in our district. I'm sure that would be hard in a city as large as Chicago but its a start. Remember Chief Dunns approach, "never trust a truss". Words to live by. Stay safe. Chuck , retired NFD

-Paul, I do not agree that John's piece is the ramblings of "another hyper safety nut". In fact he is trying to point out a serious issue that you comment trivializes. 

-Neither do I agree with you that the fire service should ever accept or anticipate firefighters dying.  Rather, the very opposite should be the anticipated norm through proper safety procedures.

Paul Schewene said:


Good grief. Another 'hyper-safety nut', saying it's firefighter's jobs not to risk their butt where life MAY be in danger... just because the
building isn't worth a damn, or the people in it are poor and barely
surviving.

Firefighters will ...die. PERIOD. There's nothing we can do to change THAT completely. We can
REDUCE that by not rushing into suicide situations... but we can't
eliminate all risk of dying in the business, no matter how much we and
citizens alike wish we could.

CFD did a good job on this call... and from what I can read about what they were facing... the call to
check the place was righteous.

What IS NOT righteous, is the fact that things aren't getting done at the political/government level, to
REMOVE these dangerous, dilapidated buildings BEFORE they burn, rather
than AFTER.

An abandoned/dilapidated building, is a disaster looking for someone to happen to.

If some tanker truck rolls over and dumps several thousand gallons of
gas... as a society, we don't just LEAVE the gas there until it ignites,
(assuming it has not ignited already). WE CLEAN IT UP!!! We don't
leave it there and HOPE that Murphy's Law is going to cut us a break.

So... why, as a society, are we NOT cleaning up these hazards BEFORE they
become disasters? Why wait... and wind up with a building fire that
threatens the whole block and all the firefighters around it... when you
can KNOCK IT DOWN BEFORE IT EVER BURNS... and save everyone a lot of
time and trouble and needless danger??

If there's some white hat out there, that wants to do his/her firefighters a favor... that white
hat will actually exercise some leadership BEFORE a fire happens, and
head up a lobbying effort to get laws passed and funds allocated for
HAZARDOUS BUILDING MITIGATION... to REMOVE abandoned and dilapidated
buildings, BEFORE they burn and potentially kill someone.

After all... isn't the best firefighting evolution of all... the one where the fire gets stopped BEFORE it even starts???

-Actually John due to the wording of your post, the implication was about searching buildings for homeless people. What's more, the implied tone is that these people or anyone inside a vacant structure is not worthy of our efforts. 

-What you state as a fact is emphatically your opinion which cannot be substantiated as implicit fact.  What is a fact is that abandon buildings do not set themselves on fire and that in reality, more times than not, abandon building fires are the direct result of human intervention, intent aside.

Furthermore, you also clearly state that firefighters will be searching for people that we know will not be there.  Again, this is a conclusion that is opinion. A truly heads up street firefighter will know that someone probably was inside and caused the fire and that they still may be inside in need of rescue. 

-Neither did you actually discuss changing search procedures based on occupancy type or condition. This idea is basically sound in that it allows firefighters to adjust strategy based on occupancy type however there is a flaw. 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 previously mentioned, abandoned buildings are not just attractive to the homeless but also to a lot of other people.  And though these people or children should not be inside, they very well may be and a search must therefor take place. 

-Communities must address this abandoned building problem before the fire ever happens. 

-It seems now after reading your responses that though these perceptions may not have been your intention the original post does imply as much. 

John K. Murphy said:

Michael

 I appreciate your point here. The fact remains that we are in a high hazard situation when we fight fires in abandoned buildings. This is not an issue about the homeless and god help them to survive or a slam on the social condition. It’s an issue of abandoned structures that cities and towns need to hold the owners feet to the fire and have them take these structures down. Boarding them up does not do the trick and there are alternate ways to search these buildings especially the ones with monstrous square footage without endangering our firefighters. The fire service should be smarter and safer when it comes to the approach dealing with abandoned structures. Remember, “predictable is preventable” (Gordon Graham) and we can predict disaster in these buildings.

 

Actually, in hindsight, I should've pulled back some steam on that, and worded things much better.  For not doing so, I must apologize candidly to John K. Murphy.  I was out of line in the comments that open my post up.

 

"-Paul, I do not agree that this is the ramblings of a "safety nut". Nor do I agree that we should ever accept the fact that firefighters will die as a matter of doing business."---Michael Bricault

 

Michael... I agree on the first sentence.  I was out of line.

 

The second sentence... I disagree with, on the grounds that REALITY tells a different tale, and this instance alone, is a good example of WHY we might as well accept the FACT that firefighters WILL die. 

 

I agree we should NEVER stop trying to find ways to reduce the chances that we're going to lose a firefighter. 

I agree we should train firefighters to work as a team, and refrain from acts that are likely to get someone killed. 

No question! 

The effort to keep firefighters ALIVE and coming home at the end of the day, is a noble one, and THE RIGHT THING TO DO. :)

That said... emergency response is a business where you can do everything right, and still wind up with everything going all pear shaped.

 

That shouldn't be an excuse NOT to continue to do our best to improve safety on the job... 

 

What it should be, is an inspiration to EVERYONE, from citizen, to emergency worker, to emergency management, to city, county, and state government, to look at HOLISTIC approaches to IMPROVE the safety of all concerned.

 

Not the least of which, is preventing the need for emergency response in the first place, because when the bell rings, the potential danger factor starts to go up exponentially, despite the efforts that have been underway for many years to make this a safer business.

This is a passionate issue for all of us. Thank you for your comments and apology is not necessary but thank you

 

John

Paul Schewene said:

Actually, in hindsight, I should've pulled back some steam on that, and worded things much better.  For not doing so, I must apologize candidly to John K. Murphy.  I was out of line in the comments that open my post up.

 

"-Paul, I do not agree that this is the ramblings of a "safety nut". Nor do I agree that we should ever accept the fact that firefighters will die as a matter of doing business."---Michael Bricault

 

Michael... I agree on the first sentence.  I was out of line.

 

The second sentence... I disagree with, on the grounds that REALITY tells a different tale, and this instance alone, is a good example of WHY we might as well accept the FACT that firefighters WILL die. 

 

I agree we should NEVER stop trying to find ways to reduce the chances that we're going to lose a firefighter. 

I agree we should train firefighters to work as a team, and refrain from acts that are likely to get someone killed. 

No question! 

The effort to keep firefighters ALIVE and coming home at the end of the day, is a noble one, and THE RIGHT THING TO DO. :)

That said... emergency response is a business where you can do everything right, and still wind up with everything going all pear shaped.

 

That shouldn't be an excuse NOT to continue to do our best to improve safety on the job... 

 

What it should be, is an inspiration to EVERYONE, from citizen, to emergency worker, to emergency management, to city, county, and state government, to look at HOLISTIC approaches to IMPROVE the safety of all concerned.

 

Not the least of which, is preventing the need for emergency response in the first place, because when the bell rings, the potential danger factor starts to go up exponentially, despite the efforts that have been underway for many years to make this a safer business.

You would think that something was learned from the Worcester Cold Storage Warehouse fire on December 3, 1999. Evidently time has forgotten the six that died there. Firefighters need to rethink going onto these types of occupancies. Owners and municipalities need to be made accountable to keep the structures secure so that the possibility of someone being inside is eliminated. I agree that these types of buildings should be surrounded and drowned. They are not worth the risk associated with fighting them and with identification and pre-fire planning of these types of buildings we can save firefighters lives.

Why We Search - Boston

 

Why We Search - Houston

 

Why We Search - Vallejo

 

Why We Search - Niagara Falls

 

Why We Search - Baltimore

 

If you go to any of the above links, or this link here:  Backstep - Why We Search You will see examples of how Fire Departments searching vacant buildings yielded saved lives.  Or how supposedly vacant buildings had people inside.

 

When we as a Service decide, based on type of structure, that we are no longer going to enter, we have abandoned one of our primary missions.  The decision to enter has to be based on the conditions found, our knowledge of the structure, and our size up.

 

Brick is right on the mark as usual.  Chris Brennan makes some great points about Chicago in specific here:  The Firefighter's Game and searching in general here:  "We hold these truths to be self-evident...  

 

Sorry for all the links, but this issue has been discussed by many before, and they are far better at making the points than I am.

 

And while this issue does need to be discussed, my personal opinion is that until the whole story comes out of Chicago, that any time spent criticism of their actions is better spent mourning their loss.

 

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