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Reply to Dave LeBlanc - "Five minutes more"

I am replying to Dave's comments about saying NO to entry into vacant buildings. In LACFD, way back in the late 1980's the we had considerable discussion among most Chief Officers that it was dangerous to committ firefighting co's to vacant buildings. In addition, When the Div 3 (ICS 3rd. floor fire attack) came to the CP asking for 5 minutes more of hose line placement. "Im sure we could wrap this fire up" Many times the IC gave the B/C the five minutes only to discover that within a months time the building was torn down and now there sits a vacant lot. What if something went wrong? Firefighting is dangerous as we have learned over the years. Most LACFD Chief Officers decided that when they ask for "5 minutes more" the answer is a resounding NO.

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Comment by Michael Bricault (ret) on September 30, 2010 at 1:03pm
-As previously stated, the vacant building didn't set itself on fire and those that started the fire may still be inside waiting for rescue, therefore a search must be carried out. The mantra is:
1. Risk everything to safe a life
2. Risk a little to save property
3. Risk nothing for what is already gone
-The real trick is knowing and differentiating between these tenets and not misunderstanding that taking risks does not mean acting foolishly or recklessly.
-And I cannot overstate the point that it is not the vacant building that is injuring and killing firefighters. That blame is squarely on the shoulders of poor tactics. Don't fear the building, fear poor tactics employed by poorly trained firefighters.
-Standing outside of a vacant building, never attempting to enter to conduct a search and opting to park out front and operating master streams emphatically says to the public the fire dept is more concerned with suppression and not LIFE SAFETY.
-I'm not saying to avoid or delay firefighting operations BUT our primary mission of conducting the primary search is becoming primarily overlooked. Pulling lines is a knee jerk reaction to firefighting that many do instinctively and without ever performing a true size up that includes creating an immediate rescue profile for the operation. There are times when it will be appropriate to delay suppression in favor of rescue. John Norman talks about this very idea in his book, Fire Officer’s Handbook, and calls it CONCEPT NO. 1.
-Too many firefighters are concerned with establishing a water supply, implementing RIC, having at least tree companies on scene, back up lines stretched and starting fans BEFORE they ever consider the primary search. To many ICs and company officers are heard to utter the reactionary phrase, "Its an abandoned building so we're not going in". Or, "There's nothing to save, they're just gonna knock it down".
-The thought of life safety is lost on such firefighters and ICs who misunderstand the point about conducting interior operations. Until verified by INTERIOR companies, it must be assumed the fire building is occupied. Anything else is irresponsible and unprofessional.
-Interior structural firefighting operations are not nor have they ever been about saving the fire occupancy. Interior operations are performed to facilitate the primary search and any resulting rescue.
-Being honest with ourselves, more times than not a simple room and contents fire renders most occupancy contents unusable and permanently damaged from heat and smoke while the occupancy itself is many times left uninhabitable. Typical suppression operations for a room and contents fire will leave the occupancy uninhabitable at least until professional clean up and abatement can take place. The true property conservation aspect of fire fighting comes from the fire dept stopping the fire from spreading to the neighboring occupancy.
-The primary search, barring structural compromise or full fire involvement, should take place immediately. Consider that most true rescues occur in the first four to five minutes of operations.
-Allowing an abandoned building to determine whether or not firefighters search is not fulfilling our mission of LIFE SAFETY. The building is empty ONLY when interior companies have made a search and found no victims.
-I’m a fireman and I AM my brother’s keeper.
Comment by Michael Bricault (ret) on September 30, 2010 at 1:02pm
-With regard to fires in abandoned structures, those that believe vacant buildings should not be searched have blindly overlooked the obvious. And anyone making such comments is a self-identified neophyte speaking beyond the level of their expertise.
-ABANDONED/VACANT BUILDINGS DO NOT SET THEMSELVES ON FIRE!!!!! And unless the building was struck by lightning the fire is the result of human intervention. Wether malice was intended or not is irrelevant. And the person that started the fire, intentionally or accidentally, may in fact still be inside the building.
-Therefore, an interior search must take place.
-Moreover, the ever increasing homeless population in this country, from which no community is immune, demands that abandoned structures be searched.
-Whats more, empty buildings make attractive "playgrounds" for children as well as being ideal locations for drug dens or clandestine drug labs.
-The common denominator is that abandoned buildings are attractive locations for many segments of the population and the fire department must therefore search these buildings. A potential victim's life is not appraised by the financial worth of the occupancy that contains them.
-Firefighters do not have the luxury nor responsibility of passing judgment as to the value of those people that will seek out these structures. Rather, we are charged with the protection of those souls that may be in peril within. If this is unreasonable to any firefighter or if they prefer to judge the worth of their fellow man than than they are in the wrong line of work.
-Ask yourself, "Am I my brother's keeper?" If the answer has to be qualified you should evaluate your choice of profession.
-Abandoned buildings do not not kill firefighters; poor firefighting tactics kill firefighters. Each building, regardless if occupied or not, must be evaluated on a standard risk benefit analysis that considers the potential of trapped victims and their probable location within; the fire conditions, structural integrity and departmental resources... just like any other structural fire scenario.
-Firefighting is about calculated risks not foolish chances.
-I AM my Brother's Keeper. I am a fireman.
Comment by Michael Bricault (ret) on September 30, 2010 at 12:59pm
-Some are still reluctant to search the abandoned structure and are basing their argument on the fact that firefighters are injured unnecessarily in these buildings.
-That fact remains that it is unknown whether or not anyone is inside until the search is complete.
-If the argument is that firefighters shouldn't be running around with reckless abandon searching these abandoned structures I will submit that no firefighter should be recklessly running around the fire ground EVER.
-The other assumption the nay sayers are making is that a fire in an abandoned building will be very advanced or fully involving the structure. This is a rather big assumption. Fire in an abandoned structure does not automatically equate to a fully involved structure fire.
-But if the structure is fully involved then strategic decisions should be made commensurate with the conditions. Just as if the structural integrity is such that the building is falling down prior to the fire. Common sense here please. Search what can be safely searched.. duhhh.
-But what of the newly deserted structures and homes that have been foreclosed? No one seems to be thinking about the newly abandoned structures, everyone seems to be thinking about the hundred year old run down mill that is fully involved as the worse case scenario.
-In fact, the reality is that the "abandoned" building fire that most of us will see is the recently abandoned residential occupancy fire.
-Advocating a search of a vacant building doesn't mean taking foolish chances. It simply means searching the building like you would any other fire. If this translates to you to mean taking crazy chances and running around then this is the source of your trepidation and your basic search techniques should be reevaluated because there is a problem. No firefighter should be running around with reckless abandon.
-What is being advocated is a primary search like all other fire scenarios. If you search an obviously occupied home that proves negative was that search in vain because all the occupants were out? Of course not! Yet this is the exact rational being used for an abandoned structure.
-We search the occupied home because of the probability of someone in peril inside the occupancy. Therefore it stands to reason that someone will be inside of the vacant building. If the building is truly vacant the fire should never have started in the first place. Barring a lightning strike or mice playing with matches a fire in a vacant building starts as the direct result of human intervention. That means we know someone was recently inside the building!!!
-So, I will reiterate, it is poor tactics that injure or kill firefighters and not the abandoned building. If the search means running around like crazy and taking foolish chances then the basic search tactics need to be reevaluated because that's not how professionals do business. Rather, if the fire is truly and properly evaluated like any other fire, safe and effective tactics will take place and that means a primary search will happen.
-Calculated risks not foolish chances.
Comment by Jack A. Bennett on September 30, 2010 at 9:05am
This is in regards to Jeff Schwering comments. We have two situations. One is the attempted rescue of a known victim. I agree with Jeff. The other is advancing hose lines for extinguishment when the result is a parking lot days after the fire. My reference of "5 minutes more" should be used by the IC when there is no known victims to rescue.
Comment by Jeff Schwering on September 29, 2010 at 11:18pm
Chief, meaning no disrespect, but I think this an issue of search of these " vacant" buildings. I fully agree with your statements of the stucture is going to be torn down, regardless if we are discussing a commercial or resdential occupancy or something in between. As a Captain, I will not be the life hazard, nor will my company if no opportunity exists for a quick grab and out. If the building offers the possibility of a 5 minutes more search for a known victim, IMHO, it is our sworn duty to rescue or make effort to rescue that trapped civilian, just one Captain's thoughts.

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