Units from my department and other companies in Prince George's County, Maryland responded to this second alarm fire last week. It involved a strip of two-story, attached, ordinary constructed, garden style apartment buildings.
Companies on the initial alarm had a well advanced fire in an entire apartment unit with substantial extension to the attic space. Between the three buildings, was a cinderblock firewall that ran to the attic. Since these buildings were built around the 1960's, there had been a significant amount of alterations done to the attic area. Several holes were present in the fire walls where cable and electrical wiring had been rerouted. Also, the roof had been replaced leaving several open areas along the area at the top of the firewall. Essentially where the roof meets the masonry. All of the aforementioned allowed the original fire to spread to the exposure building within the first few minutes.
Along with the construction challenges, Engine Companies were tasked with getting long-length pre-connects into place. Due to the distance between the apparatus and original fire building. Truck Companies also had people needing removal from an adjacent balcony on the "C"-side.
Historically, Prince George's County firefighters have fought fires in a number of garden apartment style buildings. In-fact, Prince George's County, Maryland possessed more garden style apartment buildings than anywhere else in the United States in the 1970's, 80's and 90's.
So, how do we get ahead of these challenges and the fire itself? I can explain the course of action we take. But, after reading the following, how does your department handle fires in these types of buildings? Is your area littered with them? Are they newer and built with lightweight materials? These are all questions that you will need to answer to assure you and your respective company (ies) are prepared.
Points to ponder and actions to take:
-Companies must be placed accordingly to stop fire spread. No matter which floor the fire originated on, you must get an Engine and Truck Company to the top floor/attic quickly (after the initial line/first Truck Company is in-place on the fire floor). Fire routinely spreads via the pipe chases. Theses are normally located between the kitchen and bathroom, in the walls. If the original fire is located on the first floor of a three-story garden apartment building don't waste time having companies check the floor (2nd) above before the top floor (3rd). Its easier to clear the top most floor and work your way down with a hoseline/crew.
-Walls and ceilings must be opened-up quickly and thoroughly. Poking a small h*** in the walls/ceilings is unacceptable.
-Incident Commanders must deploy Engine and Truck Companies into the exposure building(s) quickly.
-Remember that these types of fires can be resource intensive. Call for an additional alarm quickly when conditions warrant.
-In cases where there is a common attic or cockloft space, Truck Companies need to assure proper ventilation and a trench cut if applicable.
-Ladders need to be placed at every point above the first floor. Remember, they are for us.
-Hoselines need to be stretched efficiently and quickly. If you don't have a line any longer than 200-feet on your apparatus, you need to have a plan of action to extend/make-up a line. It is preferable that your Engine Company have a pre-connected, long-length line of at least 300'. Or the ability to make one up from a pre-planned source.
-Be realistic with your expectations, depending on your staffing levels. Plan for the worst and hope for the best.