Fire Engineering Training Community

Where firefighters come to talk training

If you are in to fire porn, then there is an unlimited supply to be found on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook these days. I would surmise that if you have an ounce of fire service passion left in you, then you too are a fan of fire porn. Over the last several months, I have watched many videos of fires where the fire was located in the attic area and more obvious in the void spaces of the knee-walls.


As I always say, it is ridiculous that we reinvent how we deal with these fires over and over in spite of the fact that they are very predictable in how they are going to behave and what needs to be done to deal with it.


Here are just a few reminders for company officers and IC’s to consider.


For the sake of the article, I will clarify a few terms so that we are all on the same page. It doesn’t particularly matter what terms we use as long as we understand a few back principles. The first and most important one is that these fires (attic’s and knee-walls) are very predictable in how they behave and even more predictable based on the type of structure involved.


When I use the term attic, I am speaking about the space under the roof of a house, where that space is large enough to be used as a livable space or as a storage area. This space will have access via interior steps. This is different then a cockloft which I would describe as the small space (non-livable) that lies above the top floor and below the flat roof, commonly found in a rowhome.

When I talk about “knee-walls” I am talking about a constructed wall of 2-4 feet, constructed in the “A” framed area of the attic, built primarily to keep you from smacking your dome on the ceiling (see picture above).


There are some pretty common signs that a fire has moved in to the attic/knee-wall area, most notably smoke and fire pushing from the dormers and gable ends. Interior environments where you are experiencing high levels of heat, but cant locate the fire can be indicative of fire concealed in the walls as well.


There is good opportunity to make an aggressive push on this fire if you can beat the fire to “flashover”.  Generally speaking, this is a bread and butter fire if you remember a few basic things (always goes back to core basic skills).


Engine Company(s)

  • Starts with a good stretch using an appropriate sized line. Remember, you need enough water to out perform the heat release rate not blow the roof off. You will likely be stretching up at least two flights of steps including in to the attic. Avoid the absurd “big fire big water” mentality and go for maneuverability.
  • Good stretch means, chasing kinks, using the well of the stairway properly, tying off the hose when needed (keeps you from constantly having to hump line) and knowing how to quickly remove the balusters if necessary (limits wasted hose length)
  • Stretch the line dry until you get to the point where you need to mask-up.
  • The Engine Officer should report the conditions (smoke, heat, fire, clear) as soon as they cross the threshold and provide the same report for each ascending floor.
  • Once you’re ready to make the push, this is the perfect time to ditch the “pistol grip” (just kidding). Get that nozzle out in front of you and use good nozzle pattern selection. 
  • If the roof is not vented then flow your line from the steps or consider the attack from the underside (pulling the ceiling from the floor below the attic). 
  • Remember, hood on, collar up and flap’s down


Truck Company

  • Start venting the easy stuff first, dormer windows and gable vents. In order for the engine company to make the push, you need to get that roof opened up. This is the one scenario where you do not always need to get to the highest point of the roof. When dealing with knee-walls make your cut dormer level high. Don't forget to punch through the drywall.
  • Empty your ladder bed.
  • The livable space of the attic must be searched. Do so, only after the line has advanced in to the area.
  • Walls and ceilings must come down, aggressively and completely. Fire in the walls, open up the ceilings, fire in the ceiling open up the floor above. Keep going until there is no more fire or you can see the sky, which ever comes first.  
  • When space and visibility inside is limited and your dealing with wood frame construction, consider open up, from the outside in.  Take the siding and lapboards from the outside will provide you the same access often times quicker then from the interior.  
  • When dealing with knee-walls remember that the attic stairwell walls will allow you access to the void area behind the knee-wall. This allows good access for water application.


RIT Team

  • Validate that upper level windows are fully cleared and ladders are in place.
  • Remember that stairwells are likely to be overcrowded with people and hoselines. Look for alternative points of ingress and egress.
  • Have a chainsaw available and ready to go in order to expand window openings


Incident Commander

  • Control the number of hoselines going up the stairs
  • Have 2nd in hoseline maintain a position at the bottom of the steps until requested. Have the Company Officer help in keeping the stairway clear
  • Pay attention to the vent work
  • Watch smoke behavior, it will tell you how well things are going or not going.
  • Don't play catch up with Truck’s; always have one in staging ready to go.


Be Safe and Be Smart 



Views: 4554


You need to be a member of Fire Engineering Training Community to add comments!

Join Fire Engineering Training Community

Comment by Bobby Halton on January 7, 2014 at 2:05pm


Beautiful bread-and-butter piece absolutely spot on. Thanks brother.

Comment by P.J. Norwood on January 7, 2014 at 7:44am

Lawrence, you make some valid points and provide some good information. I would also recommend you take a look at UL Fire Safety Research Institute. There is currently a Study of Residential Attic Fire Mitigation Tactics and Exterior Fire Spread Hazards on Fire Fighter Safety in progress. Information can be found here -

The technical panel is doing a great job validating some tactics and finding flaws in others.

Keep up the great work by sharing you knowledge and experience with all of us

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

Fire Engineering Editor in Chief Bobby Halton
We are excited to have you participate in our discussions and interactive forums. Before you begin posting, please take a moment to read our policy page. -- Bobby Halton

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

© 2022   Created by fireeng.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service