Often times we conduct training in our firehouses where we are crawling around in turnout gear for a RIT drill, throwing ladders, and stretching lines. All of which is extremely important. Some of this hands on training is supplemented with talk about strategies and tactics around the galley table as a crew, or watching a fire video online and practicing size-up. Once again, all great stuff. One thing we need to make sure we include into our training calendars is a simple walk through of our response areas. If you find yourself looking for something to train on, and feel like you have covered a lot of topics in recent weeks or months, consider taking a walk. Not that the fundamentals don’t need to be revisited, but walking through your district and taking a look at the buildings that surround you can be just as beneficial, and you will have more of an awareness of these places when called there for an incident. Most of us have pre-plan assigments and they may or may not focus on a specific number of buildings each month per shift. If its structured anything like my organization, it is too few, and you should be out looking at much more than your assigned buildings.
Taking a walk through your first due district offers several benefits. You can talk about building construction, where you may stretch the first line, or how to make access to apartments that may be above a commercial occupancy. Don’t forget about your second due districts either. Often times we tend to focus solely on our first due and not the outlying areas. You may just as quickly find yourself crawling or stretching into one of those buildings as well so remember to include those areas into your walkthroughs when you can.
Park your apparatus in a central location and pick a few blocks each month to walk through, or more if you have the opportunity. Recently I did a walkthrough of the downtown area in my city and found several things that are of great importance to us as firefighters. The first set of pictures below is an older building that has been renovated to be a clothing store. You can see how wide open everything is with the exposed wood (Picture 1). Combine the fire load with all of the clothing and the amount of exposed dry wood and you will have a significant fire. This building is not sprinklered either. The clothing store wanted a wide set of stairs going from the first to the second floor so a support beam was cut away to allow for this renovation (Picture 2). This contributes to the collapse potential inside this structure. The next picture you see is a steel I-beam that has wood bolted to it on both sides (Picture 3) At closer look, you can see the floor joists are resting on the wood and not the beam. In the event of fire there are two things that can happen here 1.) The beam become heated and loses its shape and integrity and the joist comes down, 2.) The wood that is bolted to the beam burns and the floor joist falls and contributes to a potential collapse.
Picture 1 Picture 2
The next picture is a standpipe connection that is completely loose and can be rotated side to side as well as pulled away from the wall a foot or more (Picture 4). If you had to pump into this FDC at 3 a.m. would you feel comfortable doing so?
The following pictures are from a very old hotel in the downtown area. There are concrete floors that are supported by concrete columns in the basement, except for one whole side of the hotel. You can see the basement has been renovated and now there is new wood supporting the same heavy concrete floors on half of the hotel (Picture 5). Thankfully you can see a sprinkler head in there and hopefully it does its job and helps with suppressing the fire. If it doesn't, we could be dealing with a collapse potential on that side of the ground floor of the hotel and have to be cautious about sending firefighters into something like that where there could be heavy fire. Also while in this basement we noticed the exterior door that was reinforced on the inside and looked like a nice easy door to force on the outside (Picture 6). Very common practice at the rear of commercial occupancies as well as spaces that are utilized for maintenance, storage, or other uses with access off of the main streets where the public has access.
All of these items were found within just one hour of walking through a couple city blocks. I am sure there is much more out there that our eyes haven't seen. I can guarantee the same things are out there in your response areas and you need to make yourselves aware; especially in the absence of a prevention bureau in some smaller organizations. Next time you find yourself looking for some training to put on the calendar, don't forget to include something as important as just taking a walk. It gives you opportunity to identify hazards as well as take the time to "what if" and be that much more prepared for the incident.