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So you’ve got the order to go to the roof of a residential or commercial dwelling that has a flat roof. The lack of pitch alone can make for speedy ventilation if done correctly, but there is much more we can do and more information we can gather once we get up there. Obviously the Incident Commander cannot see what the conditions from the roof look like and we can give them a bird’s eye view of what’s going on. Below are just a few things to consider once we make it up onto that flat roof. Understand that these are highly recommended but may not always be practical due to heavy fire conditions. If condition allow we should make every effort to accomplish these tasks.

The first thing we want to look at it’s the condition of the roof. Take a look for sagging roof decking or areas where the roof is starting to cave in. Look for bubbling tar or rubber membrane starting to heat up. Naturally any of the discussed  objectives here will require sound roof principles such as sounding and keeping an eye on egress points. Look for smoke from natural opening and vents. Pay attention to the type of smoke that is coming out of it. Is it black, angry turbulent smoke on one side and lazy smoke on the other? You may have an indication on where the fire is and if there is potential cockloft involvement. If we are going to move out to these areas to cut always make sure we travel along the bearing walls and then shoot out to make our cuts when ready.

Identify hazards that may affect crews below. We all know that large HVAC units and plenty of other things are placed up on top of these roofs. Crews operating beneath these units may have no idea what sits above their head because they came in at street level. Pay attention to where crews will be making entry and relay the location of these units to interior crews or the IC. The IC cannot see them from the street either so you may have to walk to the roof line where the IC can see you and communicate via radio to tell them where it’s at. Something like “Chief the HVAC unit is 50 ft. behind where I’m standing. That gives them a good idea of where it’s at when they are sending crews in.


Identify if additional ladders will be needed for egress. It is always best practice to have more than one way off the roof in the event you have to make a hasty retreat. Relay to the crews below where the best placement for additional ladders will be once you have made the decision on where to cut, always keeping yourself between the vent h*** and your egress. The more ladders the better. Even if those ladders were thrown for egress for you off the roof, they can easily be moved to make rescues on upper floors if all of the sudden we have victims moving towards windows or balconies.

Next we want to try and get a look at as many sides of the building as we can. It is likely that we have a good view of at least one side.  Depending on the size of the structure you may only need to see whatever side the IC or other companies cannot. It is very important that we take a look over the sides to see if there are any other trapped occupants on balconies or hanging from windows that weren’t visible upon arrival. We can identify what floor/s they are on and what other resources we will need to get them out. This may not always be practical due to the size of the building and yet some may be very quick to perform your recon.

Assist with ventilation. Depending on where this building is situated, aerial ladder access may not be possible and horizontal ventilation on upper floors needs to be performed. We could take ourselves to the edge of the roof line and use a long roof hook or tie off a tool such as a halligan bar and swing it down to break the windows out. Remember when performing this to always coordinate with the engine company. There may be several other ventilation options up there. Things such as scuttles or skylights. These can be easy targets, but remember if they are not in the right spot, we don’t always use them. Once again, communication with the interior engine crews for coordination is important.


These are just a few things to consider when getting the order to go to the flat roof of a multistory structure. My intent is not to tell you that all of this has to be accomplished every time. It will fall back to incident priorities etc. Remember that there is a large amount of information we can pass to the crews on scene before we even start to make our cuts. If you are sent to the roof solely to give a report, ensure you include as much information as possible to contribute to the overall success on the fireground.




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