Fire Engineering Training Community

Where firefighters come to talk training

"Having Your Cake and Getting Through It Too!" Main Street tar build up

Just like any other visit to your Main Street buildings signs of heavy tar built up may not exactly hit you in the face but some leftover materials left up on the roof should be taken into account as you look at your buildings prior to the fire, do you see empty tar buckets? Old tar mops? Roofing paper rolls? Even a fire extinguisher? Yes a fire extinguisher, these may be needed as a safety measure as roofing contractors utilize heat to adhere the roofing paper (I am not a roofer, ask my wife, so I may not have exactly expressed the technique of roofing here).

As far as preparing your companies I suggest making sure your saw compliment is up to the task, do you have carbide tip circular blades, a Wart Hog type blade or composite blades on a single department issue saw that has to be a “jack of all trades”? Can your members change the blade quickly and safely, most circular saw blades are changed out by a single nut an excellent drill when doing your apparatus checks is to ask your members to change the blade, there is an endless amount of training ideas and sometimes the simple ones are forgotten.

Bogging Down issues and losing focus

Ok, you are up on the roof and in charge of a crew ordered to conduct vertical ventilation, think of the excitement and all that takes place up on the roof of a commercial building on fire, now without prior thought, you start to see your two firefighters starting to struggle and you can hear the saw staring to sound as if a large plastic garbage can has been placed on top of it. Remember, your top concern is your members’ safety and if you focus in on the problem (the bogged down) saw the fire ground clock that is ticking in your head may be forgotten as you begin to worry about getting a h*** cut. Now command is calling, etc., etc. the dominoes may start to fall and we all know by reading fireground close call and line of duty death reports that those in leadership positions sometimes have failed to see the dominoes falling. In order to avoid this my top suggestion is to assume that when approaching a “Main Street” building assume  you will encounter a tar cake and prepare by having the right tools and multiple saws with you. As stated earlier, many departments have only one circular saw in their inventory, and this leads into another tactical issue for another day but if you want to effectively perform ventilation safely and efficiently a single company and a lone officer may not be able to accomplish this and the ability to have multiple crews up on a roof under the command of an experienced Chief is a better choice from the onset and one highly recommended. Does your department have enough resources and SAWS coming on the first alarm of a “Main Street” building? These fires cannot be funneled into a one size fits all residential response, the difficulties in venting commercial roofs is one more reason to evaluate your alarms and tactics for your “Main Street” fire.

If you ever are given the opportunity to practice cutting an older commercial roof do it! In this day and age of renewal and renovation in downtowns and legacy commercial districts these opportunities may present themselves more often than you think all it takes is passion and effort on our part. Have your cake and get through it too by preparation, knowledge and training!

Be Safe

                If you have an older commercial district plan on having difficulties in cutting through the roof due to several                   years worth of tar build up. Author Photo

My department had the opportunity to practice/train on a vacant Type III roof with multiple layers of tar build up, if you get the chance to train on these types do it the rare opportunity is invaluable, the video says trench practice as we used this large roof for many opportunities. The focus for this article is on the tar build up and saws bogging down, they each had new carbide tip circular blades.

Views: 786


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

Join Fire Engineering Training Community

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