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Firefighters respond to a car fire on the parking garage above the Capital Reperatory Theatre in Albany on Saturday afternoon. (Steve Barnes / Times Union)

Photo by Steve Barnes / Times Union

Fires in parking garages are rare incidents, which is why we should prepare for them by conducting fire preplans. A vehicle fire inside of a parking garage may seem like a simple job, until you arrive to find two cars burning on the top deck under solar panels with no standpipe, or an O.O.S (out of service) FDC.   

Most fires in parking garages are burning vehicles. These PG fires can be difficult and may even have some structure fire similarities. When one or more vehicles are burning inside of a fire-resistive multi-story parking deck, it going to require a structure assignment response. (It's a fire burning inside of a structure.)

If a single engine company is dispatched to a reported vehicle fire with no additional information, they may arrive to find a few heavily involved vehicles on the upper deck of a parking garage.

Image result for fire parking garage fire

Photo by Pete Piringer @mcfrspio on Twitter

When vehicles burn inside of a parking garage, reflex time almost always contributes to adjacent vehicles getting torched. More resources are going to be needed.

Photo by Brian Butler (Electric cars plugged into charging stations under solar panels on top deck)

Fires in parking garages don't always involve burning vehicles as electrical fires can also occur in storage areas, mechanical rooms, EMR's (elevator machine rooms) offices, or solar panels. Additional incidents from EMS, stuck elevators, burst sprinkler pipes, and natural gas odors will also require a response from the fire department. 

TIP: When attempting to locate the source of a natural gas or propane odor inside of a parking garage, check for parked CNG/LPG vehicles nearby. They require badging on the vehicle to identify CNG/LPG. It's possible that a release is coming from a cylinder in the trunk area.

When engine companies are dispatched to vehicle fires, it's important for them to request additional manpower once it's determined to be inside, or on the top deck of a parking garage. They should be familiar with the protection systems that are in place, the FDC location, and any other attached occupancy present. Knowing if the parking garage is under a residential high-rise, adjacent to a train station, or attached to a mall entrance tells the company officer what other problems to expect when arriving on scene. 

Most parking garage fires will have vehicles burning inside of them so in addition to your parking garage concerns such as standpipe locations, access, location of fire, wind conditions, reflex time and vehicle exposures, you will still have your vehicle fire hazards to consider such as compressed air cylinders, airbags, struts, batteries, magnesium, and running fuel fires. 

Sprinklers are not always present in parking garages. If they are present, they may not be reliable or effective, depending on the location of the fire (corner, top deck), placement of the heads, dry pipe system, or an active sprinkler that's defeated by a fully involved SUV. 

A vehicle burning inside of a fire-resistive parking garage is just as dangerous as a room and contents fire in a high-rise apartment. Both fires will have their own unique dangers and extended reflex times. Modern day vehicle fires present far more dangers than the old conventional vehicle fires. They also produce more intense heat, thicker black smoke and explosion potential. Parking garages are usually open structure with low ceilings. Given the right conditions, a single burning vehicle will have plenty of fuel, oxygen, and time to spread down a row of tightly parked adjacent vehicles.

Photo by Brian Butler

Always attempt to approach from the uphill stairwell off the standpipe on PG's with steep inclines. You do NOT want to be approaching up a ramp downhill and downwind of a vehicle fire. (Especially if it becomes a running fuel fire.)

Always wear your SCBA and face piece when fighting these modern day vehicle fires.

Photo by Brian Butler

SCENARIO: You're the acting officer dispatched as a single engine company to a reported 'vehicle' on fire with no additional information. Upon arrival you have two vehicles fully involved and heavy black smoke coming from the third deck of a fully vehicle-occupied six story parking garage with no standpipe

Are your crew members prepared to QUICKLY place a line in service?  

After you request additional resources, what actions do you take? 

*Do you go to a portable standpipe operation? 
*Do you stretch a line up a ladder and over the wall? 
*Is there a running fuel fire going down the ramp threatening other vehicles? 
*Is there difficulty with visibility, finding the vehicles and stretching a line to reach them? 
*What size line do you stretch knowing you already have at least two vehicles on fire?

*Will water supply be delayed?

*Does reflex time change your tactics?

Option #1 If it's not that deep into the garage and the stretch is short, humping a dry 1 3/4 line up a ground ladder with two men isn't that difficult and is one option for this scenario. (Multiple vehicles, go 2" or 2 1/2) Your extra engine for water supply should have already been requested and dispatched. Having 500-700 gallons of tank water and a hand line capable with at least 150 GPM for these vehicle fires should do the job. (Magnesium-let it burn)  

Option #2 Stretch the line from the pumper, up the stairwell. This will depend on the location of fire, distance, access, configuration, stairwell doors, and length of stretch needed to reach the fire. 

Option #3 Depending on manpower, or truck response, place an aerial/tower up to the third floor for access, or run a handline off a tower ladder and stretch from there. 

Option #4 For a long stretch, or more than 3 decks high, grab some rope and the high-rise pack, or a few donut sections of 1 3/4 hose with a nozzle, head up to the 3rd or 4th deck and lower the rope, hoisting up a 2 1/2 line over the wall with a gated wye, making your temporary standpipe. This works especially well for trucks that already have a similar set up in the rear bed. Connect the 1 3/4 to the gated wye and stretch up to the fire deck. (The vehicle is a total loss anyway)

Firemen aren't drones. There's more than one way to fight a fire. Have a plan A and B.


Company officers should run these scenarios through their head BEFORE something like this happens when pre-planning parking garages in their response area, especially their first due district. These EXACT scenarios are rare occurrences, but they do happen. Go out and find that one parking garage without a standpipe, or the one with solar panels on the roof with electric hybrid cars plugged into charging stations. Find that parking garage under the residential building, or the one attached to the mall entrance. Not all parking garages are the same, and we want to be prepared for those rare events that occur in the fire service.​ 

For parking garages and mid-rises in your response area, carry a plastic bottle with 50-75 ft of utility rope with attached carabineer for hoisting hand/supply lines up open stairwells, fire escapes, and exterior of building when standpipes are O.O.S.

Photo by Brian Butler (Trenton N.J)

Many parking garages are built adjacent to, or directly under the structure. A parking garage underneath a building could pose many problems for a single engine company arriving to a reported car fire. Calling a structure assignment should be done immediately. Besides exposure problems, smoke may enter the building through open areas, elevator shafts, doors leading to lobbies, stores, hallways, and open residential exterior windows, setting off fire alarms all over the building. Employees, shoppers, residents on upper floors looking out the window may see the smoke and panic believing the building is on fire. People have clogged stairwells, escalators and elevators thinking it's the towering inferno. Additional manpower will make this operation much easier. These PG's are common at malls, hospitals, office buildings, arenas, and residential high rises.  

Photo by Brian Butler: This parking garage is located under an office building with a separate FDC (located in the rear on another street) and pump room for the PG.

REMEMBER: New firefighters, it's not always necessary to connect to the floor below when using a standpipe in a parking garage, especially the roof deck. Multiple vehicle fires on parking garage roof decks under seven stories are ideal for aerial and tower ladder use. The tower ladder is your standpipe.  

Underground Parking

It's important that companies preplan parking garages in their response area, especially underground parking areas. Know how to access them from inside the building and outside, positioning the engine close to the vehicle entrance point to see if it's possible to stretch in from the apparatus. Also look for any exhaust fans and mechanical rooms/pump rooms locations. 

TIP: Fire departments carry anywhere from 1 1/2 single jacket high rise hose to 2 inch double jacket hose for standpipe operations. If several vehicles are on fire, consider using your 2' or 2 1/2 line off the standpipe. Standpipes are well capable of 250 GPM's. 

NEWS: Imagine arriving to this? Massive New Years Eve fire in parking gar...


See more information and video on parking garage fires visit UrbanFireTraining.Com

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