A major portion of the United States was just hit with a pretty decent snowstorm. My area in NE Ohio was no exception, getting anywhere from 10”-16” of the white stuff. As I left my shift in the darkness and headed home, it was no surprise that the main roads were plowed while the side streets were still untouched. The majority of the business parking lots were unplowed as well, likely due to the fact that many would be closed that day for MLK Jr. observance, and thus, didn’t need to be plowed yet.
What struck me, though, was the number of businesses that were unplowed but had a vehicle or two parked in front of the store. Most just had old tracks in the snow from the street to the parked car. Some areas showed signs of having been shoveled earlier but now were covered again. As I began to pay attention, I noticed that the majority of them were what could be considered specialty stores such as the mom-and-pop variety. They are smaller, mostly 2-story Type III construction set between bigger commercial properties and warehouses. Normal looking buildings for the main streets of my town.
That’s when I began to realize that these were the standard commercial/residential buildings that are common to so many of us. The owner of the store has their shop on the first floor and lives in the apartment on the second. This has been a common setup for small business owners for decades. They go downstairs to earn their livelihood, and then at the end of a long day, climb back up those stairs to eat, sleep, and prepare for another long day.
Seeing these tracks in the snow made me realize, again, that preplanning is of extreme importance. If I arrived on scene to find smoke or fire coming from the shop at 0’dark-thirty, my strategy and tactics would follow the procedure that we generally take at commercial building fires. But that mindset must change instantly when presented with the high probability that there are occupants in the residence above. I can not view a Main Street store as just commercial, I must always be mindful that it is likely occupied above.
While we are not allowed to go in and preplan the residence above the store, we can go in and talk to the shop owner. Find out if, in fact, people live above the store. In many cases, it’s not just the owners family, but other tenants as well. Determine the location of the interior stairs and building utilities. Get a general idea of the layout of the merchandise and shelving units. Be neighborly and, if applicable, purchase something while spending time getting to know the owner.
I am thankful for the reminder to learn my districts that the unplowed snow gave me. Tracks in the snow were made by someone. It is our job to determine if that someone is still in the building when it’s on fire. They are counting on us!
If you want to learn from an expert on the buildings of Main Street, USA, then you need to check out Chief Joe Pronesti: https://www.fireengineering.com/speakers/o-t/joseph-pronesti.html
He has done extensive work on strategy, tactics, and preplanning on these types of buildings.