Written By: Capt. Ryan Christen
CLCIK HERE FOR AN EXAMPLE BUILDING PRESENTATION
"ABANDONED GROCERY STORE"
(Be Patient, File size approx. 4mb)
day firefighters drive past buildings and lean over to
their spouse, friends, or family and utter something like
“if that building ever catches fire it is going
to get somebody killed.” Chances are that you are
right now thinking about a specific building that has
led you to say or think just that. What have you done
I am not suggesting that you engage in a long political
process to change fire codes, or attempt to have the occupancy
closed. For most of us, that is beyond our control or
above our pay grade. Because of this, that evil fire demon
that I call complacency paralyzes us into a cycle of acceptance
and inaction. This cycle can easily result in avoidable
deaths of our brothers and sisters. The solution I propose
is to be
Learn the building
Educate your crew
There are countless ways you can gather information about
a building or complex. But the simplest and sometimes
most productive is to simply ask questions. Talk to the
senior members of your crew, station, or department. Find
out if there has ever been an incident at that location.
Ask these members if they have ever been inside and if
there are any special hazards. The veterans of your department
are a tremendous resource for information.
You can also check your local property appraiser’s
office. For my county we can go online and enter any address
to get information on the building. This info includes
year built, square footage, construction type, renovations,
and even aerial photos. This search is public and the
info is available to anyone. You may have something similar
in your area.
Asking questions is the first step. You have already made
the statement that the building will kill fire fighters.
One of those fire fighters could be you. Get off your
but, and do something to prevent it. Be A.L.E.R.T
Learn The Building:
Recently I noticed a building in my district that raised
some concerns for me. The structure is attached to a ‘big
box’ discount store. From the outside, most assume
it is simply part of the discount store. When you walk
inside of the discount store it becomes apparent that
it is a separate occupancy, boarded up, and virtually
abandoned. For most, this occupancy goes unnoticed because
it appears to be part of the discount store. I contacted
my inspections department and they were able to set up
a walk-through for us. The experience was eye opening.
As a result everyone in the department is aware of the
hazards and knows that an interior attack may be too great
of a risk. Find out if your inspections department can
You should also consult the buildings pre-fire plan.
Find out when it was last updated. Pre-Fire Plans are
not just for ISO ratings, or “Busy Work.”
These plans are there for you. They exist to help you
prepare. They can save your life without you even knowing
it. Take them seriously. Use them as the powerful tool
that they are.
Educate Your Crew:
So you have asked the questions and learned the building.
Now what? Educate your crew! Hopefully your crew was able
to perform a ‘walk-through’ and is already
familiar with the building. If this is the case, your
work is not done. Do a little research about fires that
have occurred in similar structures and find out how they
were attacked. Study the experiences of your peers. Share
this info with your crew.
If a ‘walk-through’ was not possible then
you need to share the info you have found. Tell them about
the hazards you have observed and why you are concerned.
Discuss attack options and incident tactics. Do everything
in your power to ensure that your statement, “that
building will kill firefighters,” is no longer true.
All of the questions and learning is worthless if you
don’t share it. Educate your crew!
You have asked the right questions. You have gathered
all of the information. You and your crew are ready. One
night you are at a structure fire and you hear dispatch
toning out nearby units to a fire at the very occupancy
you have been preparing for. The only problem is that
you are committed at another fire. Do the nearby stations
and/or adjacent agencies know what you know. Or, is it
possible that “that building is going to kill firefighters.”
Raise awareness! Don’t stop at educating your crew.
Share your information with every agency, company, shift,
station, and truck that may respond to a fire at that
occupancy. In the example I provided above I took
a digital camera and put the photos into a PowerPoint
presentation (Click here to view). This presentation illustrated
every hazard we found in our ‘walk-through.’
I emailed this presentation to other area departments
and stations. This presentation brought the ‘walk-through’
to them. Now even third and fourth alarm companies know
what they are responding to. Now your peers are
aware of the hazards.
We all love to talk. We love trading stories. We are great
at discussing the “what ifs.” But we need
to do a little more. Get up, get out, and TRAIN!!!!! If
you don’t like training I will share my Chief’s
favorite expression with you: “Suck It Up!”
The simple truth is that this job is all training and
it could very well be the one thing that makes sure the
next time you leave an incident you’re not covered
in a flag! Once again, I repeat: Get up, get out, and
Take the knowledge you have of that building and simulate
the hazards at your drill tower. Try to set-up a drill
at the facility. Do a dry run. If the occupancy is open
and only available on a weekend, run a drill there
on a Saturday. Yeah, I said Saturday! “Suck It Up!”
“One day, if that building catches fire, it will
kill firefighters.” Enough talking! Do something
about it. Be A.L.E.R.T.
By implementing these ideas at your department you will
hopefully encourage others to follow suit. You may check
your email next month and find a PowerPoint from a neighboring
jurisdiction for a structure that includes your company
on the second alarm. You may find yourself saying, “I
did not even know that was there!”
The next time you spot a hazard building, or drive past
one you have been eyeing for years, take the time to do
something about it! Share the information. Share the concerns.
Share the training. Share the Safety! Lets all go home.
I would like to thank Captain Shannon Stone, and Firefighter
DJ Stone of the FWBFD for kicking off this process in
my area. I have received a couple of PowerPoints from
these two, that were very educational. In fact it was
the efforts they put into information sharing that motivated
me to write this article and prepare the building presentation
that I did. Thanks guys. Let’s spread the word.
Lets all be A.L.E.R.T.
HERE FOR AN EXAMPLE BUILDING PRESENTATION
"ABANDONED GROCERY STORE"
(Be Patient, File size approx. 4mb)
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