“It’s all in the basement”

The following video from East St. Louis plainly illustrates the need to be a deliberate engine company. In viewing we learn that the lineman recognizes two signs of the first floor being compromised. We also see and hear how the lineman communicates to the rest of his company about:
- First floor integrity/hazard
- Need to check for exterior basement access
- Repositioning the initial handline
- Using the reach of the stream

Find more videos like this on firevideo.net

‘Situational awareness’ and ‘risk analysis’ are terms being used in the fire service in various ways. Basically they mean no more than you being aware of your surroundings[1]. The deliberate firefighter, and engine company, will be the one that constantly sizeup the fire and make the best choice with the information they are getting.
- Known vacant structure; gauge our ‘speed’ and adapt
- First floor is bad; hold up the advance through the front door
- Bulk of fire looks to be in basement; need to find exterior basement access
- Unable to reposition first line; communicate to the second-due engine company
- Hold the fire on the first floor at the exterior door; gauge our ‘speed’ and adapt.

The fire in the video shows us the quick recognition of a compromised first floor and a change in tactics. To use this video for your own personal reflection or to discuss in the dayroom, ask:
- Would our attack have been different if the structure was not a vacant structure?
- How many of my crew do I expect to be ‘hands on’ the hoseline as we pass through the front door?
- What if the lineman, backup and/or officer fell through the floor? What do we know to do?
- What if I had fallen through the floor? Would I revert back to training or panic?
- How do we communicate to other companies that we have a basement fire and cannot move into Division 1? What do we expect the other companies to do when they arrive?
- If we have to reposition the initial handline, and we cannot reach the rear (stretched short), do we extend the first line or stretch a second?

House Fire Close Call/FCII Helmet Camera” Rob Schield, FireVideo.net
Fire In The Basement: Do You Know What You’re Running Into?” James Rose, WithTheCommand.com
Basement Fires” Weekly Drill, FirefighterCloseCalls.com
Basement Fires: A Reminder and Perhaps a Clarification” Charles Bailey, TinHelmet.com
6401 Gwinnett Ln. Presentation” Firefighter Mike Wells, PGFEMS
Basement Fire Procedures” PGFEMS
Mayday Procedure” PGFEMS
Fire Below! The Importance of the ‘Basement Check’” Nick Martin, Firehouse.com
Past success is no guarantee of future success” Charles Bailey, TinHelmet.com

[1] “Often, we only become aware of the unrecognized basement fire because something bad happens:

  • We can’t find the seat of the fire.
  • Conditions on the floors above become untenable.
  • The floors begin to weaken.
  • Fire comes through the floor.
  • One of US goes through the floor.”

Fire Below! The Importance of the ‘Basement Check’ Nick Martin, Firehouse.com January 2009

Collyer and Blankets in the Projects

Relating to the Collyer Mansion article on Firehouse.com this month, there was a 2-alarm fire in the Bronx in Co-op City this week. Unless you happened to be listening to the FDNY online you would be hard pressed to find any information about this job. Fires in major cities are a dime a dozen to some in news and this one lost becoming a news story to Alex Rodriguez and a rampaging chimpanzee.

Co-op City is considered the world’s largest cooperative housing project. Located off of the New England Thruway, it is a complex of many large high-rise and townhouse dwellings. Today’s fire was Box 4482 at 100 Casals Place on the 26th floor of the 33-story occupied multiple dwelling. Six minutes into the attack Battalion 15 had Rescue 3 and Squad 61 reporting in with their high-rise blankets; a injured person coming down to EMS and one line in operation. Squad 61 deployed their blanket and a following progress report declared the fire to be knocked down with searches still in progress. Again, if you happened to be listening in, you would also know that some of the companies on both the box and the 10-75 were responding from a earlier auto extrication.

Collyer Mansion conditions in the fire apartment delayed the primary and secondary searches. The final progress report, approximately one hour since the initial dispatch, stated that the secondary search of the fire apartment was negative.

Recently, firefighters here in Prince George’s County worked a house fire that escalated to a Fire Task Force assignment due to Collyer Mansion conditions.
House fire, 4600 block Queensbury Road, Riverdale, MD
“The crew advanced the line into the basement and within 5 minutes of the Engine being on the scene the fire was knocked. Due to extension to the upper floors via the walls, and “Colliers Mansion” conditions inside, command called for a Task Force.”

Below are a number of resources regarding Collyer Mansion conditions, hoarding and pack rat living.

Did Suburban Town Demolish Man’s Home Without Due Process?
WFLD (IL), 2009

Task Force Helps Hoarders
Salem News (MA) January 2009

Note: The link to the WKRC video story is down and has been replaced by WKRC with the following news story. It is a transcipt of the video report
WKRC report of Cincinnati fire involving hoarding

Ambulance men ‘decided dying man not worth saving’
London Time, 2008
A wrong approach to Collyer Mansion conditions.

Cambridge reaches out to those who can’t stop hoarding
Boston Globe, 2008

Former Lilly chemist killed in fire
WISH (IN), 2008
“Firefighters said it took about 30 minutes for them to find Ovelgonne and put the fire out because of all the debris in the house.”

Online resources
Children of Hoarders
Compulsive Hoarding, Obsessive Compulsive Foundation
Bio-Behavioral Institute
Institute of Living, Anxiety Disorder Center

Spring Training

On Thursday, 12 February, the Red Sox struggled their way through an oppressive Florida winter to begin the first day of Spring Training. Last weekend, in the Washington D.C. area the thermometer hit the upper fifties and people could be found on The Mall in shorts and t-shirts. Spring, or any slight hint of spring, will get the body and mind active, giving us a desire to get out from inside four walls. Warmer days give us a chance to do something more than dry erase board drills or online simulations. The trade we have is a practical one, whether you do it for a salary or not, and practical work requires practical training.

While your department begins to make plans for the trip to the burn building or to scout out an old structure to possibly burn, take a look at the following investigated reports involving training of all types and see where your department is similar:

Career Probationary Fire Fighter Dies While Participating in a Live-Fire Training Evolution at an Acquired Structure – Maryland

Career Captain Dies from Complications of a Drowning Incident due to a Combination of Exhaustion, Hypothermia and Carbon Monoxide Poisoning During Surf Rescue Training – Washington

Career Officer Injured During a Live Fire Evolution at a Training Academy Dies Two Days Later – Pennsylvania

Volunteer Fire Fighter / Rescue Diver Dies in Training Incident at a Quarry – Pennsylvania

Career Fire Fighter Drowns While Conducting Training Dive – New Hampshire

Live-Fire Exercise in Mobile Flashover Training Simulator Injures Five Career Fire Fighters – Maine

Live-Fire Training Exercise Claims the Life of One Recruit Fire Fighter and Injures Four Others– Florida

Volunteer Training/Safety Officer Dies from Injuries Received in Fall from Pick-Up Truck Following Training Exercise – Tennessee

Career Lieutenant and Fire Fighter Die in a Flashover During a Live-Fire Training Evolution – Florida

Career Fire Fighter Drowns During Final Dive of Training Course – Indiana

Volunteer Fire Fighter Dies and Two Others Are Injured During Live-Burn Training – New York

Volunteer Fire Fighter Drowns During Multi-Agency Dive-Rescue Exercise – Illinois
Fire Fighter/SCUBA Diver Dies During Training Evolution–Indiana

Volunteer Assistant Chief Dies During a Controlled-Burn Training Evolution–Delaware

Volunteer Fire Fighter Drowns During Dry-Suit Training Dive – North Carolina

Fire Fighter/Paramedic Drowns During an Underwater SCUBA Training Drill – Missouri

Fire Fighter (Captain) Dies After Fall From Ladder During a Training Exercise – California

Fire Suppression Technician Involved in Maze Training Incident–Texas

How we conduct our most realistic training is influenced by our own perceptions and beliefs of risk. In 1994, the U.S. Naval Academy faced the biggest cheating scandal of its time when two dozen midshipmen were expelled and another two dozen were given lesser penalties. In one interview the comment ‘you rate what you skate’ became an easy summary of the trouble in Annapolis. You are only as good, performance-wise as what you can get away with. This is something that should be easily apparent to the fire service. We all know of the member who ‘hangs back’ with the almost regular SCBA malfunction or the urgency to stay in the hall or downstairs ‘feeding line’. The opposite is found in the member who is always looking for a ‘salty’ lid, Bourkes melted to the point of throw away, and gear with obvious signs of burn damage. When we conduct live training, one of the main purposes should be to create and maintain a level of safety that allows the hang back guy to become more accustomed to the environment and get of his or her shell. We should also create the same for the salty member to reconsider his or her personal actions and learn how they impact the company and the fireground.

I am no ‘safety sally’ by any means. I’ve been there stoking fires in the burn building and the acquired house. In retrospect I know that some of my friends and I have created flameover and rollover conditions in order to ‘teach’ new members. A lot of this was done before the cry of ‘1403’. The only precautions we took were a vent hole in the roof, points of easily identifiable egress, a backup hoseline and nozzle team and that we used household furnishings and not flammable liquids. While we didn’t kill or injure anyone, we did make some good heat and in the process warped a few frontpieces from time to time. We also provided an environment as realistic to what we experienced, to the new members. We never taught anything contrary to Maryland’s Basic Fire and only added to it how our department specifically operated and what we persona
lly learned from experience. We made the training realistic, educational and fun.

In other words, we operated as safe and competent as we knew at the time, without an underlying effort to either intimidate a new member or exaggerate our own selves. We rated by what we skated.

Because of live fire burns that killed or injured members, departments nationwide are challenged to make the acquired building or academy burn building as realistic as possible. The same can be applied to other areas of training, such as dive rescue. The NFPA staff didn’t wake up one day years ago and said among them, “Let’s make it hard for fire departments to do live fire training.” It was actually us, firefighters, who operated in ways that caught the eye of ‘outsiders’.

As the weather gets warmer and we get out in the street more, make the training opportunities as realistic as possible, but try not to get anyone injured or killed. We will all suffer because of that somewhere down the line.


NIOSH Firefighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program, Trauma Related Reports, Training.

Preventing Deaths and Injuries to Fire Fighters during Live-Fire Training in Acquired Structures” NIOSH Publication No. 2005-102:

Firefighters’ live burn training gives adrenaline rush” Times Herald, November 2008

An Ultimate Training Experience
The Most Ambitious “Live” Fire Burn Training Exercise in America” Firehouse.com, September 2001

Staffing Effects Research

From Dave Statter, WUSA9

ROCKVILLE, Md. (WUSA)- Firefighters crawling inside a burning building to put out a fire. But this is a test. If this had been an actual emergency your local fire department may not have four firefighters on board each fire truck as they did on Thursday at the Montgomery County Fire Rescue Service Training Academy. At times there may be only two or three firefighters on an engine in the Washington area. Like heads of every government agency, fire chiefs are fighting for every dollar and position they can to keep their firefighters and the public safe. What they lack is the ability to clearly show how the staffing of fire engines and ladder trucks impacts the ability of people to survive a fire and how quickly a fire can be extinguished. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is leading a team of fire service organizations in trying to arm fire chiefs for the next budget battle. Firefighters from Fairfax County and Montgomery County are spending weeks basically fighting the same fire over and over. Data is being recorded to show how long it takes and how effective fire crews are using a variety of staffing levels to extinguish the fire.

NIST plans to have a report available in the fall. Fire chiefs are calling this a landmark study. It may also give the public a tool to better understand what effect the number of people on duty in the local firehouse has on their safety.
Firehouse.com’s Coverage
Additional Staffing Studies and Writings
Evaluating Compliance with NFPA 1710 NFA Research Project, V. Werner 2002
NFPA 1720 – The Forgotten Standard S. Savia, The Sage Group 2001


Tactical Benchmarks

The latest edition of Radio @ Firehouse.com’s Training and Tactics Talk presented a brief outline of what will be Chief Doug Cline’s future radio programs. Chief Cline begins to look at real tactical operations that occur in the field; a comparison of these between big city and rural departments; and the tactics that have to be done regardless of location. Below are significant notes and comments from this latest program.

Three Tactical Priorities
1. Life Safety
2. Incident Stabilization
3. Property Protection

In the years to come, could it be possible that a fire scene would develop into a hazardous materials incident based on the materials burning (smoke plume) and runoff (environmental hazards)? Would this eventually change our initial tactics? Having known occupants change how you fight the fire; our perception that ‘offensive’ is equal to ‘aggressive’ interior “go get it” attack dictates out tactical priorities.

Modes of Fire Attack
1. Rescue
2. Offensive
3. Defensive
4. Transitional

Can we still be ‘aggressive’ when having to transition from an offensive to a defensive attack?

Tactical Objectives
Sizeup starts long before the alarm.
What are we really thinking about at the time of the alarm? Do you truly have situational awareness of what is going on? You are only limited to what you can see and imagine on the scene.

Tactical Objectives and Benchmarks
NIOSH reports continue to note problems with communications; not feeding the right information to the right people. The fire service has a problem with some members using the radio to an extreme, “giving a doctoral dissertation”. Benchmarks need to be brief reports of tactical objectives. Benchmarks are not to be used to keep members from freelancing, but to know where members are operating.

What is the Incident Commander listening for?
Does the radio report meet the company objectives (benchmark)?
Do benchmarks tie up the radio? It depends on the area you work in.

Fireground communications need to begin with benchmarks and train on using them. Some benchmarks may be:
1. Entry
2. Start and End of the Primary Search
3. RIC Established (is this a legal component?)
4. Water Supply
5. Utilities Controlled
6. Secondary Means of Egress

Key Benchmarks:
1. Knockdown/Control of the Fire
2. Search Results
3. Complete Control of the Fire
4. All Loss Stopped

Training & Tactics Talk: Examining Text Book Strategy & Tactics