“Good Enough”Let’s Not Be Neanderthal about Roof Ventilation

You're cutting a hole for ventilation, not slicing off half a pound of Pimento loaf.

Depth gauges on saws, like them or not, do have a useful function. When training and experience can teach some form of perception about the thickness of the roof decking, it is believed that the depth gauge can keep the roof firefighter from cutting through the joists and sending him plunging into the fiery depths below. Those who oppose the use of depth gauges say that "feel" is all you need to know as you cut.

Fast forward to the 8:50 mark and watch from that point onward


It should be a general rule regardless of your department specifics, unless you already have detailed firefighting SOPs, that when going to the roof in order to perform vertical ventilation, two firefighters must bring the minimum tools: 1 saw, 1 flat head or pick head axe, 2 six foot hooks.

It should also be a rule that the opening should be a minimum of 4' x 4' for a basic vent, unless you are intent on doing the larger and various coffin, louver, extended trench, reverse shutter, half-nelson style cuts where you can take the pieces removed and make an origami swan (sarcasm).

Back and forth like a handsaw and only for a slightly larger than 1' x 1' opening is good enough I imagine in some locations.

But what are we accepting as "good enough"?

Is "good enough a sign of proficiency or the level of training that is delivered (not here in the departments shown in the video, but everywhere)?

Are our skills little more than average and are we content on being average or do we continually look to be better?

If this occurred on your fireground, what lessons are there to teach and learn?



Bill Carey is the daily news and blog manager for Elsevier Public Safety (FireRescue Magazine/Firefighter Nation, JEMS and LawOfficer sites.) Bill also manages the FireEMSBlogs.com network and is a former volunteer lieutenant with the Hyattsville Volunteer Fire Department in Prince George's County, Maryland.

We encourage and support constructive dialogue and debate. View our comment policy.

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  • Ed Hartin says:

    Excellent points. Good enough isn’t!

    Second question would be why cut this hole in the first place (regardless of it’s size and skill with which it is cut)?

    Going beyond good enough applies to both skill and knowledge.

  • C. Fowler says:

    I am curious too as to why the hole is cut in the first place.  The fire appears to be out at this point.

  • Tri Townsend says:

    Why there, when the fire was located in the A/B corner of the house and the cut is on the C/D side? If we were caught doing this where we came from Billy, you wouldn't ride the truck ever again or be allowed on a roof.  What would your daddy say?

    • Bill Carey says:

      I was taught better than that.

      It really doesn’t matter to us or other viewers the where and why, but to look at it and ask, can this happen in my department? What are we learnign when we teach roof ventilation? Is our tool selection just a grab or are we realy thinking about what we need?

      Bill Carey

  • P.J. Norwood says:

    Ventilation is a skill that must be practiced from the officer level to those actually performing the "cut". I don't like to be the Monday morning quater back as we can discuss many things in this video that some will say is "wrong".
    What everyone watching needs to do and watch and see what you think you could do better and then go train and do it better. Every skill we perform on the fire ground can be performed better by someone. Strive to be the best at everything you do but know there is always someone better.
    The members making the cut in the video need to practice, the officers giving the order to vent the roof need to look and practice thier decesion making skills. I would urge the department as a whole to address ventilation in the classroom and in the streets! Education and training is always the right place to start addressing defeciencies.
    P.J. Norwood

  • Kevin says:

    If that is the best effort they need to stay on the ground with the rest of the Truck Speedbumps! That wasn't enven a good attempt at a inspection hole.
    "I don't often cut holes in roofs but when I do it is to watch the real firefighters at work. I do not want to have to stick my head in the hole to see."
    Everyday we read bigger badder hotter fires but we still preach 4×4 holes. CUT EM BIG.  

  • T Tulipano says:

    Speedbump here! You must be an engine guy! All the above questions are good points and should be asked. Is that the right place for a hole, is the hole needed so late in the fire, are the FFs being sent to the roof competent and will they vent the structure for the attack crew. If not then these need to be addressed or do we give high 5's to all around and say "great job" because we don't now any better? This problem is very common across our nation. We can bash all day long cause that's easy to do. What we need to do is maybe show the right way and technique. No one is perfect and PJ is right, there is always someone better or worse. We must strive to be the best but that comes from us within, I can't teach that. What I can teach is a 30 second hole approx a 4'x6' using a chainsaw oh and the "speedbump" isnt included

  • TROCHE says:

    A firefighter is anothers worst critic, some times to a fault. Just a thought; let's lift each other up by making sure that everyone within our reach has access to our knowledge and expirience. If you see substandard technique; FIX IT. Start with you and let it's reach be limitless and put your effort into making sure that everyone around you is "as good or better" than you are. The fire community is small, if we do this I promoise you will see alot less of these videos. Someone took the time to train you the right way, return the favor. I bet there is someone on that fireground that knew that was poor jusgment and excution BUT I wonder if they took the time to fix or just critique and say I would have done it better. TIERD of seeing injured and dead firefighters over preventable issues and lack of knowledge that should and most of the time is availlable. Train, train again and when your done, train again…… lives depend on it and failure is NOT an optinon.

  • John K. says:

    1 – Read the smoke.  Lazy, gray smoke = small fire not involving the structure.
    2 – Good work by the officer opening the ceiling to check for fire before proceeding.
    3 – A 35', three section ladder… really?  Take the same two guys and carry two roof ladders plus vent tools and cut the time by two thirds to get on the roof.
    4 – Make sure the saw is ready to go before getting on the roof.  Maybe check this one to make sure the chain isn't on backwards.  And NEVER grab the cutting bar with the saw running, especially when the brake isn't engaged!!
    5 – Make sure you are cutting as close to the seat of the fire as possible.
    6 – Make sure you cut the proper size hole (4' x 4' minimum).
    7 – Make sure you make the cuts in the proper order (top, corner cut, away, bottom, near).

  • Kevin says:

    Hey T I get to ride both. So when I am on the Engine the Truck is the Firefighter Helpers 🙂
    I hate seeing stuff like this because it leads to some bad event with someone getting injured then a departments decide oh we are not doing that anymore. 

  • John K. says:

    I am disappointed that they have removed this video from YouTube.  It was such an opportunity to learn for many.

    • Bill Carey says:

      No worries. The photo at the top, as they say, is worth a thousand words. Let’s all hope that instead of what we may think is sweeping it under the rug, is really, “let’s cut that out and get into some learning.”

      Bill Carey

  • DaveOC says:

    Your title does a disservice to Neanderthals. A Neanderthal fireman would have made a huge hole with nothing more than an axe !
    Second if you"re going to a peaked roof to vent  it, then take a ten foot pike pole with you because you're not going to reach the drywall to push it down with a six footer.

  • Theodore Wells says:

    I am a home owner, not a fire fighter. I am involved because I am fighting the 4′ pathway requirement for solar panels in Grosse Pointe Woods, Mi. which is the only city in Michigan which requires this draconian measure. 4′ is supposed to be for commercial, not residential. So: One firefighting website said that you never cut a hole in the roof unless you have a second fireman with a hose to immediately put water into the hole. Otherwise you may have a flair out. You did not address this requirement here.
    Next is the Governor’s Island, NY experiment where they loaded empty government quarters with new furniture. They found new furniture with synthetic materials burns faster and hotter than the old cotton based furniture. The point is, for residential homes, that it is dangerous to send a fireman on the roof, and if you do, you had better have water ready to go. Recently in Grosse Pointe City, a house being remodeled caught fire. Before the firemen could get there, the houses on either side caught fire. All three houses burned to the ground. It made the newspapers.
    So I would like to ask the professional fire fighters, is it really necessary to endanger a fireman by sending him up on the roof of a 1,500 – 3,000 sq. ft. residential home and is this still done frequently or rarely?

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