Updated Rhetorical Lesson No.11:Too Many People on The Roof


How do you determine someone else’s limit?


Yeah, yeah I know, I know, they aren’t properly using their SCBA. That goes without saying; if you wear it then use it. The “brotherhood” isn’t going to be there if you make it to retirement and your family is making arrangements with hospice because you have cancer.

What this series’ question looks at is the overwrought cry that comes after posting nearly every photo of a crew performing vertical ventilation, “there are too many guys on the roof!”

Attic Fire

Where does this come from? I know in most cases it comes from reading of a story or report about someone falling through a roof or about the collapse of a roof during a fire. I get that, but where do you make that determination for someone else?  How do you say that this department has too many firefighters on the roof without the knowledge from the scene that they have (see “full view of structure” and “actually being there”). How can someone say that you have too many on the roof at your fire without being there?

In an interesting response to comments on this photo on FFN's Facebook page, another conundrum is provided, the belief that "business" and being "urban" negate some measure or act of safety,


It is what it is I suppose and that is another topic for discussion.

Part of this compulsive commenting is based on fear, the need to point out that someone is going to die in that photo if the comment is not adhered to.

How valid is that?

If you believe that x number is “too many” then everyone in these photos is going to die.

on the roof

Taking it to the roof

hooking the roof gutter

Engine 319 venting the roof @ Jerry's Cajun Cafe fire

We can’t learn anything from knee-jerk, compulsive, fear-based comments. True understanding comes when we can logically explain our beliefs to another.


Photos are courtesy of my.firefighternation.com and their respective photographers.

Poster image courtesy of Tiger Schmittendorf/TigerSchmittendorf.com


Bill Carey is the online public safety news and blog manager with PennWell Public Safety, or more specifically FireRescue Magazine/FirefighterNation.com, JEMS.com, LawOfficer.com and FireEMSBlogs.com. Bill started in the fire service, as a third generation firefighter in 1986, on the eastern shore of Maryland and then continued after moving to Prince George's County. He served as a volunteer sergeant and lieutenant at Hyattsville where he met Chris Hebert and Dave Ianonne, the creators of Firehouse.com. Bill went to work for them back in 2001 and after they transitioned away to new, bigger projects, he was hired by them again in 2009. Bill's writing has been on Firehouse.com, Fire Engineering, FireRescue Magazine, FirefighterNation.com, the Jones and Bartlett 2010 edition of "Fire Officer: Principles and Practice", The Secret List and Tinhelmet.com.


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  • Brian Pearson says:

    THANK YOU! I had to "unlike" FFN's page because I was tired of people forming opinions on operations when they don't work for that department. I said it to those people and I will say it now, unless you are REALLY REALLY good at keeping your guys safe and getting everyone back to the firehouse, don't try and complicate our job, or make comments about the operations of another department. 

    • Bill Carey says:

      Ouch! I wish you hadn’t done that but I understand. I’ve had those thoughts too, but it could be worse, they could all be anonymous of other various screen names.

      Bill Carey

  • Lane says:

    You raise a good point. how many is too many? too many of variables on that one. We go with 3 or 6 if we augment with a second truck. Some agencies just don't have the staffing to really do roof work effectively. Seems like roof ops doctrine varies East to West coast. Can't by off on the SCBA thing though, in this day and age you can't justify breathing smoke.

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