“Let it Burn!”


Come on folks, we’re better than this


(pixabay photo)


The recent fire in Detroit that involved a collapse that injured several firefighters has prompted, as usual, the social media outcry against firefighting inside abandoned structures.  It needs to be reiterated that the escape from injury or death while operating at these fires is not the main reason for encouraging or approving going inside them.  The same is said when considering line of duty deaths in these structures. A low number does not equate safe operations.


What does need to be made known is that these structures exist everywhere and more importantly are likely to have people inside them.  Crying “let it burn!” on Facebook does more of a disservice towards your department’s mission than adopting and publicly promoting victim survivability profiling, in my personal opinion.


You will fight fires the way your department fights fires and not the way someone states away does. Your size-up and choices will be affected by you being physically there and by your staffing and assignments.  It’s easy to give commands in a post or tweet from your couch.  It’s much harder when you are on the street, dealing with reality.


We have known for several years that those who can be found in abandoned buildings range from the homeless to kids playing; from victims of crime to squatters.  We have also known that the occupancy doesn’t depend on the weather.  People can be found inside these buildings in the summer just as much as the winter.


Saying “let it burn,” is quite ridiculous when you have occupied stores or residences on Side Bravo and Side Delta. (YouTube)


Regardless of season, time, and type of person, our mission to save lives in peril cannot be heavily influenced by perceived occupancy type or degree of abandonment.  Again, each incident varies according to size-up, but we cannot simply write people off.  We must be better than that.  If you can search, then search.  If you can’t, we can understand.  If you choose not to based on a flippant assumption about the property, that’s disappointing.


Here are recent fires that should remind us that abandoned does not mean empty.


Boynton Beach, Florida: Homeless man charged with arson

Topeka, Kansas: Neighbor says homeless people were kicking in door to enter home before fire began

Huntington, West Virginia: Squatter kept going into house that burned

Portland, Oregon: Neighbors blame squatters for house fire

Oroville, California: Man pulled from abandoned house fire

Los Angeles, California; Neighbors blame squatters for house fire

Indianapolis, Indiana: Death in abandoned house fire ruled a homicide

Fresno, California: Signs of homeless people inside abandoned building fire


If you want to be upset about something in the Detroit fire, be upset about breathing in that smoke.




BillCareyBioPicBill Carey is the Online News Manager with Clarion Fire & Rescue Group, specifically FirefighterNation.com and FireRescue Magazine. Bill served as a firefighter, volunteer sergeant, and lieutenant at Hyattsville in Prince George’s County, Maryland. His writing has been in Fire Engineering, FireRescue Magazine, FirefighterNation, and other sites. His work on firefighter behavioral health was nominated for a 2014 Neal Award for Best Subject-Related Series.

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  • Brian Butler says:

    Thanks for writing this. I just taught “Fires in occupied Vacant and Abandoned Buildings” this weekend and will next week and I used the Detroit incident focusing on exactly what you just wrote (and I reference this website for good information) We cant just write off everyone because the 679th fire in a Vacant has a collapse. Do we write off legally occupied residential buildings when they collapse? The arguments on social media are disturbing and obviously by those who never have fires in these buildings. Keep up the great work! #theoccupiedvacant

  • Alan Glogovsky says:

    A minimum of a primary check should be conducted if it is safe to do so. 9/10 times it could be negative, but that 10th time could be the time you find a victim.

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