Thursday, August 16th, 2012 9:08 am
By Deputy Chief Larry S. Sedlock
For the Leatherhead Instructors, LLC
I’m sure you are familiar with the firefighting term ventilation.
Ventilation: Systematic removal of heated air, smoke, gases or other airborne contaminants from a structure and replacing them with cooler and/or fresher air to reduce damage and to facilitate firefighting, rescue, and overhaul operations.
As you know there are several forms of ventilation:
- Positive / Negative Pressure (Forced ventilation)
Each form has its place in our firefighting efforts, some more than others. Even though ventilation has a lot of positive aspects we must not forget that if improperly placed or done at the wrong time it has the potential to place us in harm’s way very rapidly.
There is no doubt that ventilation, when properly done, decreases the rate of fire spread and increases visibility so we can locate the seat of the fire more quickly. It also aids us with search and rescue, not to mention decreasing the danger to any occupants that may be trapped.
In most cases ventilation is coordinated with fire attack. However, it is a must that it be used prior to entry during potential backdraft situations to release the trapped superheated gases. Obviously, this is accomplished by ventilating at the highest point possible. It goes without saying that we must be able to identify the signs of a potential backdraft situation. Do you know what to look for?
Let’s talk for a moment about safety. As with any situation, our safety has been, and continues to be, the number one aspect of our jobs. We can’t help anyone if we get hurt! Therefore, during ventilation, never take any unnecessary risks. Before attempting any roof ventilation operations:
- Check the roof for stability
- Utilize a roof ladder
- Be aware of any overhead wires
- Never carry running power tools up a ladder
- ALWAYS wear full PPE which includes a SCBA (don’t just wear it, breathe the air)
As far as taking out windows: look below to ensure the area is clear of firefighters, take out the entire window including any screens (they reduce air flow by as much as 50%), make sure to use a tool, and, yet again, full PPE is a must.
We both know there are more safety aspects depending on the type of ventilation that is utilized, but you get the idea. BE SAFE!
Ventilating a single story home is one thing, but I feel ventilation can be considered an art, especially when it comes to ventilating a high rise structure or a basement fire with limited or no access. In a high-rise, careful coordination should be used to ensure the safest and most effective use of personnel and equipment. Incorrect ventilation of a high-rise can be catastrophic. There are many aspects of properly and safely ventilating any structure. It is a must that it is a coordinated event and works best in one person in placed in charge.
In closing, the importance of timely and effective ventilation cannot be overstated; yet, I feel it is one of the most neglected operations, often being delayed or ignored completely. There is a multitude of reasons why this happens, but probably the main reason is due to a lack of manpower, (especially, initially). It goes without saying that during these trying economic times we are all expected to do more with less and counting more and more on mutual aid for support which, in turn, at times, extends the time it takes to accomplish our firefighting tasks.
Ventilate systematically, early, and, above all, safely so you can “clear the way” for your crews.
Learn more about the Leatherhead Instructors on their site.