Thursday, October 11th, 2012 10:10 am
By J.R. Dennison
Leatherhead Instructors, Inc.
We all have structures in our response area that will pose some sort of difficulty should we ever respond to a fire there. This particular structure was built as a residential structure, but at some point it changed occupancy to a business. Without taking the time to talk with the owner or the building department, we may not know what exactly to expect. If it is solely a business we should not expect to find anyone inside after hours in the event of a fire, but if there is a residence above the business we won’t know if anyone is inside without searching the structure. This is where the problem starts.
As the picture depicts, there is decorative woodwork on the exterior of the second floor of the structure that extends the entire way around the building. This will pose an issue for the interior crew in the event that they need to rapidly exit the structure through a second story window, and will add an additional assignment to the exterior crew to remove the woodwork while already working as an understaffed company. While this particular structure has a wood covering, many structures have metal bars or heavy screens in place that will pose a more difficult task to remove.
What do we do? Our first step in a plan should be to get out and look at some of the structures in our response areas that will pose a challenge should we ever respond to a fire there. Talk with the owner if you are unsure of the occupancy and let them know why you are asking. Inform them that while you do not expect them to remove the decorative covering or safety system, you are simply preplanning in the event of a fire. You could speak with the building or zoning department and find out if they have records for the structure and its occupancy type. If this structure is occupied as a business, your inspection bureau may have better insight and would be a good tool for building a preplan. Make sure that you discuss this structure with your officer and the rest of your crew, they may already be aware of the structure but a second look will never hurt.
The worst thing you can do is to say or do nothing, arrive at the scene of a working fire and discover that there is a family trapped in the second floor of what you thought was an unoccupied business. Complicate the entire scenario with finding a decorative cover or safety bars covering the entire second floor and you need to provide a means of egress for the interior crew or a quick way to rescue the victims.
Help your department, help yourself, and preplan the structures in your response area.
You can read more about the Leatherhead Instructors on their site.