Firefighter Training Bulletin: Garage and Attic Fires

Photo courtesy of the Moraga-Orinda Fire District (CA).

Some insights into fire brigade training and thought experiments on fire reactions in residential buildings.

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Another view of a burned vehicle that ran into a California fire enginePhoto courtesy of the Moraga-Orinda Fire District (CA).

Burning vehicle against device

Recently, in California, a burning car rolled down a sloping driveway from a garage and collided with an engine. One consideration is that vehicles must be pulled out of the garage in order to do a final overhaul. Any equipment blocking the end of the driveway will need to be repositioned so that a device equipped with a tow truck or winch can access the garage.

Don’t block the driveway

Engine 4 arrives first in a fire in a garage attached to a large two-story house in an affluent suburb. The officer instructs the driver / engineer to position the device at the end of the driveway so that a pre-connected hose line with cross connection can be stretched at a direct right angle from the device and arranged in an S-configuration on the driveway.

Suddenly the fuel tank of a vehicle parked in the garage fails and a wave of burning gasoline runs down the sloping driveway. The crew is helpless; The driver / engineer must leave the pump panel as the unit has caught fire. This fictional scenario shows that placing devices at the end of a driveway is not a good idea.

Fire hazard in the garage

All the dangers of a modern vehicle fire are compounded when the vehicle is parked in a garage. Firefighters are trained not to approach a burning vehicle directly from the front or back to avoid exploding gas-filled struts on hood trunks and hatchbacks. By detecting a device at the end of a driveway, the device and possibly the pump operator are within range of projectiles.

Attic Fire Tactics

One of the most challenging fires for a suburban fire brigade is the attic of a “McMansion”, an extremely large two-story house. Often caused by lightning, these fires can burn a large portion of the roof of a palace house before firefighters get the upper hand. Extremely high vaulted ceilings and multiple converging roof lines made up of hips, valleys and dormers can make it very difficult to get water into the fire.

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Once fire breaks through the roof intended to shed water, directing an elevated main stream into a hole that is burned in a roof has little effect on fire not directly below. A much more effective tactic is to route a strong elevated main flow into second floor windows, blast it hydraulically through a plasterboard ceiling, and divert it away from the underside of the roof cladding. Some suburban fire departments are buying short wheelbase aircraft that can be maneuvered into tight, winding driveways, especially for loft fires in high-end homes. If the first company to arrive is an engine, it must be positioned accordingly taking into account the aircraft arriving later and must not block the driveway with a device or a supply hose with a large diameter.

BILL GUSTIN is a 45-year fire department veteran and Captain of the Miami-Dade (FL) Fire / Rescue Division. He began his firefighter career in the Chicago area and is a senior instructor in his department’s Officer Development Program. He teaches tactics and training programs for corporate officers across North America. He is a member of the Advisory Board of FDIC International and a technical writer for Fire Engineering.

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