This trailer is giving firefighters every ‘sign’ possible that it’s dangerous to approach. The driver should be questioned immediately about the contents of the trailer. Use extreme caution when opening rear doors of tractor trailers using the reach of the longest pike pole. For suppression, open the rear doors and consider using the tank water of 2 engines side by side, blocking off all traffic, using a monitor to direct over 1000 gallons into the trailer. When numerous placards identifying hazardous materials are present, request the hazmat team.


When you arrive on the scene of a tractor trailer fire well involved, you should immediately request police for traffic control and upgrade the assignment. Remember the rescue of trapped occupants is your top priority. Check for placards on the trailer or ask the driver what the truck is carrying.

The VIDEO above was a fully involved bobtail truck fire and running fuel fire that resulted in igniting a nearby commercial trash compactor. Prepare for foam operations, and request additional companies for speedy dry, dry chem extinguishers and water supply. Dyke, divert, suppress, and protect exposures when threatened by running fuel. On approach, cool the fuel tanks, sweep away any running fuel, and be aware of tires exploding.

Apparatus placement is extremely important considering these fires are usually on highways/main roads with heavy traffic. Park uphill, upwind and block or divert traffic if possible. Make sure you stabilize the tractor trailer if it can safely be done by simply chocking the wheels. READ MORE…


Have you ever thought about how many propane tanks are located in your response area? Considering propane tanks supply LPG to barbecue grills, food trucks, forklifts, heaters, cars, buses, sanitation trucks, RV’s, and handheld propane torches, there may be hundreds of propane cylinders in your response district. Small 20 lb tanks are commonly used for gas grills on residential properties, while larger LPG storage tanks are located at commercial businesses, hardware stores, gas stations, industrial areas, and underground.

Every firefighter should be familiar with the dangers or propane, NOT just company officers and members of the hazmat team. The nozzleman on the engine company is the one who is closest to burning vehicles, dumpsters, and buildings. It’s especially important for the urban fireman to become familiar with the properties of propane, and how to deal with leaks vs fires involving tanks and cylinders.

What is propane?

Propane and butane are the two major LPG gases extracted and used in the gas industry. About 70% of propane is processed from natural gas. Propane is colorless and odorless in its natural state, but a commercial odorant is added so it can be detected if it leaks. The most common used odorant is ethyl mercaptan.

LP-gases belong to a family of chemical compounds known as alkane hydrocarbons, meaning they are made up of hydrogen and carbon atoms only. Propane is 1.5 times heavier than air. The combustible materials in propane are carbon and hydrogen (hydrocarbons). The oxygen needed to burn propane vapor is obtained from the air. Air is made up of 20% oxygen, 79% nitrogen and 1% other gases. Any ignition source must provide enough heat to the mixture of fuel and oxygen to raise the temperature of the propane to its ignition temperature, which is between 920°F and 1,120°F. The flammable limits (explosive range) for propane: LEL 2.15% UEL 9.60%


When responding to a reported LPG barbecue grill fire involving a propane tank, the initial company officers concerns should be exposures, and the possibility of a BLEVE. Upon arrival, try to determine what’s burning, where it’s burning, whether the relief valve has activated, exposure issues, and the size of the tank. This will help determine the initial actions on apparatus placement, strategy and tactics. The gas grill fire may turn out to be a grease fire or food burning with no threat to the propane tank. It’s possible the hose leading to the tank regulator may be burning and the flame is being fed by the propane from the tank. These can easily be handled by extinguishing the fire with an ABC fire extinguisher, water can, removing the oxygen by closing the lid of the grill, or closing the cylinder valve supplying the tank (righty-tighty). Stretch a handline to protect exposures such as exterior siding, overhead awnings, or a deck. Use a 30° fog pattern in the vapor space of the propane tank if the cylinder is threatened by flame impingement.

REMEMBER: Never extinguish an unisolated pressure fed flammable gas fire unless the fuel source can be isolated. Leaking gas can migrate away from the container and may find another ignition source.

If there’s no fire visible and it’s only an LPG leak (detected by smell of ethyl mercaptan odorant) eliminate any sources of ignition (pilot burner, cigarettes, lighter, electric motors, switches, flares, static discharges, cell phones) evacuate the area, and ventilate nearby structures using PPV. Use a CGI (Combustible Gas Indicators) to determine the level of flammable vapors in the area, determine the source, and control the release. Take readings in nearby structures and basements as a precaution. REMEMBER: Propane is heavier than air and will settle in low areas. (Propane vapor density is 1.52 at 60°F.)

TIP: Propane flammable range is 2.15 – 9.60. Each cubic foot of liquid propane will boil off 270 cubic feet of propane vapor.

Any decision to approach a propane tank showing direct flame impingement on its vapor space must be made on a case-by-case basis after evaluating the hazards and risks, and determining if an adequate water supply has been established. If you arrive to hear a jet engine sound, evacuate the area, stretch a line, and prepare to take cover. The relief valve has activated and a high pressure flame should be visible. Most likely the cylinder valve connection is cross-threaded or leaking. Any flame impingement on the vapor space will heat the propane tanks shell; the tank will have to be cooled to prevent a BLEVE. From a safe area such as the corner of the home or a garage, wearing full PPE, cool the cylinder with a line before approaching to shutoff the flow of propane gas, or play it safe and just cool the tank and let the LPG burn off. Again, decisions must be made on a case-by-case basis as tanks can fail within minutes of direct flame impingement.


Firefighters should be aware that a functioning PRV (Pressure Relief Valve) on a burning propane tank is not a reliable indication that the tank is safe to approach or a reliable indicator of when or if the tank may fail.

TIP: A propane tank contains liquid and vapor. Fire heats the tank shell in the vapor space area more rapidly than the liquid area.  By the time steel reaches 1,800°F it has lost 90% of its strength. A propane tank will eventually relieve pressure either through a split in the tank in form of a jet flame, or the container fails. In most cases, the PRV will function early in the fire. If the valve handle has melted away, a pair of vise grips can be used to shut the valve, BUT it would be much safer to just let the gas burn off while cooling the tank from a safe distance.


This propane tank fire was caused by a cross threaded hose connection. The leaking gas caught fire and raged around the tank outlet. The tank was connected to a grill that was up against the home causing the siding to melt. An 1 3/4 hoseline with a fog nozzle should be used to go back and forth cooling the tank and extinguishing the exposed siding of the house until a second line is in service. If upon arrival to a gas grill propane tank fire with exposure to the home you notice the relief valve is activated and the jet engine sound is present, KEEP BACK a good distance and cool the tank from an area of protection such as the side of a house, behind a garage or large vehicle. If the home is starting to catch fire, go for a 2 1/2 line for more reach from the safer distance. Upgrade the incident to a full structure assignment and request Hazmat response.

TACTICAL OBJECTIVES: The primary tactical objective is to cool the outside of the portable cylinder protecting the shell and reduce the pressure to the point that the pressure relief valve closes and the cylinder valve can be manually closed. The secondary objective is to protect exposures, extinguish any structure fires, check for extension, and monitor nearby structures for propane gas.

TIP: Propane pressure regulators are designed to control propane vapor pressure. They reduce the higher gas vapor pressure inside the storage container to a lower and more constant pressure, which is necessary to operate gas appliances like heaters, stoves, safely and efficiently. NFPA 58 requires the use of two-stage regulator systems for most fixed installations in buildings. NFPA also requires that all 20lb cylinders be equipped with an OPD (Overfill Protection Device).


Vehicles: Propane is often transported via railcars and delivery trucks. Other vehicle uses are LPG vehicles, forklifts, buses, food trucks, and RV’s. LPG powered passenger vehicles must have their PRV’s vented to the outside of the vehicle. They are required by NFPA 58 to be identified with a diamond shaped label on the lower right rear of the vehicle with the letters “PROPANE” on the silver or white reflective badging.

First arriving officers should immediately suspect and be aware of propane tanks on RV’s, forklifts, and food trucks. Transport trucks with large storage tanks are obvious, and LPG passenger vehicles have badging placards on the back (pic above). Some vehicles could have 20 lb LPG tanks located in the trunk, or in the bed of pickup trucks. Unsuspecting firemen may be approaching a dangerous situation if they’re not aware of hidden propane tanks being heated during a vehicle fire. One sign is an activated relief valve or pressurized flame with a loud jet engine sound. Like any modern day vehicle fire, be cautious when approaching vehicle fires. If the occupant is present, ask him/her if there are any gasoline/propane tanks or any other hazardous materials in the trunk.

If called to investigate an odor of propane gas in a parking garage or parking lot, check to see if there are any LPG vehicles. Once identified, use CGI’s to investigate the source and obtain readings. Evacuate people from the area, control ignition sources, identify the source of the leaking propane, and stop the leak if it can safely be done. The fuel tank will usually be in the trunk and will need to be opened to access the tank valves and fittings. DISCONNECT THE BATTERY before you open the trunk. The contact switch for the truck light is a potential source of ignition.

If the LPG powered vehicle is heavily involved in fire, prepare for a possible BLEVE. Evacuate the area, request police for traffic control and from a maximum and safe distance, protect any exposures from the vehicle fire or pressurized flame coming from the vehicle (although rare, the PRV can fail). When the PRV is properly activated, it should not be an indicator that a BLEVE will not occur. After a risk/benefit analysis, unless there’s an occupant trapped in the burning vehicle or in immediate danger, let the LPG burn off; the vehicle can be replaced.


How many times during an entire career will the average firefighter respond to a propane leak or fire involving a forklift? These are extremely rare incidents, but they do happen. First arriving crews must quickly and carefully determine whether or not the propane tank is involved, rescue priorities, exposure problems, evacuation, and requesting additional resources if needed.

Forklifts are powered by motor fuel service propane cylinders that are usually configured to supply liquid propane to the engine rather than the vapor. They can have as many as five openings in the service end of the cylinder. Fittings may be threaded or flanged. Each service valve opening is marked for either vapor or liquid service. Most cylinders are equipped with a PRV (Pressure Relief Valve) set to function at 375 psi. If the forklift is on fire and the tank is threatened by heat or flame exposure, stretch two handlines and cool the tank while extinguishing any fire involving the forklift. Wet any exposure combustibles if necessary. Keep a safe distance, evacuate any workers nearby and let the LPG burn off while cooling tank from maximum distance. Extinguish the fire involving the forklift (NOT THE TANK!) and apply a 30° fog at the vapor space for several minutes before making any decision to approach and close the tank supply. Contact the local propane marketer for technical assistance in removing and disposing the cylinder.

TIP: Motor fuel cylinders can rupture under fire conditions even if the PRV (Pressure Relief Valve) is not functioning.

Dumped Tanks: In urban areas, 20 lb propane cylinders are often dumped in alleys, dumpsters and vacant lots. Be suspect of tanks or disposed cylinders in dumpsters, garages, sheds, and even basements during structure fires.

Firefighters arriving to a dumpster fire should assume that hazardous materials may be present and approach with caution. If you hear hissing sounds coming from a well-involved commercial dumpster, it might be a relief valve blowing off. Although propane emergencies and BLEVE’s are rare, preparing for them by being proactive can save firefighters from injuries.

Close Call: Watch Propane Explosion During Fire In Maine-Click Here.

This explosion engulfed a forklift with the operator barely escaping with his life. See the full story and more video at The Blaze.


Above: The first due engine found a fully involved fire in a camper trailer with propane tanks venting and fire extending to the garage. Firemen were able to quickly control fire and extinguish the fire approximately 20 minutes after arrival. Quick action by fire department personnel prevented the fire from extending to the residence, and the possibility of an explosion of the propane tanks.


Be careful when approaching a fire involving an RV. The propane tanks can be anywhere, including under the vehicle. Use caution and locate them to see if the relief valve has activated, or fire is threatening the tanks.

DO NOT always assume that the activation of a relief valve will prevent a BLEVE. See VIDEO here.

Sources: Propane Emergencies 3rd Edition  UrbanFireTraining


Every minute of the day brings the potential for a machinery rescue response. Think about it, how many vehicle extrications are there in the U.S. every single day? How many rings are cut off by rescue companies and emergency room personnel every single day? How many kids get their fingers stuck in toys, bicycle parts, or their head stuck between railings every single day? If we put vehicle extrication aside, many common machinery rescues are minor extrications, disentanglements, disassembles, cutting, lubing, or simply repositioning someone out of a pinch. Think about all the potential entrapments, pins, crushes, and stuck limbs that can happen in your response area. From train stations, elevators/escalators, industrial and manufacturing plants, kitchens, amusement parks and car washes, to correctional facilities and auto shops, what accidents could happen that would require a machinery rescue response? How many people are operating all terrain vehicles (ATV’s), snow blowers, construction and agricultural equipment in your response area? Believe it, the potential is there!

After attending a “Man vs Machinery” class at the New York State Technical Rescue Conference, put on by PL Vulcan Training it took no less than 72 hours later to put a well-equipped machinery tool box in service. They are relatively inexpensive to put together and each kit should be equipped for the type of response area it will serve. Urban areas will differ from rural areas (agriculture machinery). The tool boxes are great for practicing skills like removal and cutting of rings, meat grinders, pvc pipe, railings, or fishing stuck fingers out of fuel fillers. The training and use of numerous tools and tricks of the trade make firemen more creative when it comes to thinking outside the box, which can contribute to a successful rescue someday. Every firefighter should highly consider attending a “Man vs Machine” training day.

Below is our “machinery” tool box and a compiled list of potential accidents and incidents just waiting to happen, including types of occupancies where they might occur. It should make one realize that it’s very possible the “machinery” tool box will eventually be utilized, or utilized again.


Below: A list of tools to consider for a MACHINERY kit:


Tools (continued) and occupancies where accidents might occur.


Types of potential incidents:


WHAT IF? A single truck company is dispatched for a stalled elevator. Upon arrival, the company officer notices the elevator is stuck on the 7th floor. He sends the low man up to the penthouse to secure the power and makes his way up to floor seven. The low man enters the roof area and hears loud screaming coming from the elevator machine room. Upon opening the penthouse door, he sees an elevator repairman covered with blood with his arm caught in the drive sheave area of a geared traction elevator.

This is most likely an amputation at best, and a serious machinery accident. The low man has been to over 50 elevator calls, but didn’t expect this. Having knowledge of elevators and machinery rescue may help with initial actions in this particular scenario. Power shutdown, additional resources, medic, and disassembly comes to mind. If his tool belt/box is present, it might have the tools needed to take apart the drive machine around his arm. The point here is, “you never know.”

For more on elevators, visit UrbanFireTraining.Com
For more on machinery rescue, visit PL Vulcan Training Concepts.

Above photos of Machinery and Agricultural rescue training at the NY State Tech Rescue Conference held at the New York State Fire Academy.


Attic and cockloft fires in urban areas are common jobs, especially for fire departments in the northeast region with numerous 2 1/2 and 3 story wood frame SFD’s. Attic fires, like basement fires have their own unique dangers that firemen have to be aware of. In urban areas, basements and attics are converted into living or storage spaces, have interior stairway access, limited ventilation, small windows, high heat, exposed joists, and limited secondary means of egress. An attic fire environment can be similar to an upside down basement fire. Many of these attic spaces are not just for storage, they are occupied living areas with furnished bedrooms, fire loads, numerous void spaces and plenty of fuel. Attics with interior stairway access are commonly converted to storage areas or sleeping areas containing mattresses, boxes, furniture, wood paneling, carpet, overloaded power strips, running extension cords, space heaters and an air conditioner placed at the only window in the attic. Combine that with electrical wiring, old insulation, plenty of wood with no protection devices working, and the recipe for a good attic fire is there.

Many attics, especially in urban areas do not have “working” smoke detectors present (there is a difference!) or sprinklers. Being on the top floor with no working smoke detectors contributes to delayed discovery. Even if there are working smoke detectors in the attic, many of them are placed at the bottom of the stairs and the smoke has to start banking its way down before activating the alarm. If the occupants are not home, or they’re on the first floor watching TV, the fire will progress before discovery by someone on the exterior as smoke makes its way out the eves.

According to FEMA, there are an estimated 10,000 attic fires every year. Most of these fires are caused by electrical malfunctions, lightening strikes, and electrical arcing. In urban areas where the space is usually occupied, human error from overloaded power strips, running air conditioners, candles, and heating sources too close to combustibles contribute to attic fires. Most fires occur during the winter and summer months when energy demand is higher. READ MORE…

The alarm comes in at 3am for a house fire on Weinberg Place. The address is familiar to the company officer as the very narrow dead end street the rig can barely get down, full of connected occupied wood-frame row homes on both sides of the street with wires everywhere. Most people are home at 3am and the tiny street is jam packed beginning to end with parallel parked vehicles on both sides, so just opening the door and getting out of the truck will be an challenge. Prefire planning on this street has been done a few times; but not for what’s going to happen on this night.

The dispatch is starting to get numerous calls of two and three homes on fire and the first due engine sees the glow in the sky from a block away. As the engine company turns onto the tight street, it looks as if the last three houses at the end of the block and a few vehicles are already heavily involved and residents are fleeing their homes running down the street screaming for others to get out with 35-40 MPH gusts blowing thick gray and black smoke towards the first arriving engine. The pumper cannot proceed any further than the 9th home, the beginning of the row, because of downed power lines arcing all over the street and the possibility of the apparatus getting torched. “Give me a 2nd alarm” the company officer radios to the dispatcher. No need to forward lay in as the engine can’t advance anymore than 75 feet from the hydrant at the corner. A supply line is pulled to the hydrant and the 2nd due engine. The deck gun starts flowing blitz style, but it’s going in to the wind and cannot reach past the 8th home. Now the 5th home is on fire. The sky is lighting up, vehicles parts are exploding, turbulent smoke is igniting as it rolls over the porches and power lines are dropping all over the place with the wind whipping them around. The power company is requested to shut the power off to the neighborhood so 2 1/2 handlines can be used to attack the raging wind-driven fire as it consumes the row. The first due ladder company cannot make the street and the aerial is useless with all of the wires. This is not looking good. The smoke is coming down the block at 30-40 MPH into the engine causing mechanical failure. The truck shuts down. Can it get any worse?


The rear of the last block of rowhomes.


The aftermath; the homes at the dead end.

This is just bad luck. During an entire career there are those 1 or 2 fires where everything was working against you and shit hits the fan. It’s no fault of the firemen, you just have to deal with mother nature and do the best you can. No civilians were killed. No firemen were hurt. The fire eventually went out. These experiences will only better prepare us for the next fire where maybe only a few things work against us. That’s why we train, forecast and preplan those difficult streets and buildings.

That cold windy night on Weinberg Place, the men of  Trenton Fire Departments “D” platoon did an outstanding job, especially considering the conditions they were given.


*Delayed Discovery

*3AM Life Hazard-Occupied-Residents sleeping

*High winds with gusts of 40 MPH fueling fire in direction of unburned homes and apparatus.

*Tight narrow dead end street inaccessible for fire apparatus.

*Numerous power lines exposed to fire falling onto sidewalk, street, energizing parked vehicles and whipping around in the street with poor visibility.

*Wind tunnel effect from the 2 alleys meeting with the dead end street and blowing in the worst direction possible for firemen in the front of the buildings.

*All 9 homes connected wood-frames.

*Access to the rear of the homes all fenced in on the ends with no access to the rear in between them.

*Near zero visibility on the street in front of the fire building.




When it comes to elevator jobs in the fire service, firemen are usually called upon to remove passengers who are stuck in a stalled elevators, or control the elevator during a fire or alarm activation. But once in a while a rare event occurs involving the elevator or the EMR that we weren’t expecting. Below are some of those events:


ELEVATOR CRUSH: According to the Daily 49er, the campus newspaper at Cal State University Long Beach, Annette Lujan, 47, of Huntington Beach, California, was killed around 9 a.m. Tuesday while trying to escape a stuck elevator. Lujan was on her way to work at the Office of University Research in the Foundation Building when the elevator became stuck between floors. Lujan apparently attempted to pry the doors open and climb up to the next floor to escape, when the elevator suddenly and unexpectedly moved down, crushing her. Click here for the full story.


SMOKE CONDITION INCIDENT: After arriving to a high rise building for an alarm activation, a mechanical odor was present on the first floor. The fire alarm panel indicated a smoke detector activation in the subdivision and the EMR. When we descended the stairs and opened the door, the hallway was filled with smoke. The smoke had a fireworks odor and was traced directly to the EMR. The elevator machine room had a hydraulic reservoir which was smoking from being overheated, possibly from an overheated sump pump or motor. When hydraulic fluid reaches 180 degrees, it starts overheating which caused a smoke condition in the building. The power was shut down, elevator repair and building maintenance notified. After ventilating the hallway area the alarm was reset.

Click here for an article with a similar incident in Amarillo Texas.


ELEVATOR MOTOR FIRE: Elevator motor fire temporarily disrupts Black Friday shoppers.

Black Friday shoppers were evacuated from Sears and other businesses at Century III Mall in West Mifflin after an elevator motor caught fire.

A large amount of smoke was reported in the mall shortly before 9 a.m. The fire was reported by a maintenance worker who was servicing the elevator, authorities said. The worker called for help when he noticed heat coming from a door to the elevator’s workings. c

Click here to read the full article.


SHUNT TRIP ACTIVATION INCIDENT: Not all firefighters know what the blinking fire helmet on the elevator control panel means; they should! It means do NOT use the elevator, or get off the elevator immediately. Even if you are in phase 2 and believe you have total control of the elevator, you don’t. If the fireman helmet starts blinking it could trap members in the elevator. The helmet is flashing because a shunt trip breaker has activated, which shuts down the power to the elevator even if you are in phase 2 operation. If there’s fire or smoke in the shaft, you will have to force your way out. When a smoke/heat detector in the EMR (Elevator Machine Room) or the hoistway activates prior to the activation of the sprinkler head, or if the systems detects water flow from a discharged head, a signal is sent to the shunt trip. This means there is fire, smoke or water in the EMR or hoistway. Take the stairs and notify the IC via radio that there’s been a shunt trip activation and the elevators are not to be used.

March 2012: Arriving to a twin tower high rise residential building complex for a working fire in an apartment of the West building, a water main break was occurring in the East building. The fire began on the third floor of the West Tower around 3:45 p.m., activating the building’s smoke alarm. The East Tower suffered a simultaneous water main break, causing gallons of water to flow into the elevator shafts and down to the plaza level.

Arriving firefighters found heavy flames in the West Tower apartment as water flooded the elevator shafts and knocked out the electricity. The shunt trip was activated as was the blinking fireman helmet. Water cascaded down the hoistway filling the shaft with water. Had firefighters been on this elevator they could have been stuck inside. Luckily the fire was on the 3rd floor, not the 17th or 18th floor, so they were using the stairs.

Click here for the story.


An elevator equipment room on the roof of the historic Pioneer Endicott building in downtown St. Paul started on fire Tuesday.

Smoke started billowing from the top of the building around 12:15 p.m. and flames were visible. But the fire was extinguished within half an hour. The 127-year-old building, which was recently restored, contains 234 apartments.

“The fire damaged a part of the roof structure and there was some water damage to the building’s interior,” Mike Zipko, a representative for Pioneer Endicott Buildings, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, one firefighter apparently suffered a back injury while on scene. All of the residents were able to safely evacuate the building.”


FAILURE OF THE DOOR GIBS: Police rescued an 11-year-old boy who fell three floors down an elevator shaft. Most likely horsing around, one of the boys hit the elevator hoistway door with such force breaking the door gibs and falling in the shaft. This is a common problem happening all over the US.  Click here for the story.

Visit the “door gibs” section on the elevator rescue page at UrbanFireTraining.Com to see more door gibs failures and other freak accidents involving elevators.

Be prepared for those rare event elevator calls. Know the main components of an elevator, especially interlocks, door restrictors, safety circuits, door gibs, power shutoffs and car door operators. You just never know when you’re going to get that call!


Why are meters exploding off houses by the 100’s at a time? Why are fires happening no matter where smart/digital meters are being installed?

The situation with smart meter fires is worse than we thought — and now we know why. This new investigative video tells all.


In August 1996, a deputy chief in a New Jersey department responded to a fire in a fast food restaurant. All involved reported during the subsequent investigation that it was “just a routine fire.” Per the report, the fire started in the flame broiler and spread to the fat fryer. It spread through the exhaust fan and ductwork to the roof, and upon the first engine’s arrival, that it did have visible fire on the roof.

The deputy chief responded from home to the scene. He was seen outside of the building, near the back door when a large cloud of smoke from the fire banked down toward him. He was not wearing an SCBA. He later reported he inhaled some of the smoke, held his breath and walked out of the cloud. He was immediately attended to by a BLS crew on scene and rapidly transported to the hospital. At the hospital he was in severe distress, and almost needed to be placed on a ventilator. However, he improved and was discharged after two days. Ten days after the incident, he was at home when he collapsed. EMS found him to be in cardiac arrest, and efforts to resuscitate him were not successful. The medical examiner reported that the cause of death was “marked tracheobronchial inflammation, alveolar hemorrhage and pulmonary edema due to smoke inhalation containing phosgene.” Phosgene? Where did that come from? Isn’t phosgene some old chemical weapon?


Immediately after the incident, the department initiated an investigation into this “routine fire.” What was found was that the fire spread to the roof through the exhaust ductwork above the hamburger broiler, where it was drawn into the rooftop AC unit. The automatic fire suppression had activated but was ineffective in extinguishing the fire because the grease buildup in the ductwork blocked one of the dispensing nozzles which resulted in rapid fire spread. The heat burst the cooling coils releasing Freon gas (12 lbs) into the fire that thermally decomposed into acid and phosgene gases. The toxic gases were drawn into the building and mixed with smoke and gases from the fire which vented out of the rear of the building where the chief had been standing.

This fire fueled by grease in the hood and ductwork eventually spread to a rooftop air conditioning unit and a hose containing Freon 22 that had ruptured. (There were no devices to shut down the AC unit during fire) When this substance (chlorodifluromethane) is exposed to heat and decomposes, several substances including hydrofluoric and hydrochloric acid, chlorine gas and phosgene are produced. Phosgene is a toxic gas, considered a pulmonary irritant. Its structure includes a carbon, oxygen and two chlorine molecules. It was used in World War I as a chemical weapon.

Today, exposure can occur in the manufacture of dyes, resins, pesticides and pharmaceuticals. It is also created in the heating and combustion of chlorinated organic compounds. This is how this chemical was found on our “routine” fireground.

Phosgene is slowly dissolvable in water. This means that when it is inhaled, it does not dissolve in the mucus membranes of the airway quickly, so it can travel into the lower airways. If it was rapidly dissolvable, it would do so in the upper airways and its effects would occur there. Once it dissolves, it turns into carbon dioxide and hydrochloride acid in a process called hydrolysis. The hydrochloric acid causes inflammation and death of cells in the lower airways and the lung itself.

Who would’ve though that a fire in a fast food restaurant had phosgene present? Do we even consider HVAC fires as dangerous?

Related: A year after the above incident, 2 firefighters were injured from exposure to a refrigerant gas while responding to a man who had reported trouble breathing. The man had cut coolant lines to remove a compressor from his old refrigerator so it would be lighter and easier to move out of the apartment. When the coolant lines were cut, it had released sulfur dioxide, which was used as a refrigerant prior to 1950. Sulfur dioxide is a very toxic, irritating gas with an odor similar to burning sulfur. Inhalation can be deadly; fortunately for these 2 firefighters they are alive, but still have difficulty breathing after a few weeks of skin irritation, blurred vision, rash, coughing, nose bleeds and breathing difficulty.

Again, who would have thought?  Below, Milwaukee FD hazmat team remove a refrigerator from the University of Wisconsin.


On Friday, July 14, 2000, a refrigerator began leaking sulfur dioxide (SO2) gas when an employee accidentally damaged the freezer coil while defrosting the unit.


Firefighter killed at dumpster fire.

LODD report

Freeport firefighter Jason Miller reacts as flames shoot out the chimney of a Brown Road home in Pownal on Saturday, where firefighters from Pownal and Freeport responded to a chimney fire. Miller and Lt. Ken Coslet attacked the problem from the roof, using a weight and chain to clear the chimney of material that had built up, but not before flames erupted several times. No damage was done to the 19th century home, a fortunate reminder to homeowners who burn wood to be diligent about keeping chimneys clean and using only seasoned firewood.

It’s a cold snowy night at the firehouse when an alarm comes in for a structure fire a few blocks from the station. On arrival the first due engine officer riding in on a full structure assignment notices flames and thick smoke shooting out of the brick chimney on an ordinary constructed SFW. After giving his size up to the incoming Battalion Chief, he exits the pumper and hears a sound similar to a rocket or jet engine coming from the area of the chimney. The company officer instructs his nozzleman to stretch a line to the front door and grabs a dry chem extinguisher while informing the incoming ladder captain by radio to prepare for roof operations.

Chimney fires are rare incidents, but it’s critical that we prepare for them using a quick effective coordinated attack to prevent chimney fires from becoming an all out structure fires. A reported chimney fire should require a structure assignment response as additional manpower will be required to effectively mitigate a chimney fire. Most chimney fires are contained fires, but if not controlled quickly can extend to the roof, cockloft, attic, basement etc..


Most chimney fires are caused by highly combustible creosote build up in the flue. Flames, sparks and fast moving dense smoke accompanied by a roaring sound are sure signs of a chimney fire. Chimney fires can burn up to 2000°F destroying  liners, bricks, masonry materials and contributing to fire spread in combustible parts of the structure. A well coordinated effort will be needed to extinguish the chimney fire before spreading to the rest of the structure. In the video above, the chimney fire extended to the structure. They worked safely from an aerial and roof ladders to extinguish the extended fire, saving the structure.

Engine Company: Stretch a line to the interior and quickly determine the source, whether it’s an oil burner, fireplace or a basement fire. In living areas, consider placing salvage covers/floor runners in the area to prevent doing further damage to the property. Using a water can to extinguish a small class A fire is acceptable if outside the container of fire involvement (smoldering debris). Fires at the base inside the container may require a dry chem extinguisher, which should draw the powder upward. Bring shovels and place any smoldering creosote/wood/embers into a metal bucket and take it outside and extinguish it. Send a company to the attic/cockloft to check for extension. Monitor CO readings in the structure after the fire has been extinguished and ventilate accordingly.

Ladder Company: Size up the chimney roof area for access and egress. It may take  up to three different types of ladders to access the top of the chimney. It may be safer to put the aerial ladder up or work off off a platform. Bring the chimney kit consisting of chimney sweep chains, mirror and TIC. Additional equipment such as hand tools/hooks, flashlight, chimney bombs (dry chem powder in bags) and a saw if needed. Remove the chimney cap, fencing (bird cage) and any other debri from the top of the chimney. Dropping the chimney bombs down the chimney is very effective as the bag will melt with powder being naturally drawn up the chimney. Lower the weighted chimney chains from the top of the chimney down the flue to knock the creosote off the walls into the base container area to be removed and extinguished. Check for extension at the base of the chimney where flashing may be present.



Collapse of the chimney can seriously injure unsuspecting firemen below. Most chimneys in older cities are in poor condition and made of brick. Most of these bricks are cracked, lost their adhesiveness and are being held up by gravity. Establish a collapse zone under the area of the chimney.

Using water to extinguish a chimney fire may cause spalling and will further damage the chimney. The best method is to use dry chem powder. If using a hoseline on the roof to extinguish a chimney fire, apply short bursts of water to the top as shown in the video above.

Advise the property owner to have the chimney serviced/cleaned/repaired and check CO levels before leaving.


Basement and cellar fires are the most dangerous fires inside a structure that firemen will face, which explains why basement fires have killed and injured more firemen than any upper floor fires have. Anytime you’re attacking a below grade fire from above, you will be advancing down a chimney of intense heat.


There are several dangers the company officer will have to address before attacking a fire in a subdivision. Concerns for first due engine crews will be intense heat, limited visibility, floor collapse, stair burn through, hoseline burn through, entrapment, entanglement, limited ventilation, no secondary means of egress and the occurrence of a hostile fire event, especially in areas with taxpayers, lightweight construction and departments READ MORE…


Fires in tunnels (including subways) can lead to the rapid spread of toxic smoke in minutes. Passengers stuck in their vehicles may try to outrun the toxic smoke containing asphyxiants like carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, irritants such as ammonia, hydrogen chloride, particulates, nitrogen oxides, phenol, sulfur dioxide, carcinogens such as asbestos, benzene, styrene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and other various deadly products lingering in a tube. Others may succumb by just sitting in a stalled vehicle or train car waiting for help. Travelers will not be familiar with the tunnel and in poor visibility may not see the emergency exits or shelter areas. They may be running with the wind in the same direction as the exhaust. Many tunnels and transit systems have exhaust systems to remove smoke and draw fresh air into the tunnel/station to keep egress routes clear. Unfortunately they are not always effective or working properly.

Fires in tunnels usually involve cars, trucks or trains. They are not that uncommon and can be a complete cluster you-know-what as you will have panic, confusion and gridlock from the unfortunate travelers stuck in the tunnel. Concerns for the first arriving company officers: READ MORE…

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One of the most critical skills ALL firemen must possess in todays fire environment is the ability to read smoke. Experienced firemen have been reading smoke for years, but recently it has become more of a focused subject of training thanks to firemen like David W. Dodson, who authored ‘The Art of Reading Smoke.’


Whether you’re the incident commander, engine company officer, pump operator, or probationary member of the ladder company, everyone on the fireground must have the ability to read smoke, and recognize the signs of flashover. (Rollover)

In the modern day fire service we may be responding to fewer fires, but we are also responding to hotter more volatile fire environments, thanks to low-mass synthetics (plastics) and increased fire loads. We can no longer rely on just experience alone, or the ‘old way’ of reading smoke. Though not an exact science, the ability to read the smoke can help us make better tactical decisions. It can help us determine the fires location, growth, toxicity, direction of travel and whether it’s going from a contents fire to a structure fire. Most importantly, it also help us predict hostile fire events such as smoke explosions, backdrafts and flashovers READ MORE…


The fire started in the early afternoon, sending up billowing clouds of thick black smoke which could be seen from miles around. Firemen were in attendance shortly after 1pm, and were able to extinguish the flames within the hour.

George Dalmon, who was in Hove Town Hall at the time of the fire told the Brighton Argus: “There was big black smoke billowing out, it looks quite major. Everyone has been evacuated out of the building. Somebody said something about it being a solar panel.”

A woman passer-by told reporters: “There’s lots of acrid smoke which is so bad that lots of passers-by are covering their mouths. The smoke seemed to be coming from the back of the building. You can see the smoke from at least half a mile away. It’s thick black smoke, it’s got to be quite a substantial fire.”

A spokesman for Brighton and Hove City Council said the Town Hall is currently undergoing renovations, and that consequently only a few staff and building contractors were inside at the time. They added that everyone was evacuated immediately with no casualties.

“The source of the fire is believed to be an electrical fault with a solar panel on the roof,” they said, adding “An investigation is underway. Brighton & Hove City Council will check all solar panels on all council buildings following this incident.” READ MORE…





Fire escapes have saved many lives over the past 100 years. They are definitely more dangerous nowadays because of age, neglect and corrosion, but some fire escapes are still in good condition and require annual or five year inspections. Most fire escapes are constructed of iron or steel and range from 35 to over 100 years old. They are common in older residential and commercial structures, especially taxpayers and multi-families.

Many fire departments in large urban areas still use fire escapes for entry, rescue, ventilation, portable standpipe operations, egress and access to upper floors. Due to safety concerns, some fire departments prohibit members from using fire escapes altogether, but that doesn’t mean their members shouldn’t be familiar with them. READ MORE…


Elevator rescue assignments are common calls for departments with numerous mid-rise and high-rise occupancies. The fire department is dispatched for elevator calls involving passengers stuck in the elevator, medical emergencies, power outages, pins and crush injuries. Most elevator incidents are routine “stuck in the box” calls requiring the power shutdown to the stalled elevator and a safe method of removal. But what about those rare occurrences involving elevators? All firemen should be prepared by having some basic knowledge of elevators and safety procedures, especially if being assigned to a support role. READ MORE…

Fires in parking garages may be rare occurrences, but you don’t want to be caught off guard when a difficult PG fire happens on your watch. Most fires inside of parking garages are vehicle fires with structure fire similarities. A vehicle burning inside of a fire-resistive building is a structure fire READ MORE…


“Service Stations” are defined as fueling stations and auto repair shops. A vehicle burning on a lift inside an auto repair shop is considered a structure fire. A vehicle burning at a gas station remote from the structure itself under a canopy attached to a gas pump is a vehicle fire with an exposure problem. A structure assignment should be requested. READ MORE…

SCENARIO: A police chase ends with a stolen vehicle crashing into the gas pumps and erupting in flames at the mini-mart. The police officer requests the fire department. A single engine staffed with 3 firemen and one officer is dispatched. Arriving on scene the officer informs you that the driver is still inside the vehicle. There’s no gas station attendant around (self service) but there’s an employee inside the convenience store working the register. You’re the first due engine officer on scene. What are your initial actions?


RAILROAD EMERGENCIES: Fire departments respond to a variety of railroad emergencies at the platform, along the tracks and inside of the train station. Companies can be dispatched for train fires, EMS calls, alarm activations, pin/crush extrication, suicides, derailments, elevator/escalator rescue, gas/electric incidents, bomb threats/terrorism and structure assignments within the station or attached occupancies such as parking garages or restaurants. READ MORE…

SCENARIO: You’re in your 5th year as a firefighter and it’s your first time acting as company officer on Engine 4. At 18:15 hours you are dispatched along with another engine and ladder company to a reported “train fire” on the platform at your local train station. You arrive to find this:

1. As the first due company officer, what are your initial actions for this incident?

2. What are your strategy and tactics for this incident?

(Please use the comment section)

There are many differences and few similarities between motels and hotels. From a firefighting standpoint, strategies and tactics in motels are similar to garden apartments and condo complexes. Multi-story hotels are similar to residential high-rises and mid-rises. Both have some level of fire protection with hotels more likely to be equipped with standpipes, pump rooms and sprinklers in each room. Thanks to the Hotel and Motel Fire Safety Act of 1990 in addition to numerous tragic hotel fires with multiple fatalities (MGM Grand, LaSalle, Hotel Canfield, Winecoff Hotel) todays hotels offer more fire protection.


Motel fires are not rare occurrences. Motels will usually have less fire protection and most are NOT fire-resistive structures like many high-rise hotels are. Newer motels are being built with lightweight construction, older motels are mostly ordinary or wood-frame and have cocklofts/attic space READ MORE…

Watching this video, you knew it was coming. The fire was burning the service line on arrival and you knew it was coming down.

Good job quickly setting up the mercury gun for an exterior attack, which looked like the only option. The apparatus placement was clean and they set up lines away from the energized service line.

AGAIN: You know right away that it’s a matter of time before it comes down. At 3:45 it starts. The IC, safety officer, pump operator, someone watch the service lines. If this had rested on the fence it would have energized the entire front yard fence putting firemen in contact with the fence in danger.

First due company officers AND DRIVERS seeing fire venting out of the front windows should ALWAYS watch the service line on approach (and when near the front of the structure making entry). If an energized service line makes contact with the 1st due engine, it’s OUT OF SERVICE and water application will be delayed. Take the few extra seconds on approach!

Don’t forget the service lines in the rear…